Extreme weather can be deadly.
Traditionally, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) keeps track of extreme temperature and weather records. But on May 18, the WMO for the first time announced world records for the highest reported historical death tolls from tropical cyclones, tornadoes, lightning and hailstorms.
“Extreme weather causes serious destruction and major loss of life,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a press release. “The human aspect inherent in extreme events should never be lost.”
The WMO is trying to strengthen early warning systems for extreme weather, especially as a growing world population and climate change threaten to make extreme weather events even more deadly, according to a report announcing these findings.
“These events highlight the deadly tragedies associated with different types of weather. Detailed knowledge of these historical extremes confirms our continuing responsibilities to not only forecast and monitor weather and climate but to utilize that information to save lives around the world so disasters of these types are lessened or even eliminated in the future,” said Randall Cerveny, WMO Rapporteur on Climate and Weather Extremes.
These estimates could change if new information comes to light, but here are the events the report found to be the deadliest of various types of weather.
Deadliest hailstorm: Moradabad, India, on April 30, 1888, which killed 246 people.
- REUTERS/B Mathur
Reportedly there were hailstones the size of “goose eggs and oranges and cricket balls.” The WMO report cites an eyewitness who said that roofs collapsed and doors and windows were smashed by the ice.
“Men caught in the open and without shelter were simply pounded to death by the hail. Fourteen bodies were found in the race-course. More than one marriage party were caught by the storm near the banks of the river, and were annihilated. The police report that 1,600 head of cattle, sheep, and goats were killed,” wrote John Eliot, the first director-general of the India Meteorological Department, according to the WMO report.
Deadliest lightning strike: Manical Tribal Trust Lands in Zimbabwe on December 23, 1975, which killed 21 people.
- Getty Images/Ethan Miller
The report says that nearly 90% of sub-Saharan buildings are not lightning safe, often made of mud-brick with thatch or sheet metal roofs.
Deadliest indirect lightning strike: Dronka, Egypt on November 2, 1994, when 469 people were killed by a lightning-caused oil fire.
In 1994, a flash of lightning caused a fire that ignited three oil tanks, each holding about 5,000 tons of aircraft or diesel fuel. The railway line holding the tanks collapsed in a flood and floodwaters carried the blazing fuel into Dronka.
Deadliest tornado: Manikganj district, Bangladesh on April 26, 1989, which killed 1,300 people.
The 1989 tornado had a track about a mile wide and destroyed two towns, injuring over 12,000 and leaving about 80,000 people homeless.
Deadliest weather event and tropical cyclone (hurricane): Bangladesh on November 12-13, 1970, when a storm killed an estimated 300,000 people.
The storm sometimes known as the “Great Bhola Cyclone” caused between 300,000 and 500,000 deaths when the storm surge overwhelmed island and tidal flats along the Bay of Bengal.