TESTING – Explaining this summer’s extreme weather

As thousands die from heat waves and flooding, climate scientists explain what’s behind the weather’s ‘new norm’

Jincang Wetland Park wastewater discharge

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This summer will be remembered for its record-breaking heatwaves and other extreme weather events around the world. For some people, it’s the moment they accepted that extreme heat will become a more common and a part of their future, as they mourn the thousands to have died either directly or indirectly from the hot weather.

A summer of extremes

In China, the global heatwave has broken records in Beijing, where temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius, the hottest in 50 years. Meanwhile in north-west China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, more than 5,200 residents were evacuated after torrential rain battered Helan Mountain from July 22 onwards.

In Greece this week, wildfires killed over 80 people. The incredibly dry summer turned brushwood and cones to tinder. Gale force winds up to 124 kilometres per hour fanned the flames, such that they were “changing direction on a minute-by-minute basis”.

The UK is better known for its wet summers, but fire services have been stretched by a record number of blazes this year caused by high temperatures. In July, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee warned that, “There will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 if the Government does not take action.”


Is climate change to blame?

“Studies that have separated the role of human-caused climate change from natural cycles show that the risk of heat waves has more than doubled due to climate change so far in large parts of the world,” says Corinne Le Quéré, professor of Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of East Anglia.

Heat waves has more than doubled due to climate change so far in large parts of the world

Climatologists have been emphatic that in the future heatwaves will grow more frequent and more ferocious.

“We know that the planet has warmed by around 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times, and we know that if you add that heat to the system it is very likely heatwaves will be more extreme,” says Grahame Madge, spokesperson for the UK’s Meteorological Office.

However, it’s not simply down to climate change and scientists have offered metrological explanations for these complex causes.

Dr Marie Ekström, research fellow in climate change impacts at Cardiff University, attributes the changes in Europe’s weather to a weakened jet stream, which influences the weather on the surface.