The heat wave that continues to break temperature records in Europe, from the United Kingdom to Germany to Ukraine, is just the sort of extreme summer sizzle climate-change models have forecast.
But while scientists have long been able to pick out the human signal in multiyear temperature, rainfall, and other weather trends, it’s been much more difficult to connect global warming’s impacts to a specific weather event.
Now that’s changing. An international group of scientists assembled by the World Weather Attribution program stated late last week that it is “virtually certain that climate change increased the likelihood of the ongoing heat wave that is stretching across much of Europe.”
The researchers, hailing from universities, humanitarian groups, and meteorological offices across the continent, analyzed temperature records and near-future forecasts for the current heat wave, then compared the results with early 20th-century weather records.
They found that temperatures currently baking a large part of Europe are now twice as likely to occur as they were at the turn of the last century, with the risk more than four times higher for the continent’s hottest cities.
Daytime temperatures in Madrid have been soaring to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher on most days since June 19, many degrees above historical averages for this time of year. Such weather “would have been exceptionally rare in the 1920s,” according to the researchers, but “is now likely to happen roughly one in 40 years.”
So, Why Should You Care? One reason for the slow pace of action on global climate change has been that for many people, it seemed like a problem that would occur in the faraway future. As scientists are able to link today’s weather crises directly to the effects of climate change, pressure may grow to replace fossil fuels with carbon-free sources of energy.
Europe is just the latest part of the world coping with intensely hot temperatures. Early wildfires have been lighting up the Pacific coast of North America from Southern California to Alaska; extreme heat and humidity killed thousands in India and Pakistan in the spring.
Wildlife is hurting too: A late 2014 heat wave in Australia killed thousands of flying fox bats.
Check out these images from some of the world’s new hot spots.