Summer heat 2021 and climate change

    21 Jul 2021

    In Canada and Russia recently an abnormal heat was observed – almost +50° C. And in Kuwait, one of the warmest countries in the world, it is “more than +70° C in the sun”, according to local media. Has global warming led to this? Will it always be this way now? And is it possible to somehow adapt to such weather?

    First, let’s check Meduza’s interview with Pavel Konstantinov, climatologist and associate professor at Moscow State University.

    – In Kuwait, the temperature is recorded above 70° C in the sun. Why is it so hot?

    – The information coming from Kuwait is contradictory. They report strange parameters: 70° C in the sun. But 70° c in the sun also happens in our southern regions.

    The standard temperature – in the shade at the height of two meters from the surface – is now just over 50 degrees. This is normal for those territories. The sun above them is now close to the zenith; the regions are deserted. In tropical and subtropical deserts, the maximum temperatures are consistently observed in summer. In this, I do not see anomalies.

    – Why shouldn’t the temperature in the sun be measured?

    – The temperature in the sun is the temperature of the object with which you measure it. If you put an ordinary mercury thermometer in the sun, then it will show not the air temperature but the temperature of the heated mercury in its tank. Therefore, on the sunny side, it is useless to look at a thermometer – it shows the temperature of glass and plastic, which is very different from the air temperature.

    It is bad manners to report temperature records in the sun. Nobody has done this for 50 years. Even the media have adapted to this. And professional meteorological services have not worked with this parameter for about a hundred years.

    Therefore, these are rather strange messages from Kuwait. I am wary of such statements.

    – Another recent anomaly is a heatwave of about 50° C in Canadian cities and villages. Why is it so hot there?

    – A thermal dome has formed there from humid air, “abandoned” from the south of the American continent. In addition, the air warmed up additionally under the sun’s rays – and the sun now sets there for a short time or does not set at all. This caused such crazy temperatures for those latitudes.

    – How often are such thermal domes formed?

    “Throwing air” has never happened so far to the north. What is happening now is a unique North American phenomenon with an unprecedented thermal dome power. And in Moscow, a similar situation with the thermal dome was in 2010.

    – Why is the capacity of the thermal dome increasing?

    – Due to the global warming process. There is a bunch here. For example, a sign of global warming in Russia is an increase in the frequency of adverse weather events. These are both heavy rains and the recurrence of heatwaves.

    – Over time, intense heat, heavy rains, and abnormal frosts will occur more often?

    – In the coming decades, their frequency and intensity will grow.

    – Is it difficult to predict further?

    – It is more competent to speak even about 20-30 years. The fact is that even if we switch to low-carbon technologies at the snap of our fingers and reduce emissions to fight global warming, the earliest when we see the result is at the beginning of the second half of the 21st century. The inertia of the system is very high. Carbon dioxide, which has already been emitted, will determine the nature of the climate on our planet in the next 20-30 years. Therefore, it is essential to adapt.

    – Have some countries worldwide already adapted?

    – Some examples of adaptation appeared even in Moscow after 2010. The number of air conditioners has increased, cool rooms have been organized in public spaces where a pensioner can relax. Although, of course, there is still room to strive for.

    In Western Europe, this happened in Germany and France. There, after 2003*, the methods of dealing with hot weather were significantly revised. They helped people cope with the heat of 2019* more safely.

    (*About heat in Europe in 2003. 2003 was the hottest summer in Europe on record (up to an abnormally hot summer in Europe in 2019). In the south of France, the temperature reached 44.1° C, in Germany in the city of Freiburg – 40.2° C. Then about 15 thousand people died from the effects of the heat in Europe.)

    (*Heat in Europe in 2019. There was an abnormally hot summer in Europe. Then, in the south of France, the absolute temperature record was broken, which was previously recorded in 2003 – 44.3° C. (Germany – 40.9° C, Netherlands – 39.4° C). In Spain and France, authorities declared the red level of danger: people died from the heat, and forests burned. But thanks to the measures developed since 2003, 10 times fewer people died in 2019 than 16 years earlier.)

    – What methods are there, besides air conditioners and cooling rooms?

    – This is the adaptation of urban infrastructure, complete landscaping, green roofs, an increase in water infrastructure. All this affects the urban microclimate. Moreover, all the tools and methods of progressive planning – they are also called climate-friendly (which means considering the peculiarities of the climate and its change) – are and can be applied with us. No need to reinvent “rocket science.”

    – Besides landscaping, how else can you adapt the city to the heat?

    – These are competent development scenarios. Ventilation corridors, as a result of which stagnant zones, the so-called stone bags, are not formed. This makes it possible to make urban development and living in it more comfortable even at the planning level. It is not at the level when everything is already bad; you need to close the house and turn on the air conditioner.

    This is also bad since the air conditioner emits warm air outside – and exacerbates adverse heat stress conditions in the streets.

    – How can the countryside be protected?

    – The village is more protected from a climatic point of view than the city – due to microclimatic patterns, the nights are noticeably cooler here. The risk in cities is more remarkable because there are more people, an urban “heat island” is being formed. With the villages, it is necessary to conduct educational work and improve the quality of medical work since the heart, and people with chronic diseases suffer from the heat.

    Temperature distribution (two meters from the ground) on July 12, 2021. Shades of red indicate a temperature of about 30 degrees and above

    Climate Reanalyzer / Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA

    – How should a person understand the news about the weather? When he reads that, for example, in Texas, it was very cold in winter, and now it is very hot, what does that mean? After all, many people associate neither cold nor rainfall with global warming.

    – Abnormal heat and abnormal cold are the consequences of the mechanism that was launched by global warming. A common phrase that everyone is vying to quote is Academician Alexander Obukhov’s statement: “The climate in the era of global warming is becoming more nervous.” People need to prepare and adapt their infrastructure for this. And warming in North America is a wake-up call that we may be underestimating the formation of these heatwaves under the conditions of blocking anticyclones and thermal domes.

    – We can still assess the current weather from the perspective of the Earth’s solar cycles. What solar cycle are we in now?

    – If we evaluate in terms of geological times, and this is a scale of ten thousand years, then now a weak cooling cycle begins.

    (Solar cycling is a periodic change in solar activity. The most famous solar cycle is 11 years. In about four years, the number of sunspots increases rapidly on the Sun, then decreases over seven years. In September 2020, NASA announced the start of a new solar cycle. There are also solar and climatic cycles that last for centuries or even several thousand years.)

    – And a cold snap awaits us?

    – We will not feel it because the anthropogenic factor of global warming is incomparable with the natural one. For example, carbon dioxide emissions. A person emits carbon dioxide a year a hundred times more than all volcanoes. We have already thrown so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the natural cycle remains in the background.

    In addition, there is now a line of short-term warming caused by a change in the gas composition from anthropogenic factors. Therefore, for the next 50-100 years, we will not feel the natural cycle.

    – Will we ever feel a cold snap?

    – The fact is that there is a lot of carbon dioxide, and the process of removing it from the atmosphere will take at least 100 years. Even if the most efficient carbon polygons (which don’t exist yet!) work.   

    (Carbon polygon is an area where it is planned to test technologies for controlling the production and absorption of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases).

    In the coming years, we are captive to the situation caused by the previous century with active industrial activity. And if we successfully cope with the problem (and preserve to the maximum the achievements and the level of development of our civilization), then in a hundred years the theoretical cooling will not even be a problem for our children, but at best for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

    What governments and cities need to do to protect their residents from the heat – The Economist

    Heatwaves in the coming years and decades will become more frequent and deadly. What can be done? This is stated in the article of The Economist.

    What is most striking in the current heatwave in the northwestern United States is not just that it has reached a usually cool region, but how many historical records have been broken at the same time. And even more – that these records were exceeded at once by so many degrees.

    For example, in Portland, Oregon, temperatures reached an unprecedented 46.6 degrees, beating the previous one by a full 5 degrees Celsius. In parallel, similar things are happening in Central Europe and even in Siberia.

    Heatwaves generate headlines, but they receive less attention than they should. Thus, in 2018, about 300,000 people over the age of 65 died during abnormal periods of heat, mainly in India and China. This is 54% more than before 2000, according to the most famous medical journal Lancet.

    Unlike storms or floods, heat does not lead to the destruction of things and dramatic pictures “before and after.” It is a silent killer – its victims become known only later when extras process data on excessive mortality and its causes.

    The fact that 70,000 people died in Europe due to the heatwave of 2003 became apparent only in 2008 after data were processed and compared.

    Heat also kills, exacerbating conditions such as heart and vascular problems – so not even all deaths caused by it are directly attributed to heat.

    Climate change will make heat waves more frequent and extreme.

    Even if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century (and we are unlikely to do so), temperatures will rise for decades to come.

    So in the meantime, additional measures are needed to protect people from heatwaves.

    Governments can set up early warning systems for health workers, temporary school closures, and the relocation of, for example, mass events.

    It is necessary to provide the public with specific forecasts for heatwaves, explain the dangers, and advise in detail what not to do and what can be done.

    Digital notification methods should be used not only in high-tech places like Portland. Thus, in 2017, half of the population of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was notified through social networks about the approaching heatwave.

    Infrastructure improvements can also help: shady places, water parks, artificial fog cooling stations, and access to air-conditioned centers where people can find shelter and sleep if they don’t have access to other cool places.

    Such things depend on a more fundamental infrastructure – reliable access to water and electricity for all, and sometimes you need to take care of their accumulation in advance.

    Finally, planning. New buildings must be designed in advance for heatwaves. Existing facilities should be adapted by adding layers of light materials that inhibit heat penetration and its accumulation in urban areas.

    And trees, many trees. Planting plants create shade and physically cools the air. Ideally, authorities should plant whole Miyawaki forests in and around cities.

    (You may read about this kind of mini-forests here).

    It is clear that at this moment, the world is focused on another, more immediate crisis – COVID-19. However, heatwaves (and the obesity epidemic, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, etc.) pose another predictable threat. It was difficult to predict a coronavirus pandemic, and its timing and severity were impossible. Instead, it is already possible to anticipate these problems, and therefore partially prevent them. And it is necessary. There are no excuses for inaction.

    Global warming: scientists believe that climate change exceeds the worst forecasts

    Climate change has increased the probability of extreme weather conditions by 150 times, The Guardian states.

    New temperature records were set in Portland, Washington, and British Columbia last week. The heat reached 49.6 degrees Celsius. Such air temperature was previously considered impossible for these latitudes.

    Analyzing these data, experts found that climate change caused by human activities has increased the likelihood of extreme weather conditions by 150 times. Frederic Otto, director of the Institute for Environmental Change at Oxford University, said:

    This is by far the most significant temperature jump I have ever seen; we must expect that heat waves will not behave as in the past.

    Climatologists believe that the situation with climate change on Earth now exceeds the worst expectations. Researchers still need to understand whether such a sharp jump in air temperature on the planet is accidental or whether it indicates the crossing of a critical limit when the Earth begins to heat up rapidly. Similar trends may occur in different countries around the world, especially in Africa.

    Rising temperatures may be hitting faster and harder than forecast, say climate scientists in the wake of heatwaves in the US and Canada.

    The world needs to step up preparations for extreme heat, which may be hitting faster and harder than previously forecast. A group of leading climate scientists has warned in the wake of freakishly high temperatures in Canada and the US.

    Last week’s heat dome above British Columbia, Washington state, and Portland, Oregon smashed daily temperature records by more than 5C (9F) in some places. This spike would have been considered impossible two weeks ago, the experts said, prompting concerns the climate may have crossed a dangerous threshold.

    A first analysis of the heatwave, released on July 14, found that human-caused climate change made the extreme weather at least 150 times more likely.

    Temperatures are going up worldwide due to greenhouse emissions, and scientists have long predicted that heat records will be broken with increasing frequency.

    But the authors of the new study said the latest warming surge exceeded even the worst-case scenarios of climate models. This forces them to revise their understanding of heatwaves and consider the possibility that other parts of the world, including the UK, could suffer similar temperature jolts.

    “This is by far the largest jump in the record I have ever seen,” said Dr. Friederike Otto, the associate director of the environmental change institute at the University of Oxford. He is one of the founders of the World Weather Attribution group that produced the latest study. “We should definitely not expect heatwaves to behave as they have in the past … in terms of what we need to prepare for.”

    A key focus now is whether the affected areas were simply unlucky or whether the climate system has crossed a threshold and entered a new stage where a small amount of overall global heating can cause a faster rise in extreme temperatures.

    There is, as yet, no scientific consensus on this. Still, researchers will now study as a matter of urgency whether additional forms of climate disruption, such as drought or a slowing jetstream, could be amplifying heatwaves.

    Another co-author of the new paper, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, said that up until last year, standard climate models had assumed that there was an upper boundary to heatwaves that moved roughly twice as fast as broader global heating trends.

    “We thought we knew what was going on … Then this heatwave came, which was way above the upper bound. With the knowledge of last year, this was impossible. This was surprising and shaking,” he said. “We are now much less certain about heatwaves than we were two weeks ago. We are very worried about the possibility of this happening everywhere, but we just don’t know yet.”

    Recent headlines have focused on the US and Canada, which hit a record of 49.6° C at a latitude similar to the UK. More than 500 deaths have been linked to the heat, which also sparked forest fires, glacial meltwater floods, power cuts, and buckled roads.

    The scientists stressed that they could find similar heating trends through this technology in many other parts of the world. However, they often go underreported, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which does not have as many monitoring stations and which receives much fewer media coverage. Parts of Siberia and Pakistan have recently experienced unusually intense heat waves. Meteorologists also recorded the hottest-ever June days last month in Helsinki, Moscow, and Estonia.

    The World Weather Attribution group has previously traced a strong link between the climate crisis and other extreme events, including the 2020 heatwave in Siberia, the 2019-20 Australian wildfires, European heatwaves in 2018 and 2019 and Tropical Storm Imelda, which hit Texas in 2019.

    More than storms and floods, Otto said human emissions had the most evident and most destructive influence on heatwaves, which are now reaching levels that are not adequately represented in current computer models.

    “What everyone needs to take from this study is how the impact of climate change is manifesting today is to a large degree in the strong intensity and frequency of heatwaves,” she said.

    In terms of deaths, illness, missed work hours, and property damage, the costs were overgrowing, said Maarten van Aalst of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and the University of Twente.

    “Heatwaves topped the global charts of deadliest disasters in both 2019 and 2020. Here we have another terrible example – sadly no longer a surprise but part of a very worrying global trend,” he said.

    The reported toll is likely to be an underestimate because heat is rarely mentioned on death certificates. Van Aalst urged governments to strengthen early warning systems and countermeasures for heatwaves. Architects and city planners should also design buildings and urban centers with more green space and cooling areas.

    More urgent still, said the scientists, was a rapid phase-out of the emissions that are causing global heating. At the current level of warming – about 1.2° C above pre-industrial levels – the recent deadly heat in the north-west Americas is considered extraordinary. Still, the new study found that it could occur once every five to 10 years if global temperatures rise by 2° C, which could come as early as 2050.

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