Extreme Weather Events are on the Rise in Central Asia

The State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) analyzed key indicators influencing the climate in Asia. According to the report, in 2023 Asia had the second highest mean temperature on record, 0.91 °C above the 1991-2020 average and 1.87 °C above the 1961-1990 average.

Turkmenistan was among the top Asian countries hit by heatwaves in 2023.Kazakhstan had also above-average temperatures and record warm years. Heatwaves create dry conditions conducive for wildfires. For example, in June 2023 there was a wildfire in north-eastern Kazakhstan, which led to 14 fatalities. The month of July was also exceptionally hot for much of Kazakhstan.

Turkmenistan is among the top countries facing serious weather hazards including lack of precipitation, heat waves and dust storms. Precipitation is a key source of water for drinking, domestic use, agriculture, industry and hydropower. Changes in precipitation also influence major climate events such as droughts and floods. In 2023, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan experienced substantial deficits in precipitation. Turkmenistan is among the driest 20% with areas in the southern Balkan region being among the driest 10%. Given the lack of rain, the soil dries out, making the topsoil looser and more prone to being picked up by wind. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and parts of Kazakhstan experienced severe dust storms with high PM2.5 values. These are tiny particulate matter that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing respiratory problems and other health issues.

Similarly, snow cover is essential for the climate including soil moisture and vegetation. In the past 27 years, the snow cover extent in Asia including the northern part of Central Asia is lower-than-average. The record-breaking high temperatures and dry conditions have also exacerbated melting of glaciers in most of Tien Shan. For example, in 2022-2023, Urumqi Glacier No. 1, in Eastern Tien Shan, recorded its second most negative mass balance since measurements began in 1959. The melting of glaciers affects sea level, regional water cycles and causes local hazards (e.g. floods).

The early warning system in Central Asia is poorly developed while the events are not reported in Turkmenistan. For example, warning and dissemination are well developed in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while information on the countries’ preparedness to respond to disasters is missing for Central Asia, except for Uzbekistan.

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