Global warming-related heat wave roasts Europe while death toll rises from India to Japan
Temperature departures from average across Europe, the Middle East and Africa on August 12, 2015.
On Aug. 8, Warsaw, Poland, hit its highest August temperature on record, with a high temperature of 97.9 degrees Fahrenheit, eclipsing the previous mark of 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 36.4 degrees Celsius, AccuWeather and the Washington Post reported.
Unusual heat associated with a large, unyielding heat dome of high pressure will continue to roast large portions of central and eastern Europe for the rest of this week, and after a brief break this weekend, the heat may return for next week, according to the latest weather forecasts. At least 19 cities in the Czech Republic alone have already tied or set new all-time heat records, weather.com reported.
It’s not just Europe that is setting records right now.
Unusually extreme heat is also affecting Egypt, a country not known for its temperate summer weather. The country’s state-run news agency reported that more than 60 people have died from heat-related illnesses since late July, while 581 people have been hospitalized, as temperatures have soared well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
People walk in Tokyo with sunshades under the scorching sun on August 5, 2015.
Image: Kyodo via AP/Associated Press
Temperatures have reached a staggering 114 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 46 degrees Celsius, in southern Egypt, which is unusual for that region. At least 40 people have died since Sunday, according to the AP, including patients in a psychiatric hospital. The heat wave there is expected to last until mid-August, according to the country’s weather agency, the Cairo Post reported.
Extreme heat also continues to roast Iraq, where the government has resorted to calling two mandatory day-off periods so far this summer. Temperatures have eclipsed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 49 degrees Celsius, in Baghdad and Basra, two of the country’s largest cities. Intermittent power and water services have sparked protests of the government.
In Japan, at least 90 people have died in an unrelenting hot spell, particularly from Tokyo to Hokkaido, according to government data. Tokyo reached at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or 35 degrees Celsius, on eight straight days in August, which was unprecedented for that densely populated city, according to the Weather Channel. More than 47,000 have been hospitalized for heat-related illnesses so far this year, most of them elderly patients.
The heat waves began in June before the Indian Monsoon kicked into gear, as high temperatures well into the triple digits Fahrenheit hit India and Pakistan, killing more than 2,000.
While only one of these heat waves has been studied for its links to climate change, global warming is likely playing a significant role in most, or all, of these.
“While it is still true that we won’t ever know the contribution of global warming to any individual event until a formal analysis has been conducted, severe heat is where we have the strongest evidence that global warming has increased the risk of individual extreme events,” wrote Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University, in an email to Mashable.
“This is implied by the many observational studies that showing that severe heat events have been increasing, and by the many climate modeling studies showing that rising greenhouse gas concentrations increase the probability of severe heat events.”
All-time records are no match for this summer
Temperature records have fallen on several continents, making the summer of 2015 stand out from others that featured record-smashing and deadly heat events, such as 2003, when an August heat wave killed more than 40,000 in Europe.
Temperature anomaly map from June 28, 2015, showing the area of extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest.
Image: WeatherBell Analytics
Here are some of the other noteworthy temperature records that have been set so far this summer:
- Madrid set monthly high temperature records in both June and July, with a record high temperature on July 6 of 103.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 39.9 degrees Celsius.
- Germany broke its all-time heat record on July 5, when the temperature reached 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40.3 degrees Celsius, in Kitzingen, according to Germany’s National Meteorological Service.
- The U.K. set an all-time July heat record when the temperature at London’s Heathrow Airport reached 98.1 degrees Fahrenheit, or 36.7 degrees Celsius, according to the Met Office.
- Maastrict, Netherlands, set a new national July heat record in July, when the temperature reached 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38.2 degrees Celsius, according to the Weather Channel.
- Bickleton, Washington set an all-time high temperature record of 108 degrees Fahrenheit, or 42.2 degrees Celsius, on June 28. This broke the previous record of 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38.9 degrees Celsius, most recently reached in August of 1961.
- Nemuro, Japan set an all-time high temperature record of 92.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 33.6 degrees Celsius, on August 5. Records there date back to 1879, according to weather.com.
Where global warming fits in
Heat waves are a typical occurrence during the summer, but the heat seen this year has been off the charts in many locations. Published scientific research shows that manmade global warming is very likely playing an integral role in intensifying, and possibly also triggering, these extreme heat events.
So far, only one of these heat waves has been analyzed specifically to determine the possible role global warming may have played in it. However, there’s a vast amount of scientific literature that allows some conclusions to be made about some of the other extreme heat events as well.
Mean probability of exceeding the pre-industrial 99th percentile of daily temperature relative to pre-industrial times. Each image shows a different warming scenario.
Image: Fischer and Knutti/Nature Climate Change 2015
A study from an extreme event attribution group coordinated by Climate Central, a nonprofit climate research and journalism organization, found that manmade global warming almost certainly raised the likelihood of the European heat wave in early July. That study was produced by multiple scientific institutions, but it has not undergone peer review.
The other heat waves have not yet been analyzed, and each event has different sets of causes. However, one of the most confident conclusions of climate science is that as the world warms on average, the likelihood and intensity of heat waves are increasing. For example, one study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 found that the odds of extremely hot summers were already spiking as global average surface temperatures continued to increase.
According to the study, during the period from 1951-1980, extremely hot summers covered just 1% of the Earth’s surface, but this had risen to 10% by 1981-2010, and higher still during the years between 2006 and 2010.
Or to put it another way, the study found that the odds of extremely hot summers were about 1-in-300 during the 1951-1980 period, but were almost 1-in-10 by 1981-2010.
Weather map showing the European heat dome centered across eastern Europe on August 12, 2015.
Image: WeatherBell Analytics
A study published in April in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the probability of 1-in-1,000-day hot extremes over land is already about five times higher than it was in pre-industrial times, when global average surface temperatures were lower. To put it another way, the study found that about 75% of “those moderate hot extremes are attributable to warming.”
The study, along with many others, found that the probability of hot extremes is likely to increase significantly as global warming continues.
“… Although atmospheric variability plays a key role in creating the conditions that produce individual severe heat events, we now have empirical evidence that the increasing heat in the atmosphere has increased the severity of heat when those atmospheric patterns do occur,” Stanford’s Diffenbaugh told Mashable. “Together, this evidence implies that global warming has already increased the risk of the kinds of severe heat events that have occurred this summer.”