Extreme weather that’s gripping northern Europe and parts of Asia may persist through early August, prolonging a deadly heatwave that’s parched crops and sparked devastating forest fires.
Temperatures have risen to a record from Japan to Norway because of a stationary blocking high-pressure system, the World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday. Relief from soaring temperatures — which topped 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Arctic Circle — may not arrive for at least two weeks, potentially extending a spate of weather-related disasters from wildfires near Athens to floods in Laos.
“It’s quite remarkable how long it’s lasting,” Andrew King, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, said in a phone interview. “At the moment, the forecast is for not much change.”
The World Economic Forum ranks extreme weather as the top global risk in terms of likelihood and second-biggest in terms of impact, while the WMO says episodes of extreme heat and precipitation are increasing due to climate change. This week, hundreds of people went missing in deadly floods caused by a collapsed dam in Laos following heavy rainfall, while at least 74 people were killed in the worst fires to hit Greece in at least a decade. They add to six deadly weather and climate events in the U.S. in 2018 that have each caused losses exceeding $1 billion.
In northern Europe, continued drought over the next two weeks may be accompanied by local thunderstorms, risks of wildfires and harvest losses, the Geneva-based WMO said.
Globally, June was the second-warmest on record, according to the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts Copernicus Climate Change Service. So far, 2018 is the hottest La Nina year on record. The previous three years were confirmed as the warmest years on record, indicating continuing long-term climate change caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.
A blocking weather pattern that weakens the jet streams churning through the upper atmosphere are widely understood to be driving the heatwaves, said Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
“The question is, how have the mechanisms that have caused the heatwaves been perturbed by human activity?” Pitman said in an interview. “We are basically uplifting the entirety of the climate system by the energy we are pumping into it through greenhouse gases.”
“The frequency, magnitude, and duration of heatwaves are all getting worse,” Pitman said. “You can’t get events like we are now seeing in terms of spatial distribution, intensity, and increasing frequency without there being quite a significant contribution from global warming.”
The changes are leading to increases in financing for climate mitigation and resilience. The Manila-based Asian Development Bank said this month that financing for this purpose increased 21 percent to a record $4.5 billion in 2017. Climate financing by the world’s six largest multilateral development banks reached a seven-year high of $35.2 billion in 2017, up 28 percent from the previous year.
“Every dollar spent on reducing risks and their impacts before a disaster saves five dollars in future losses,” Alison Martin, Zurich Insurance Group AG’s chief risk officer, said in a statement last month. “That means it’s five times more expensive to be unprepared.”
Below is a snapshot of current and recent weather-related events reported by the World Meteorological Organization and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration:
- In Algeria, Ouargla, in the Sahara Desert, a maximum temperature of 51.3 degrees Celsius was reported on July 5, probably a national record, while in Oman a 24-hour minimum temperature of 42.6 degrees Celsius was recorded on June 28 at Quriyat, south of Muscat.
- Temperatures reached 33.4 degrees Celsius in Kevo, Finland, and 33.5 degrees Celsius in Badufoss, Norway, on July 17. A new record minimum overnight temperature of 25.2 degrees Celsius was set on July 18 at Makkaur in the country’s north.
- About 50 forest fires burned across Sweden in mid-July.
- In Greece, deadly fires fanned by extremely high winds killed dozens of people near Athens Tuesday night in one of the nation’s worst tragedies for years.
- Japan experienced its worst flooding and landslide in decades, with many daily rainfall records broken between June 28 and July 8. More than 200 people were killed and about 10,000 houses were destroyed or inundated. A heatwave the following week saw 200 out of 927 weather stations recording maximum temperature above 35 degrees Celsius on July 15. The city of Kumagaya, near Tokyo, set a new maximum daily temperature record of 41.1 degrees Celsius.
- Schools in Manila in the Philippines and nearby provinces were shut Friday, while some flights were either diverted or canceled due to heavy monsoon rains which flooded streets in the capital.
- Siberia is experiencing a huge wave of wildfires in the taiga forests, with hot, dry weather frustrating attempts to quell blazes that have blackened as many as 10 million hectares (38,610 square miles) in 2018 and led to smoke reaching Canada.
- South Korea’s daily maximum temperatures exceeded 35 degrees Celsius in some places, breaking daily records.
- The driest first-half of summer on record was observed and a heatwave is predicted to continue across much of England this week, with temperatures peaking at 32-34 degrees Celsius in some places on Thursday or Friday.
- Heatwaves and drought were recorded at 15 synoptic stations in Ireland.
- In the U.S., the Furnace Creek weather station in Death Valley national park in California recorded a temperature of 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 8. (It already holds the record for the highest temperature on Earth at 56.7°C (134°F), on July 10, 1913.)
- Downtown Los Angeles set a new monthly July minimum overnight record of 26.1 degrees Celsius on July 7.
- Moderate to exceptional drought covers 26.3 percent of the U.S., affecting almost 133 million people.
- A heatwave combined with high humidity in the Canadian province of Quebec contributed to dozens of deaths, especially among the vulnerable and elderly.
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