Researchers warn: This is why heat waves can become normal

According to climate researchers, extreme weather such as heat waves will occur more frequently in the future and in different places at the same time.
Getty Images / Nicholas Reissell / IM

Large parts of the Northern Hemisphere will be hit again and again by deadly heat waves this summer.

This could become the norm: climate change means heat waves are becoming more frequent, intense and longer-lasting.

So the world must prepare for more major heat waves in the most diverse regions in the future.

The third heat wave of summer is currently sweeping across Europe, causing devastating wildfires and threatening millions of people. On Sunday alone, Portugal and Spain reported more than 1,000 heat-related deaths. Thousands of people have fled forest fires in France. One airport in the UK has suspended operations after its runway melted – and another after its runway receded in hot weather, according to Sky News. The highest temperature ever recorded in Wales. British meteorologists expect higher temperatures on Tuesday.

The entire Northern Hemisphere has already experienced heat waves this year

But not only in Europe the heat prevails. Almost the entire Northern Hemisphere saw heat records this month, from China to North Africa to the United States, where the sweltering heat is expected to last another two weeks. This is the latest in a series of heat waves occurring simultaneously around the world this year.

“I wish I could say this isn’t normal,” Washington State University climate scientist Deepti Singh told Business Insider US. “The potential for a heat wave increases just because it is getting warmer. It happens pretty much everywhere in the world,” said Singh, who experienced a heat wave that killed more than 1,400 people in the Pacific Northwest last year. Europe is also experiencing extreme heat.

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Scientists warn that heat waves could become normal

Synchronous heat waves are becoming more common as global temperatures rise. This summer may be remembered as being particularly hot, but that may become the norm. In light of this, researchers warn that the world urgently needs to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause warming.

At the same time, cities in particular must adapt to the heat. Greening areas can help give residents more shade. In addition, surfaces such as asphalt should be covered, as it can heat up significantly when exposed to direct sunlight. The government is also responsible for adapting the infrastructure to future temperature extremes. It should prevent railway lines from bending, cable melting or power outages. In addition, one would also have to provide cool rooms in which people could stay. Measures are also needed to protect people working outdoors. Finally, there is a lack of appropriate alarm systems.

Heat waves can be dangerous to health

“There has to be some sort of shift in the perception of what a heat wave actually means. It’s not a fun day at the beach, it could potentially be a health hazard,” Kay Kornhuber, a climate physicist at Columbia University, told Business Insider US.

In March, both poles, the North and South poles, simultaneously hit record heat, despite being in opposite seasons. At the same time, India and Pakistan were hit by a two-month heat wave. In June, the United States and Europe also set new temperature records – while persistent heat and wildfires destroyed crops in Tunisia.

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“These temperatures come in at only 2°C of global warming, and we’re on track for another 4°C rise this century,” Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, told The Associated Press. At the time, temperatures in his city broke the 38-degree mark. “I can’t even imagine how bad it would be,” he says.

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Scientists don’t always attribute specific heat waves directly to climate change. However, additional analyzes allow a direct conclusion. At the end of the heatwave between India and Pakistan in May, global weather reference scientists conducted such an analysis using historical data and found that climate change made this event 30 times more likely.

Simultaneous heat waves will increase in different places

In general, rising global temperatures are causing heat waves to become more frequent, intense and prolonged. The 2018 National Carbon Footprint Report found that the frequency of heat waves in the United States has tripled since the 1960s. In addition, the average heatwave season increased by 45 days. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a similar trend across the planet.

Since heat waves occur more frequently and last longer, it is inevitable that simultaneous heat waves in different locations will occur more frequently as well. “We define a simultaneous heat wave as any two regions at mid-latitude experiencing large heat waves at the same time. This is the case pretty much every day during the summer season,” Singh said.

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Our climate is constantly shifting towards more extremes

In fact, this is a recent development. Singh said that in the 1980s, summer heat waves only occurred 20 to 30 days at a time. However, due to global warming, the frequency of simultaneous heat waves has increased sixfold in the past 40 years. That came from a study she and Kornhuber co-authored, and published in June in the “Journal of the American Meteorological Society.” The study also found that simultaneous heat waves covered an area about 46 percent more and peaked 17 percent higher than they did 40 years ago. According to Kornhuber, this summer is considered unusual only in the context of a stable climate.

“We are in a climate that is constantly becoming more and more extreme. In this sense, it is exactly what we have been expecting and what scientists have been predicting over the past decade.” However, he adds, “we don’t have to go down that road.” So he’s calling for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but he also knows: “If things continue to evolve as they do, it is quite clear that we will see more extremes in record-breaking and simultaneous — even more extreme.”

This article was translated from the English by Lisa Dietrich. You can find the original over here.

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