Friday, August 12, 2022

UK extreme heat wave would have been ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change

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Climate change made UK’s record-breaking heat wave at least 10 times more likely last week, new Research has found. The analysis was published yesterday by the World Weather Attribution initiative, a collaboration of scientists from universities and research institutes around the world.

“In a climate unaffected by human-induced climate change, it would be virtually impossible for the UK temperature to reach 40°C, but climate change has already made heatwaves in the UK more frequent, intense and prolonged,” Mark McCarthy, science manager at the National Climate Information Center, said in a Met Office press release.

The Met Office first declared a “Red” heat warning for “exceptional heat” in parts of England for July 18 and 19. And the Health Security Agency has its highest warning for heat healthsaying, “illness and death can occur in the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.”

Temperatures reached a scorching 40.3 degrees Celsius on July 19 in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, about 225 km north of London, a new record. The previous temperature record of 38.7 degrees Celsius in the UK was set in 2019 – and that was met or broken at 46 different weather stations in the UK last week.

The heat was devastating to communities accustomed to much milder temperatures. Last week’s oppressive heat crippled infrastructure train tracks, roads, and a runway. The London Fire Brigade responded to more fires in a day than it had done since World War II as hot, dry conditions set the stage for fires. Authorities are still taking stock of heat-related deaths, but an early analysis estimates 948 people may have died as a result of the heat in England and Wales from July 17-19.

Temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius in the UK would have been “extremely unlikely,” says the World Weather Attribution initiative, “without man-made climate change.” Normally London average high temperature is around 23 degrees Celsius (74 degrees Fahrenheit) this time of year. Even with global warming, last week’s ridiculous temperatures are an outlier for the red-alarm regions: They’re likely to occur only once every 1,000 years, the researchers said. That figure may vary from country to country, but it still shows how extreme the heat was.

To conduct their analysis, the scientists looked at both historical observations and climate models, focusing on the regions under the red heat warning. Both methods came to the same conclusion: the climate crisis made the extreme heat wave in the UK at least 10 times more likely.

They did notice that the effects of climate change looked more severe in the real-world data than in the climate models. The researchers’ observational data analysis found that last week’s heat wave would have been 4 degrees Celsius cooler in pre-industrial times — without the greenhouse gas emissions that were giving the planet a fever. Climate models, on the other hand, found that without global warming, temperatures would have been 2 degrees Celsius lower. That raises the question of whether the future could be even more disastrous than we already expect.

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