Killer heat the new normal in a world with climate change

Higher temperatures, more intense droughts expected as earth warms: Climate scientists

A Japanese businessman wiping his face while walking on a street during a heatwave that has resulted in the hospitalisation of 22,647 people. PHOTO: REUTERS

From Texas to Japan, the records keep tumbling. Scorching heat across swathes of the Northern Hemisphere has killed dozens of people, triggered wildfires and turned parts of normally green Britain a desert brown.

In Greece, a wildfire east of the capital Athens killed at least 74 people, the fire brigade said yesterday. The toll could rise.

In Japan, temperatures near Tokyo rose to a record high of 41.1 deg C on Monday.

Two weeks into Japan's blistering heatwave, at least 80 people have died and thousands have been rushed to emergency rooms, as officials yesterday urged citizens to stay indoors. Dozens of locations in Japan set record highs on Monday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, and 241 individual weather stations hit at least 35 deg C.

South and North Korea have also wilted under the intense heat and humidity.

A heatwave in Scandinavia has seen temperature records hit all-time highs, more than 32 deg C, as far north as inside the Arctic Circle.

Combined with the lack of rainfall, the heat has parched large areas of forest. Huge wildfires are burning in Sweden and European governments have sent hundreds of firefighters to help fight the blazes.

In the US, Texas has been withering under a prolonged heatwave. The mercury in the city of Waco hit a record 45.6 deg C on Monday.

Globally, heatwaves are a regular part of summer but they are becoming more severe and more frequent.

It is climate change that is driving the shift to extreme conditions. Climate scientists said that as the earth continues to warm, higher temperatures and more intense droughts are to be expected. It is the new normal and nations need to adapt, experts said.

"The impact of climate change is no longer subtle," said climate scientist Michael Mann, who is also director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State University in the United States.

"We are seeing them play out in real time in the form of unprecedented heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires. And we've seen them all this summer," CNN quoted him as saying.

The United Nations' climate panel said it is very likely that heatwaves will occur more often and last longer in future. Its latest assessment report, compiled by hundreds of experts and published in 2014, also found that it is very likely that mankind has contributed to global changes in the frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes since the mid-20th century.

Since the panel's report, heat records have continued to be broken across the globe, with 2014, 2015 and 2016 the hottest years on record. Last year was the second hottest on record, according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa).

Singapore also set a temperature record last year, the Meteorological Services Singapore said in January. It was the warmest year on record that was not influenced by the El Nino weather pattern, which normally brings hotter and drier weather to the region.

Experts said Singapore will face more extreme weather conditions due to climate change, including rising temperatures, prolonged dry spells and more intense rainfall.

Extreme heat threatens to trigger more severe wildfires in many parts of the world, increase the risks for the elderly and the very young, and make it impossible to work outdoors in some places where the mercury exceeds 50 deg C, such as in parts of northern Africa and the Middle East. Extreme heat and drought also threaten water supplies for cities and farmers.

Britain is in the throes of the longest heatwave since 1976, turning fields and parks a dusty brown. It is unusually dry too - just 50mm of rain had fallen between June 1 and July 16, making it the driest summer on record.

And it is about to get hotter.

Parts of Britain are forecast to bask in temperatures of 35 deg C later this week, the Guardian yesterday quoted a UK Met Office meteorologist as saying.

  • With additional reports from Reuters, Washington Post and Agence France-Presse

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2018, with the headline It's getting hot and hotter. Why killer heat is the new normal as planet earth warms . Subscribe