The weight of climate change on the UK heatwave

by Cinthia Leone (Climainfo)

THE climate change caused by human activities, especially the extraction of fossil fuels, has made the UK heat wave in July 2022 at least 10 times more likely. So says the rapid attribution analysis conducted by an international team of climate scientists within the World Weather Attribution network.

The scientists point out that this is a conservative estimate, as extreme temperatures in Western Europe have exceeded what climate model simulations predicted.

Climate change has increased the risk of a heat wave in the UK (Photo: Getty Images)

In 15 July 2022, the UK’s National Weather Service, Met Office, issued an extreme heat warning for the first time.. In the following days, many weather stations across the country recorded their highest-ever temperatures, in many cases breaking previous records by 3°C and 4°C. In July 19, Coningsbyin Lincolnshire, established a national record high temperature: 40.3°C1.6°C warmer than the previous record and 3.6°C warmer than the record that held until 1990.

“In Europe and in other parts of the world we are seeing more and more record-breaking heatwaves causing extreme temperatures that have become hotter faster than in most climate models. It’s a worrying finding that suggests that if carbon emissions are not reduced quickly, the consequences of climate change on extreme heat in Europe, which is already extremely deadly, could be even worse than we previously thought.” from the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, and one of the authors of the attribution study,

Although the exact number of victims of extreme heat in the UK has not yet been tallied, estimates point to hundreds of heat-related deaths.

More intense and frequent hot flashes

Around the world, climate change has made heat waves more common, longer and hotter. To quantify the effect of climate change specifically on high temperatures in the UK, scientists analyzed weather data and computer simulations comparing the climate as it is today, after nearly 1.2°C of global warming since the late 19th century. with the climate of the past, following peer-reviewed methods.

Roop Singh, one of the authors of the study, a researcher at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, warns:

“Heat waves are the deadliest type of extreme weather event in Europe, killing thousands each year. But they don’t have to be. Many of these deaths are preventable if there are adequate adaptation plans in place.” Without rapid and comprehensive adaptation and emissions cuts, the situation will only get worse.”

The analysis focused on maximum temperatures over two days in the worst-affected region of the UK, an area around central England and eastern Wales. THE research found that the frequency and magnitude of such events have increased due to human-caused climate change.

Still, determining the exact contribution of climate change proved difficult, as extreme heat in Western Europe increased more than estimated by climate models. While models estimate that greenhouse gas emissions increased temperatures in this heat wave by 2°C, historical climate records indicate that the heat wave would have been 4°C cooler in a world that had not been warmed by human activities.

Fraser Lott, Researcher at the Climate Monitoring and Attribution Scientist at the Met Office Hadley Center and also one of the authors of the attribution study correlating man-made climate change and extreme heat in July 2022 in the UK comments:

“Two years ago, Met Office scientists verified that the chance of seeing 40°C in the UK was 1 in 100 in a given year, compared to 1 in 1000 in the natural climate. It has been sad to see such an event happen so soon after that. study, see the raw data reported from our weather stations. This new work confirms the previous study, and also points us towards further adjustments. The latest developments, which made it possible to predict the heat wave two weeks in advance, are now fueling the next generation of climate simulations”.

According to the authors, this suggests that the models are underestimating the real impact of human-caused climate change on high temperatures in the UK and elsewhere in Western Europe. This also means that the analysis results are conservative and climate change likely increased the frequency of this event by more than the factor of 10 estimated by the study.

You Model results indicate that a heat wave as intense as this is still rare in today’s climate, even after being made more likely by climate change, with a 1% chance of happening each year, according to a previous study done at the UK Met Office. But weather records again suggest this may be an underestimate with similar heat waves now more likely to happen than climate models suggest.

The study was conducted by 21 researchers, including scientists from universities and meteorological agencies in Denmark, France, Germany,

Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand.

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