Climate Change

Blame climate change! UK heatwaves became 10 times more likely

Climate models are unable to keep up with actual observations & other climate change predictions may also be much more severe than previously predicted

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Friday 29 July 2022

The extraordinary heatwave in United Kingdom (July 18-19) — when the island nation experienced 40 degrees Celsius the first time on record — was made 10 times more likely because of climate change, according to a rapid attribution study by a team of scientists from eight countries at the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative. 

The WWA websites terms it a collaboration between researchers from:

  • Imperial College London
  • The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute
  • France’s IPSL Sciences Laboratory of Climate and the Environment
  • Princeton University and National Center for Atmospheric Research (both the United States)
  • ETH Zurich
  • Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi
  • Climate impact specialists at Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC) around the world 

As many as 844 people may have died due to heat those two days, according to a statistical study by Antonio Gasparinni of the London School of  Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

The WWA study answered the question of how responsible the changing climate was for these deaths and the general impacts on people’s health and livelihoods during the heat wave. 

The scientists concluded from analysis of observed maximum temperatures for July 19 and two day averaged high temperatures for both days that in pre-industrial (before 1850) times the temperatures would have been 4°C less than they were during the heat wave. 

For the single day temperatures the event was as rare as once in 1,000 years and for the two day averaged temperatures the event was once in a 100 years occurrence. In Cranwell, Lincolnshire one of the stations where scientists analysed the temperatures the event was as rare as once in 1,500 years. 

To further analyse the heat conditions they also used climate models to estimate the difference between what actually transpired and what would have happened if climate wasn’t changing. In the models the team found that the temperatures would have been two degrees celsius less than a world that is warmer by 1.2°C. 

This showed that the climate models are not able to keep up with the actual observations and other climate change predictions may also be much more severe than previously predicted, the team found. 

“Heatwaves during the height of summer pose a substantial risk to human health and are potentially lethal. This risk is aggravated by climate change, but also by other factors such as an ageing population, urbanisation, changing social structures, and levels of preparedness,” the study said. 

The scientists further added that “the full impact is only known after a few weeks when the mortality figures have been analysed. Effective heat emergency plans, together with accurate weather forecasts such as those issued before this heatwave, reduce impacts and are becoming even more important in light of the rising risks.”

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