Can’t wait until this heat wave ends already? If you haven’t had enough of this summer’s scorching weather, there will be more to come, scientists say.
The temperatures are climbing and not only in summers. This year, Pakistan registered what was probably the hottest April day ever—122.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 50.2 degrees Centigrade. In May of 2016, the Indian city of Phalodi hit 51 degrees Centigrade, breaking its previous 50.6 degrees Centigrade record from 1956.
Over the past couple of decades heat waves have been getting hotter and deadlier. In contrast with other climate-related disasters such as floods, fires, or hurricanes, heat waves tend to receive less attention because they are less visible and less destructive, but they can be just as deadly—which is why they are often regarded as “silent killers.” In 2015, a heat wave in India claimed about 2,300 lives and another one in Pakistan about 1,200. But other parts of the world haven’t been spared either, including those not historically prone to extreme heat spikes. The 2003 European heat waves that lasted for about two weeks caused 15,000 deaths in France, while the overall death toll across Europe reached 70,000. The abnormally hot summer of 2010 led to about 55,000 deaths in Russia, a country not typically known for scorching weather.
Scientists expect more of such heat waves. A team of researchers at the University of Southampton and the Laboratory for Ocean Physics and Remote Sensing developed a new method of predicting such temperature flukes. According to their estimates, the years from 2018 to 2022 may be even hotter than expected—and here’s why.
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While the temperatures have been clearly rising, that trend slowed down in recent past, researchers say. That’s because the warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is not linear—it had eased up in the early millennia due to a phenomenon known as a global warming hiatus. But now the trend may pick up, according to the researcher’s new model. The model does not use traditional simulation techniques, but rather applies a statistical method to search the twentieth and twenty-first century climate simulations to find the “analogues” of the current climate conditions and then determine future possibilities. The precision and reliability of this system proved to be at least equivalent to current methods, particularly when simulating the global warming hiatus of the beginning of this century.
While it still remains to be seen whether the next four years will indeed prove to be blistery hot, various other far-reaching prognoses promise a searing and sizzling future. By 2050 more than 970 cities will experience average summer temperature highs of 35 degrees Centigrade or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Some predictions estimate that climate change has already doubled the probability that a heatwave as harsh as the 2003 European one will strike again. And cities in countries that are less used to dealing with extreme heat will be especially vulnerable.