Remember the scenes from New Orleans of flooded streets and scavenging people? One year on and little progress is evident in achieving the step-change needed in controlling greenhouse gases. Hurricane Katrina showed only too vividly the massive power of natural forces combined with inadequate preparation. The flood waters washed away and exposed fully the lack of planning and low priority given to securing life and livelihoods, especially of the more vulnerable groups in the community. If this is what a whirlwind can bring in the southern USA, what might we reap in further storms and droughts tomorrow in poorer parts of the world? New research findings point to the likelihood of larger, faster and more substantial changes to our climate system. The African continent is particularly vulnerable to adverse changes in climate, the evidence for which is becoming more and more stark.