Why the UK heatwave is so bad and how climate change will affect the future

Why the UK heatwave is so bad and how climate change will affect the future


For two weeks, computer models teased the possibility that Britain could hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees) this week, a level not seen in at least 1850 – and likely in more than 6,000 years. Meteorologists stared in disbelief at these model predictions and were skeptical that such predictions would come true.

Six days ago, the UK Met Office put the chance of reaching 40 degrees Celsius at just 40 degrees Celsius 10 percent.

But that seems unlikely Model forecasts turned out to be correct. London Heathrow was one of six locations in Britain exceeded 40 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, breaking the UK’s all-time temperature record.

This is the latest example of how human-caused climate change is driving temperatures to levels previously thought unfathomable – faster than many can imagine.

Britain is experiencing the hottest day on record

In 2020, the Met Office released forecasts suggesting the type of heat seen across the UK on Tuesday could be a reasonably routine occurrence by 2050. But seeing this in 2022 struck scientists as both premature and an ominous preview of what is to come.

“I didn’t expect to see this in my career,” said Stephen Belcher, Met Office head of science and technology in an online video.

Belcher warned that if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed, temperatures in the UK could eventually get this hot every three years.

Another factor that startled scientists: Britain’s temperature record was not only eclipsed, but surpassed by 1.6 degrees Celsius (2.9 degrees Fahrenheit). The previous mark was 38.7 degrees Celsius, which was set in Cambridge two summers ago.

“For meteorologists, exceeding records by 2 or 3 degrees is an amazing thought when historical records have only been broken by fractions of a degree.” said Simon Kinga meteorologist for BBC.

At least that’s what the Met Office reported 34 locations in the country surpassed the previous national record.

The number of high-temperature records set in the UK on Tuesday, for both daily highs and overnight lows, and the extent to which they have been broken are reminiscent of last year’s Pacific Northwest heatwave.

That heatwave set high-temperature records by a wide margin in Seattle and Portland, which hit 108 and 116 degrees, respectively. Lytton, a village in British Columbia, broke Canada’s previous heat record of 113 degrees for three consecutive days, peaking on June 29 with a shocking 121 degrees.

“Difficult to understand”: Experts react to a record temperature of 121 degrees in Canada

Scientists from the World Weather Attribution project found that climate change has made the Pacific Northwest heatwave at least 150 times more likely.

Meteorologists also marveled at how far north temperatures shot up in this week’s European heatwave. London is further north than any other place in the Lower 48 States and is one degree north of Calgary. His 104 high was hotter than Houston and Miami.

Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate research at the University of East Anglia, said the high temperatures in the UK shouldn’t be that shocking.

“We should not be surprised at the extreme temperatures we are living with in the UK this week,” she said in an email. “The increase in extreme temperatures is a direct consequence of climate change caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. The temperature records will continue to get more and more extreme in the future.”

However, other scientists said the scale of these heatwaves could force people to reassess what climate-charged weather events might entail.

“I think it’s likely that as a society we have grossly underestimated the risks and potential consequences of heat runaways in densely populated/temperate regions where extreme heat has historically been rare.” tweeted Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “And #climatechange raises the stakes.”

“Models underestimate, if at all, the potential for future increases in various types of extremes [summer weather] events,” Michael Mann, a professor at Penn State, told the Guardian.

Kasha Patel contributed to this report.

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