Once more, severe heat is gripping millions of people. Last weekend, Europe was surrounded by hot air, which made areas of France and Spain seem like they would in July or August. China’s northern and central regions were burnt by high temperatures while the country’s southern regions were inundated by torrential rains. Even though the monsoon rains have begun, some areas of India have been enduring extreme temperatures since March.
It’s too soon to determine whether the extreme heat waves that occurred at around the same time, barely days into summer, in these four booming economies — which also happen to be the leading emitters of heat-trapping gases — are directly related to climate change.
While global warming is increasing the frequency of excessive heat worldwide, further investigation is needed to tell scientists whether a particular weather event was rendered more frequent or more intense as a result of human-induced warming. (Researchers who examined India’s horrendous spring heat determined that climate change has increased the likelihood of such an event by 30 times.)
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Nevertheless, it appears that certain groupings of remote locations are experiencing simultaneous heat waves more frequently these days, maybe due to the jet stream and other air rivers that affect global weather systems.
According to studies, there are connections between some regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. While scientists are still working to understand how these patterns might evolve as the planet warms much more, for the time being, it means that areas, where a lot of the world’s economic activity is concentrated, will likely continue to experience simultaneous heat extremes.
A climate scientist at Northwestern University named Daniel E. Horton remarked, “To have a heat wave, we need the heat, and we need the air circulation pattern that permits the heat to accumulate.” We “are absolutely experiencing greater heat” as a result of global warming, he claimed.
But according to him, the manner that this heat is dispersed by air currents around the globe may also be impacted by climate change.
Weather extremes occurring simultaneously in several places are more than just meteorological oddities. A single heat wave may cause disease, fatalities, wildfires, and agricultural failures. Concurrent ones can endanger the world’s food supplies, which have been gravely threatened this year as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Scientists no longer have much doubt that climate change is making heat waves worse, despite the fact that complicated local factors like urbanization and land use affect them.
Some scientists contend that in the near future, the question of whether climate change is a primary driver may simply be irrelevant because the most destructive heat waves ever recorded have no historical precedent from the period just before humans began pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
According to Texas A&M University‘s Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist, recent warming has already made it difficult for scientists to determine what qualifies as a heat wave and what should be treated as the new normal for hot weather.
Dr. Dessler said it is “not at all unusual” to see heat waves occurring more frequently in numerous locations at once if the definition of a heat wave is simply the mercury reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit for days in a row.
According to him, more and more of the earth will eventually experience those temperatures to the point when every land region in the mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere would be above 100 degrees.
However, even when scientists examine how frequently temperatures are above a specific threshold in relation to a moving average, they still discover a significant rise in the frequency of concomitant heat waves.
This was done in a recent study, which discovered that between the 1980s and the 2010s, the average number of days in the Northern Hemisphere between May and September with at least one significant heat wave increased from 73 to about 152.
However, from 20 to about 143, the number of days with two or more heat waves was seven times higher. From May through September, that amounts to almost every single day.
The study also discovered that by the 2010s, these concurrent heat waves were more severe and had broader geographic impacts than they had been in the 1980s, with peak intensities that were over a fifth higher. According to the study, there were 3.6 heat waves on average every day on days when there was at least one significant heat wave somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
Deepti Singh, a climate scientist at Washington State University and one of the study’s authors, stated that these “dramatic” increases were unexpected.
The most frequent locations for concurrent heat waves during those four decades were also examined by Dr. Singh and her co-authors. Large simultaneous heat waves increasingly frequently hit areas of eastern North America, Europe, and central and eastern Asia between 1979 and 2019 — “more frequently than what we would expect merely by the effect of warming,” Dr. Singh said.
According to her, no attempt was made in the study to forecast whether heat waves following this pattern would occur more frequently as global warming progresses.
In this era of global warming, scientists are attempting to determine how the jet stream’s meandering, which has historically influenced weather patterns for billions of people, maybe alter. The Arctic is rapidly warming, which reduces the temperature difference between the northern and southern regions of the Northern Hemisphere. There is still some disagreement over how specifically this may be affecting extreme weather.
Dr. Kornhuber stated that prolonged heat waves “push natural and societal processes to the edge.”
According to him, climate change already indicates that there will be more simultaneous extreme weather occurrences and more extreme weather events overall. He said that these circulatory alterations would work on top of it and would exacerbate already extreme conditions by increasing their severity and frequency.
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