Heatwaves hitting US and Europe are ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change, researchers say

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Heat waves simultaneously roasting the southwestern United States and southern Europe would have been «virtually impossible» if not for climate change, according to a group of scientists who study the likelihood of extreme weather events. A third heat wave could have been expected in China around once every 250 years if global warming were not a factor.

«The role of climate change is absolutely overwhelming» in producing all three extremes, said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London who contributed to the new research, which was published Tuesday by the World Weather Attribution group.

The group is a loose consortium of climate scientists who study extreme weather and publish rapid findings on the role of climate change in major events. Its research methods are published and peer-reviewed, but this specific, rapid analysis has not yet undergone a typical academic review process. Previous analyzes by this group have withstood scrutiny after their initial release and were eventually published in leading academic journals.

Global warming has increased the likelihood of extreme temperatures so significantly that record-breaking heat waves could be expected in places like Phoenix, Catalonia and China’s Xinjiang region this July once in 15 years in the US, once in 10 in southern Europe and once in five in China, the research found.

«This is not a surprise. This is absolutely not a surprise in terms of temperatures, the weather events that we are seeing,» Otto told a news conference. «In the past, these events would have been extremely rare.»

The analysis provides another example of how changes in global average temperatures can create conditions for new and damaging extremes. The scientists warned that the extremes seen this year are expected to worsen as humans continue to emit heat-trapping gases and rely heavily on fossil fuels.

“This is not the new normal, as long as we continue to burn fossil fuels. As long as we continue to burn fossil fuels, we will see more and more of these extremes,” Otto said.

Six climate scientists contributed to the recent study. He assessed an 18-day streak of high temperatures in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, a seven-day streak of high temperatures in Europe, and a 14-day streak of maximum measurements in the lowland regions of China.

Heat has been blamed for record power demand in China and outages in the US and Europe, as well as crop failures or livestock deaths in all three regions, according to the report.

This summer has broken records at a breakneck pace.

Earth saw its hottest June in modern times and also experienced its unofficial hottest days on record in July. Phoenix set its record for 24 consecutive days of temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. A township in Xinjiang, China hit 126 F, setting a national high temperature record. The heat in Europe has broken records and caused the closure of important tourist attractions.

The heat wave that gripped the southern US for much of July will soon expand to cover much of the country, according to the National Weather Service.

And it’s not just the heat that creates dangers in the US. The country has experienced a summer of extreme smoke from record-breaking Canadian wildfires, extreme rainfall that caused damaging flooding in the Northeast, and extreme ocean temperatures along much of its coastline.

Governments need to adapt better to protect people from the heat, Julie Arrighi of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center said at the press conference.

“These are events that we should be able to manage within our systems,” Arrighi said. “It underscores the need for our systems to adapt much faster, because the risks are increasing faster than we adapt.”

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