London braces for first-ever extreme heat red warning

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“Exceptional heat is expected to affect a large part of England early next week,” the UK Met Office said in a press release Friday, noting that temperatures would reach the high 30s Celsius (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit) in some places, potentially climbing as high as 40 degrees Celsius.

This first-ever red warning for extreme heat covers parts of central, northern, eastern and southeastern England for Monday and Tuesday of next week, when temperatures will be at their worst. The warning includes London.

The increase in the frequency, duration, and intensity of these events over recent decades is clearly linked to the observed warming of the planet and can be attributed to human activity, the Met Office wrote.

“In a recent study, we found that the likelihood of extremely hot days in the UK has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century, with the most extreme temperatures expected to be observed in the southeast of England,” Nikos Christidis, Climate attribution scientist at the Met Office said.

The warning comes as hot-temperature records are far outpacing cool records so far this year around the world.

In the US, 79 all-time record high temperatures had been set through July 12, compared to only 5 all-time record low temperatures, according to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Globally, 150 all-time heat records were broken, compared to just 18 cool records.

Gabriel Vecchi, a climate scientist and geosciences professor at Princeton University, told CNN that this is a signal of the climate crisis, and hot extremes outpacing cool extremes has been a notable trend in recent years.

“This is what you would expect from a planetary warming that’s been driven in large part from greenhouse gases; this is now the world we’re living in,” Vecchi told CNN, noting that “it’s fair to think that almost every heatwave that we see right now has some influence from global warming.”

Global scientists last year concluded that with every fraction of a degree of warming, the effects of the climate crisis worsen. Te kinds of extreme weather the world has experienced last summer — from the wildfires in the US and Greece to the flooding in China and Germany — will only become more severe and more frequent.

While extreme heat events would still occur without climate change, the increasing intensity and frequency of these events in recent decades has been linked to the rise of fossil fuel emissions and observed global warming.

Imagine a bell-shaped curve of temperatures, Vecchi said, with cold on the left and warm on the right. As climate change shifts this temperature curve to the warmer side, the long tails of the curve increase by a proportionately larger amount than the middle, signifying the increasing likelihood of hotter events to happen and making cold events less likely.

Parts of Europe will see this trend play out starting Sunday.

Forecasters in the UK are warning that temperatures could exceed 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) starting Sunday, and could approach the country’s all-time high of 38.7 degrees.

The UK Met Office issued an amber extreme heat warning for the heat wave starting Sunday, and emphasized the strain this particular heat wave will have on public health.

“The Amber warning comes at the end of a week when the UK will see widely-above average temperatures, with little relief from the heat at night,” the Met Office said in a press release, noting that a “Level 3” heat health alert was also in effect for the same time period.

Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, said climate change is exacerbating this weekend’s heat wave.

“The highest temperatures experienced in the UK tend to occur when our weather is influenced by air masses from continental Europe or North Africa, as it will be at the weekend,” McCarthy said in a statement. “There is already a strongly-embedded warming due to climate change across the continent, that is increasing the likelihood of challenging the existing UK temperature record.”

Temperatures in northern and central France could peak around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday and Tuesday. Similar heat is expected in western Germany, where monthly or all-time records could fall.

European cities are largely underprepared for extreme heat, according to Vanesa Castan Broto, professor of climate urbanism in the University of Sheffield in the UK.

During heat waves, cities — so-called urban heat islands — can be especially dangerous, since these are areas with a lot of asphalt, buildings and freeways that absorb the sun’s energy then radiate more heat.

The phenomenon, called urban heat island effect, amplifies a heat wave’s already punishing consequences — and it doesn’t fall equally across communities. Marginalized neighborhoods with less green spaces suffer disproportionately, while babies and elderly population become vulnerable.

“We have to remember that when we have an impact of climate change in a city, those can have cascading effects,” Castan Broto told CNN. “It can compound other impacts,” including work productivity, food production, and even health services themselves.

“I really hope that, at the very least, these impacts change the minds of people in cities to kind of try to create cities that are more adapted to more heat waves,” she added. “There are a lot of things we can do and they’re not being done right.”

Vecchi said the European heat wave is noteworthy, given its back-to-back nature, which will only continue as the planet warms and is all the more reason to prepare for a hotter future.

While this year isn’t yet trending to be the hottest on record, despite the South Asian heat wave back in May to yet another heat dome in Europe, this year remains warmer than historical eras, which Vecchi said “is driven in large part due to the increase in greenhouse gases coming from fossil fuel burning.”

“It’s been a year of warmth,” he said. “And these are the signatures of global warming.”

July 15, 2022 at 07:28PM

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