Global heat waves and their link to climate change

Creative Commons: Olivier Girard

Record heat crippled Southern California’s electricity supply recently, but that was just one of numerous debilitating all-time highs across the Northern hemisphere this July.

As a monster heat dome sprawled over Southern California, other areas of intense heat pressure bared down across the globe, from Northern Europe to the Middle East and Africa. UCLA recorded its hottest temperature ever of 111 degrees, while Ouargla, a city in the Sahara Desert in Algeria, Africa recorded a temperature of 124.3 degrees. Meanwhile, temperatures in Northern Siberia rose to over 90 degrees on July 5 — about 40 degrees above normal. 

With Britain set for its 16th consecutive day of heat above 28C, making its recent heatwave the longest in five years, the city of Gosport, Hampshire recorded a temperature of 89 degrees — hotter than Barbados.

With temperatures rising across the globe, debilitating weather events like heat waves and wildfires are becoming more common, as are catastrophic events like crop shortages, power outages, and heat-related deaths. 

A fire that broke out in Santa Barbara County on Saturday, July 7 burned almost 28 structures and 13 homes. The blaze spread rapidly with help from sundowner winds and nearly triple-digit temperatures, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in the county.

Sweltering temperatures and brutal humidity in southern Quebec caused overcrowded hospitals and morgues, as the heat wave caused at least 70 deaths, mostly in and around Montreal.

Though heat waves are not a new phenomenon, scientists say that continual increases in their duration and extreme intensity are linked to climate change.

Regarding the situation in Canada, Blair Feltmate, a University of Waterloo climate scientist said that the country can expect to see hotter, wetter, and more extreme climate impacts.

Significant changes in eastern Siberia that have occurred over the long-term have led to the melting of Arctic Ice and permafrost. This releases carbon and methane – powerful greenhouse gases – into the atmosphere, which warms the climate.

“It’s not any particular year that matters,” Feltmate said. “What matters is the overall, the long-term trend.” And that trend is not good.  

Last updated July 26, 2018

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