A man uses a newspaper as a fan on a subway train in central London during a heatwave on July 18, 2022.
- Deadly heat waves have been rocking much of the Northern Hemisphere this summer.
- As climate change makes heat waves more common, severe and persistent, this may become the new normal.
- The world must prepare for more large and simultaneous heat waves across regions.
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This year, extreme heat engulfed the entire Northern Hemisphere.
Europe is currently reeling from its third heat wave of the summer, fueling devastating wildfires and putting millions at risk. On Sunday alone, Portugal and Spain reported more than 1,000 heat-related deaths.
In France, thousands of people fled wildfires. One UK airport has canceled flights, according to Sky News, and another after its runway closed in the heat. Wales recorded its hottest temperature ever. UK meteorologists are still expecting high temperatures on Tuesday.
Europe is not the only place. Almost all of the Northern Hemisphere experienced extreme heat this month, from China to North Africa to the United States.
Forecasters say the high temperatures could continue for two more weeks. These are the latest in a series of simultaneous heat waves across the planet this year.
“I wish I could say it’s unusual,” Deepti Singh, a climate scientist at Washington State University, told Insider.
“The probability of having a heat wave is increasing because it’s simply increasing. And it’s happening everywhere around the world,” said Singh, who lived through an unprecedented heat wave that killed more than 1,400 people in the Pacific Northwest last year. At the time, Europe was also suffering from extreme heat.
As global temperatures continue to rise, similar heat waves are becoming more frequent. This summer may appear to be the hottest in recent memory, but scientists warn that this may be the norm. With the summer looming as a record high, long-lasting and historic heat wave looms, researchers say the world needs to cut emissions of greenhouse gases that cause the temperature to rise.
At the same time, cities must be prepared to take the heat. That means adding greenery, providing residents with more shade and covering areas such as asphalt, which heats up significantly in direct sunlight. Governments can adapt infrastructure to new higher temperatures to avoid gridlock, cable meltdowns and power outages. It means adding social infrastructure like cooling centers, policies to protect people working outdoors, and strong warning systems.
“There needs to be a change in the perception of what a heat wave is, that a heat wave is not some fun day at the beach, but a health hazard,” Kai Kornhuber, a climate physicist at Columbia, told University Insider.
The climate crisis is exacerbating heat waves.
In March, even though the Arctic and Antarctica are in opposite seasons, record temperatures hit both poles at the same time. At the same time, two months of heat was covering India and Pakistan. In June, heat-intensive weather systems scorched the US and Europe, setting all-time temperature records for the month, causing more heat and wildfires in Tunisia.
“These temperatures only occur at 2 degrees Fahrenheit. [-16 degrees] Global warming and we are on the way to 4 degrees Fahrenheit [-15.5 degrees] It’s getting warmer this century,” Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, told The Associated Press in June, as temperatures in his city breached 100 degrees Fahrenheit. [37,7 degrees]. “I literally can’t imagine how bad that would be.”
Scientists don’t always link heat waves directly to climate change, but it allows them to do more analysis. At the tail end of the India-Pakistan heat wave, in May, scientists at the World Weather Report analyzed historical data to find that climate change has made that event 30 times more likely.
Overall, global warming will make heat waves more common, severe and longer. The 2018 National Climate Assessment reports that U.S. heat wave frequency has tripled since the 1960s, and the average heat-wave season has increased by 45 days. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects a similar trend across the planet.
At the same time, large heat waves are becoming more common
When they occur frequently and last for a long time, heat waves are likely to occur in different places at the same time.
“The way we define a simultaneous heat wave is that there are two regions in the mid-latitudes that experience a large heat wave at the same time. That’s almost every day during the summer,” Singh said.
That’s a recent development. In the year In the 1980s, heat waves occurred only 20-30 days each summer, Singh said. Global warming has led to a sixfold increase in concurrent heat waves over the past 40 years, according to a study she and Kornhuber co-authored, published in June in the Journal of the American Meteorological Society. The study found that during the same heat waves, 46% more land was covered and 17% higher than 40 years ago.
According to Kornhuber, this summer is only unusual in a stable climate.
Kornhuber said: “We are in a climate that is constantly moving towards extremes. It is what we expect from this point of view, and scientists have been predicting what will happen for decades.”
“We must not go down this road,” he said, calling for a rapid reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. “But if things continue to develop the way they are, it’s clear that we’re going to see more record-breaking extremes like this year and more of the same extremes and even more extremes.”