Two years ago, forecasters in the UK conducted an interesting thought experiment: what will our predictions look like in 2050?
The climate crisis is pushing weather to the extremes around the world, and temperatures in northern latitudes are particularly sensitive to these changes.
So meteorologists from the UK Met Office – the official weather forecasting agency for the UK – dived into the super-long-range climate models in the summer of 2020 to see what kind of temperatures they would predict in about three decades.
“No real weather forecast,” according to the Met Office graphic.
“Examples of plausible weather based on climate projections.”
Well, on Monday and Tuesday it becomes “plausible” reality – 28 years too early.
Simon Lee, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia University in New York, noted the striking similarity between the 2050 outlook and the forecast for early next week in the UK.
“Today’s forecast for Tuesday is shockingly nearly identical for much of the country,” Simon tweeted, adding in a later post that “what’s coming Tuesday provides an insight into the future.”
In 30 years, this prediction will seem rather typical.
Early next week it is forecast in the UK that it will be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than normal. Maximum temperatures could approach 40 degrees Celsius for the first time — a forecast that prompted meteorologists there to issue a “red” heat warning for the first time ever.
To be clear, this really would be record-breaking heat.
The highest temperature ever recorded in the country was 38.7 degrees Celsius at the Cambridge Botanic Garden in 2019.
It’s also clearly a sign of how quickly the climate crisis is changing our weather.
“We were hoping we wouldn’t get into this situation,” Nikos Christidis, the Met Office’s climate attribution scientist, said in a statement.
“Climate change has already impacted the likelihood of extreme temperatures in the UK. The chances of seeing 40C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times greater in the current climate than in a natural climate unaffected by human influence.”
The chance of more than 40 degrees is “rising rapidly,” Christidis said.
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This is about more than a few uncomfortable days. Extreme heat is one of the deadliest weather events – we just don’t see it happening when heat stroke and death are attributed to underlying conditions such as heart disease or respiratory disease.
And recent reports suggest that no more than five percent of British homes have air conditioning to keep residents cool.
Hundreds of people died in that heat wave.
Officials in British Columbia noted that more than 800 “excessive deaths” occurred during the heat — deaths that were unexpected and far from the norm for that time of year.
Unlike floods or wildfires that ravage a city, the sense of urgency surrounding a deadly heatwave isn’t as dramatic, said Kristie Ebi, a climate and health researcher at the University of Washington, underlining that heat is a “silent killer.”
“When it’s hot outside, it’s just warm outside — and so it’s a relatively silent killer,” Ebi previously told CNN.
“People are generally unaware and don’t think about the risks associated with these high temperatures.”
She also said it is important to understand that the climate is not what it was a few years ago. The climate crisis is already impacting our lives and will continue to affect the most vulnerable.
“We are all looking forward to summer as we enjoy the warmer temperatures, but there are those who are at risk from higher temperatures,” she said.
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“As the climate continues to change or higher temperatures become higher than what we experienced when we were younger, people need to pay more attention to those around you.”