Summer Goes From Hot to Hellish
Climate change is pushing temperatures higher year-round, but already-warm summers are getting hotter and more dangerous. The season, as the Washington Post writes, is shifting from "[a] time of joy into stretches of extreme heat, dangerously polluted air, anxiety, and lost traditions.” More than any other part of the country, the West is heating the fastest, with the last five summers being one degree Fahrenheit higher than the national average and a whole 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than those between 1971 and 2000. Such extreme, recent heatwaves would have been impossible if it weren’t for people pumping climate-warming emissions into the air.
PBS: Record heat wave in the US raises public health concerns, June 17, 2022.
BBC: Past seven years hottest on record, EU satellite data shows, January 10, 2022.
BBC: Deadly heatwaves ‘100 times more likely’ due to climate change, May 18, 2022.
Why This Matters
Climate change is making heatwaves both more intense and longer-lasting. Heat is the most deadly form of extreme weather in the US and tends to impact older folks, young people, and low-income people the most. For perspective, last summer’s record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest resulted in an all-time high number of calls to Seattle’s 911 emergency line. At the same time, hotter weather drives up AC use and stresses the power grid. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently warned that two-thirds of the country’s power grids are not equipped to handle this summer’s scorching temperatures.
DW: Time is running out | WMO warns 1.5 degree threshold could be topped by 2026, May 18, 2022.
NBC: Extreme Heat Raises Concerns about US Power Grids, June 17, 2022.
It’s not just the US. Other countries have had record-breaking heat this June, from Japan to Iran to Italy, to name a few. Rome was a blistering 40.8 degrees Celsius (105.4 degrees F) last month, and further north in the Dolomites, an avalanche caused by a melting glacier killed seven people. Meanwhile, the Iberian peninsula is experiencing heat and drought conditions much like the US West, and Norwegian towns above the Arctic Circle recorded temperatures above 85°F. In Tokyo, highs above 95°F for eight days in a row led the Japanese government to issue its first-ever power supply advisory for businesses and homes to restrict energy use.
DW: Italy in grips of severe drought as Po river dries up, July 3, 2022.
BBC: Japan swelters in its worst heatwave ever recorded, July 1, 2022.
European Heat Domes
In Europe, extreme heatwaves have surprised scientists, outpacing rising temperatures in other parts of the world. A new study suggests that these deadly heatwaves may be exacerbated by changes to the jet stream that produce a “dome” effect, that traps heat and raises temperatures. The effect has prompted some scientists to reconsider timeline predictions for climate change as current estimates may minimize risk. "Climate models tend to underestimate extreme weather risks," warned Kai Korhuber of Columbia University, a co-author of the study. “Projections of extreme heat under continued greenhouse gas emissions might be too conservative."
Sky News: Climate Change | What is a heat dome and how does it cause extreme heat?, August 3, 2022.
WW0: Climate and Health Are Connected, January 26, 2021.