Unprecedented heat extremes can happen “anytime, anywhere,” according to the study.
Climate change is increasing the risk of heat extremes. According to a new study, these can also occur in regions that have so far been spared. Accordingly, the scientists warn that unexpected temperature records would hit local people unprepared – with fatal consequences.
Last year’s shocking heat records make the consequences of climate change clearer than ever. In some parts of the world, temperatures reached levels never thought possible. But this is just the beginning, warn climate experts. In many regions of the world, heat waves are likely to be far more extreme in the future than they have been to date – and possibly claim far more victims, as a recent study in the scientific journal “Nature Communications” shows.
For their analysis, a research team led by Vikki Thompson evaluated global weather data from 1959 to 2022 using climate models. This enabled the scientists from the University of Bristol to estimate how likely extreme weather events from the past will be repeated. For example, they calculated in which regions the temperature records measured in the past will be broken shortly.
The result: According to the study, the hotspots of heat extremes include, on the one hand, less developed regions with a high population density and an already relatively hot climate, such as Afghanistan, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, or Papua New Guinea. Because these countries lack resources and funds for adaptation measures, the people there are particularly at risk in the event of an extreme heat wave.
But some industrialized countries could also experience momentous century records shortly, including Queensland, Australia, eastern Russia, Greater Beijing, and central Europe. New heat extremes are also expected in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. However, as highly developed industrialized countries, they are more likely to have heat protection plans in place to mitigate potential impacts, the scientists suggest.
Heat waves can occur anywhere.
Using the data, the British researchers were also able to show where statistically improbable extreme weather events occurred everywhere in the past: Nearly one-third, or 31 percent, of all regions studied have experienced at least one such event in the past 60 years. These temperature records were as extreme “as seemed impossible until they occurred,” study author Thompson writes. She and her team could not discern a temporal or spatial pattern.
1.5-degree mark could fall
El Niño makes 2023 and 2024 heat records more likely.
“It seems that such extremes can happen anytime, anywhere,” the scientists say. “Therefore, all regions must prepare to experience a heat wave that seemed implausible there based on previous observations.” That’s because temperature records could seriously impact society and the environment, especially if they hit regions unprepared – such as western North America in 2021.
Experts consider the extreme heat wave in Canada and the United States a millennium event. It resulted in some of the highest temperatures ever recorded in the region, including the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada: 49.5 degrees. In British Columbia alone, at least 719 people died suddenly within a week, three times the average. In the previous three to five years, there had been only three heat-related deaths in the Canadian province. And in the U.S., more than 200 people are also estimated to have died due to the extreme heat.
“Being prepared saves lives.”
“As heat waves become more common, we need to be better prepared,” study author Thompson said in a university news release. “Some regions we identified have rapidly growing populations, others are developing countries, and others are already very hot. So we must ask ourselves whether the heat action plans there are sufficient.”
And co-author Dann Mitchell is also convinced, “Being prepared saves lives.” He says some of the most surprising heat waves have resulted in tens of thousands of heat-related deaths worldwide. Planning, however, can reduce mortality rates due to climate extremes, according to Mitchell. For example, the 2003 heat wave in Europe is estimated to have claimed up to 70,000 lives and caused economic damage of about 13 billion euros. “Subsequent policy measures and heat protection plans resulted in fewer deaths during a summer of similar magnitude in 2006,” the study says.
Trees must be saved
At the time, Spain had also drawn up a national action plan for heat protection. This is likely to be implemented, particularly early this year. Because parts of Spain are already groaning under unusually high temperatures – and that in April. “It is not impossible that somewhere in the Andalusian hinterland, 40 degrees will be measured on Friday,” says meteorologist Miguel Ángel Viñas to the newspaper “La Vanguardia.” According to the Spanish meteorological authority, April records were already broken this week in several Andalusian cities before the heat peak: For example, in Córdoba, where the previous high of 34.0 degrees on Tuesday with 35.1 degrees was immediately exceeded significantly.
But according to experts, the rest of Europe must also prepare for a new summer of heat. According to the European climate observation service Copernicus, temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average and faster than on any other continent. According to the standard of the last five years, the climate in Europe is now about 2.2 degrees warmer than in the pre-industrial era (1850-1900). Given this trend, heat waves are becoming more likely and more extreme.
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