Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What is Causing Europe's Heatwaves?

The recent heatwave in Europe included the hottest day ever in France. The new hottest single day temperature in France is now 45.9C (114.6F). Germany, Poland and Czech Republic also set records at the end of June. Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Italy also experienced heat waves. Europe's intense heat waves and record setting temperatures are noteworthy because we can now say with a degree of confidence that this warming is at least five times more likely due to global warming. Europe's five hottest summers since 1500 have all been in this Century.

Using data from Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), the European satellite agency said the average temperatures on the continent at the end of June were more than 2C above normal. Temperatures were 6-10C above normal over most of France, Germany and northern Spain.

While linking a single event to global warming is complicated, the World Weather Attribution group reports that average temperatures in France between 26-28 June were very likely happening as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

"We knew June was hot in Europe, but this study shows that temperature records haven’t just been broken. They have been obliterated," University of Reading's Professor Hannah Cloke, said. "This is the hottest June on record in Europe by a country mile, and the warmest June we have ever seen globally."

Heatwaves cause a host of problems. In parts of France water restrictions were imposed and Paris closed schools and postponed exams. Combustion engine vehicles were prevented from entering the city to decrease smog and fire hydrants were opened to help people cool down.

Health Minister Agnès Buzyn warned that "everyone is at risk" and France's weather service issued an unprecedented red alert for four areas with the rest of the country on orange alert. The Italian ministry of health has reported emergency levels of heat in 16 cities.

In Germany, the extreme heat caused highway surfaces to start to melt and all across Europe there has been a spike in electricity consumption as people turn on their fans and their air conditioners. Poland  set two records, one for high temperatures and one for energy consumption.

Heatwaves can be also be both expensive and deadly. The 2003 heatwave caused financial losses of almost $15 billion and killed over 30,000 people in Europe.

Europe's heatwave at the end of June 2019 was caused by a mass of hot air coming from the Sahara Desert. As with the extreme heat recorded in Canada an anomalous jet stream is being blamed.

"Although this was exceptional, we are likely to see more of these events in the future due to climate change," Jean-Noel Thepaut, head of C3S said.

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