How climate change is warming the weather and what we can do about it

The heat wave that left more than 100 million people sweating in the eastern US in June 2024 struck so quickly and was so extreme that forecasters warned that a sudden drought could follow in much of the region.

Prolonged high temperatures can quickly dry out soils, causing rapid drought that can affect agriculture, water resources and energy supplies. Many regions under the June heat dome quickly developed abnormally dry conditions.

De gevarenvooruitzichtenkaart van de National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration toont waarschuwingen voor plotselinge droogte in geel en gebieden die naar verwachting begin juli een hoog risico op overmatige hitte zullen hebben, in rood.  <a href=NOAA Climate Prediction Center” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTUzMQ–/ 1437bc18cf74597d4db00421″/>

The human impacts of the heat wave are also widespread. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses increased. Several schools in Massachusetts without air conditioning have been closed to protect children and teachers. In New York and New Jersey, power lines sagged due to the heat, halting trains to and from New York City and stranding commuters.

We study weather patterns involving heat. The June 2024 heat wave occurred unusually early and prolonged compared to typical patterns in the northeastern US

It was caused by a large high-pressure area called a heat dome that extended from the ground more than 10 miles up through the atmosphere. A heat dome is both a cause and a consequence of extreme heat. Very large and strong heat domes, such as the Northeast event – ​​which reached higher in the atmosphere than any previous June event – ​​have a greater potential for higher temperatures that affect more people.

It was also part of a global early-season heat outbreak that endangered lives in many countries around the world.

Heat is becoming a global problem

Record heat will hit several countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia in 2024. In Mexico and Central America, weeks of persistent heat, with temperatures as high as 51.8 degrees Celsius, combined with prolonged drought, have led to serious water shortages. and dozens of deaths.

Extreme heat turned into a tragedy in Saudi Arabia when more than a thousand people on the Hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, collapsed and died. The temperature reached 125 F (51.8 C) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on June 17.

Moslimpelgrims brachten uren buiten door in extreme temperaturen en vochtigheid tijdens de Hadj in juni 2024 in Saoedi-Arabië. Meer dan 1.000 mensen stierven door de hitte. <a href=AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/ 7cb59e3fc2e81049df2e101″/>

In Greece, where temperatures exceeded 38 degrees Celsius for several consecutive days in June, at least several tourists died or were feared dead after hiking in dangerous heat and humidity.

India also experienced temperatures of around 49 degrees Celsius for days in April and May, affecting millions of people, many of whom did not have air conditioning.

The climate connection: this is not normal

Although heat waves are a natural part of the climate, the severity and magnitude of heat waves so far this year are not “just summer.”

A scientific assessment of the US heat wave shows that such severe and prolonged heat today is two to four times more likely to occur due to human-induced climate change than it would have been without it. This conclusion is consistent with the rapid increase in recent decades in the number of heat waves in the US and their occurrence outside the peak of summer.

These record heat waves are happening in a climate that is about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer globally than before the Industrial Revolution, when humans began releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases that warmed the climate.

De mondiale oppervlaktetemperaturen zijn de afgelopen 30 jaar per decennium sneller gestegen dan in de afgelopen 120 jaar. <a href=NOAA NCEI” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTEyMzQ-/ 1170f272b9c50c6f227e7f”/>
Global surface temperatures have increased faster per decade over the past 30 years than over the past 120 years. NOAA NCEI

While a temperature difference of a degree or two when you walk into another room may not be noticeable, even fractions of a degree make a big difference in the global climate.

At the height of the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, when the northeastern U.S. was under thousands of feet of ice, the global average temperature was only 10.8 F (6 C) cooler than it is today. So it’s not surprising that 2.2 F (1.2 C) of warming so far is quickly changing the climate.

Countries pledged in 2015 to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius as part of the Paris Agreement, but current government policies around the world will not achieve these goals. Temperatures are on track to continue rising, with increases likely to more than double again by the end of the century.

If you thought this was hot

Although this summer will likely be one of the hottest summers on record, it is important to realize that it could also be one of the coldest summers of the future.

For populations particularly vulnerable to heat, including young children, older adults, and outdoor workers, the risks are even greater. People in lower-income neighborhoods where air conditioning may be unaffordable, and renters who often lack the same protections for cooling as they do for heating, will face increasingly dangerous conditions.

Extreme heat can also impact economies. It can warp railway tracks and cause wires to droop, leading to delays and disruptions to public transport. It can also overload electrical systems with high demand and lead to blackouts just when people need cooling most.

The good news: there are solutions

Yes, the future in a warming world is daunting. However, countries have made significant progress. In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has the potential to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half by 2035.

Switching from air conditioners to heat pumps and geothermal network systems can not only reduce fossil fuel emissions but also provide cooling at a lower cost. The cost of renewable energy continues to fall and many countries are increasing policy support and incentives.

Maatregelen om de opwarming terug te dringen kunnen een breed scala aan gevaren beperken en op de korte termijn talloze voordelen en kansen creëren.  <a href=National Climate Assessment 2023” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTEyMzE-/ 4bf13551a8efa30f2e16″/>

Humanity can do much to limit future warming if countries, companies and people everywhere act with urgency. Rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions can help prevent a warmer future with even worse heat waves and droughts, while also delivering other benefits, including improving public health, creating jobs and reducing risks to ecosystems.

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit organization providing facts and analysis to help you understand our complex world.

It was written by: Mathew Barlow, UMass Lowell and Jeffrey Basara, UMass Lowell.

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Mathew Barlow has received funding from the NOAA Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections Program to study heat waves.

Jeffrey Basara has received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation to study flash droughts and extreme temperatures.

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