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Extreme weather takes hold across Turkey after deadly storms

Provinces in Turkey’s west grappled with storms on Monday that claimed six lives as authorities warned of more adverse weather – a phenomenon experts tie to climate change.

Authorities announced that Turkey would be put through another day of heavy storms, strong winds and high precipitation on Tuesday. Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS) issued warnings for 67 of the 81 provinces, forecasting extreme weather conditions, from rainfall to strong winds and storms. The country was rocked by a strong southwester which hit the Marmara, Aegean and Mediterranean regions, as well as parts of the Black Sea region on Monday. Turkish Airlines (THY) announced on Tuesday that the bad weather had caused delays in domestic flights but ruled out an all-out cancellation of air travel. THY press adviser Yahya Üstün tweeted that strong winds were affecting the carrier’s operations and causing disruptions.

Four people were killed in Istanbul, another in Zonguldak and one in Kocaeli provinces, when collapsing walls, roofs and fragments from buildings trembled with the force of strong gusts and rained down on passersby. Many others were injured.

Storms are becoming more common in the country which saw the highest number of weather-related disasters in 2020, mostly floods. Experts blame climate change as the main culprit for the changing weather conditions. Last year, the country recorded 984 weather-related disasters whose impact and length were worse than previous years.

TSMS warned of heavy rainfall from the country’s west to the east on Tuesday while temperatures were set to drop by up to 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the country’s northern, central and western regions.

Authorities urged the public to be on alert for flash floods and lightning strikes and prepared for disruptions in transportation. The weather forecast also predicted strong winds and storms, particularly in the Marmara region which was affected most by Monday’s extreme weather.

Marmara will be exposed to winds reaching a speed of up to 100 kph (62.1 mph). Stronger winds and storms are predicted for parts of the Aegean, Central Anatolian, Mediterranean, Eastern Anatolian and Black Sea regions, where the public is warned to watch out for “roofs which can be torn away, potential collapse of trees and poisoning from carbon monoxide in places heated by coal stoves.”

Strong winds disrupted the daily life in provinces in the west. Istanbul, the country’s most populated city was the worst affected, with storms knocking down a small clock tower, overturning trucks and tearing apart the roofs. The city’s governorate announced that all schools would be closed on Tuesday due to bad weather. Authorities in Kocaeli, Sakarya, Balıkesir, Çanakkale, Yalova, Sinop, Bursa, Bartın and Tekirdağ provinces soon joined Istanbul in shutting down schools for one day. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) announced on Tuesday that they received some 4,000 emergency calls during the storms in Istanbul alone, where the roofs of 528 buildings were blown away and some 839 trees were knocked down by the strong winds. The authority said 46 people were injured in Istanbul.

‘More to come’

Unusually adverse weather does not come as a surprise at a time of climate change according to professor Belgin Elipek. Elipek, who heads an environmental research center at Trakya University, told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Tuesday the impact of climate change has become more pronounced and that it is “felt” more lately. “Temperatures are rapidly changing. One day, you have hot weather and the next day, temperatures drop by almost 10 (Celsius) degrees,” she said.

“Rainfall and storms are a direct result of climate change which strengthens the impact of any such weather events. Instead of routine rainfall, we see extreme precipitation, or, on the contrary, extreme drought. Such extreme weather conditions will be more frequent without addressing the climate change issue,” she said.

“Without reducing carbon emissions, keeping waters clean, the atmosphere will continue hosting emissions. When rainwater cannot be soaked by the soil, it goes back to the atmosphere and this increases the severity of storms. Then, we see a high rate of evaporation and this, in turn, causes drought. This chain of weather-related incidents will prevail with climate change,” she said.

Experts say short-term extreme bouts of rainfall will become more frequent, evolving from the patterns we are accustomed to. Countries’ coastal regions are more susceptible to precipitation and fears linger over floods due to temperature changes in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

Horror and sacrifice

The storm’s intensity was higher in Istanbul, especially in districts on the European side. Esenyurt, a crowded, fast-growing district dotted with towering apartment blocks, and Beylikdüzü were among the most affected places.

Two women among the victims were hailed for their self-sacrifice to protect their children. One was identified as Elif Şanver. Şanver was walking on the street with her 2-year-old daughter Zeynep in Esenyurt, as strong winds suddenly tore apart the roof of an eight-story apartment building they were passing by. Şanver jumped onto the baby carriage her daughter was sitting in immediately and covered the infant. The mother was heavily injured when wooden beams from the roof crushed her but her daughter was unhurt. Şanver succumbed to her wounds at the hospital.

Ümitcan Ünlü was luckier and got away with slight injuries after parts from a roof torn away by the storm hit his house. Ünlü was resting on the couch in a room of his ninth-floor flat when roof parts flying from the top of the building opposite his home crashed through the window. “I heard a noise and turned my head. Just then, bricks and wood hit me, shards of glass fell on me. I jumped and ran to the other room but windows there crashed too because of debris. I was shocked,” said Ünlü, recounting the moment the storm hit in Beylikdüzü to Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Tuesday.

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