A late-April heat wave in southern Europe and northern Africa would have been “almost impossible” without the added effects of human-caused climate change, a new study released Friday reports.
In fact, the record-shattering heat was made 100 times more likely because of climate change, the study found.
In the last week of April, temperatures in many regions of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Algeria rocketed to all-time record highs for the month as many spots registered readings in the high 90s and low 100s.
Study lead author Sjoukje Philip of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said in a news briefing that a weather event this extreme “would have been almost impossible in the past, colder climate,” adding: “We will see more intense and more frequent heat waves in the future as global warming continues.”
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Heat waves more common, longer and hotter
Indeed, across the world, climate change has made heat waves more common, longer and hotter, scientists say.
Last summer, during a particularly brutal heat wave in the U.S., University of Pennsylvania meteorologist Michael Mann said there is “no question” that heat waves are becoming more intense and more frequent in the U.S. and around the world because of climate change.
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Using published peer-reviewed methods, scientists in the new study looked at how human-induced climate change altered the likelihood and intensity of the Mediterranean heat wave. The analysis examined the average of the maximum temperature for three consecutive days in April across southern Spain and Portugal, most of Morocco and the northwest part of Algeria.
The researchers found climate change made the heat wave “at least 100 times more likely,” and temperatures were more than 6 degrees hotter than they would have been without climate change.
The extreme heat came on top of a historical multi-year drought in those nations, which can exacerbate high temperatures, the scientists said.
Early-season heat waves can be deadly
Though death data from the April heat wave is not yet available, heat waves in 2022 contributed to nearly 4,000 deaths in Spain and more than 1,000 deaths in Portugal, the study said.
Overall, at least 15,000 people died in Europe from extreme heat in 2022, the World Health Organization said.
And although those deaths came in summer, the fact that temperatures soared so high in April was concerning:
“Early-season heat waves tend to be deadlier as people have not yet prepared their homes or acclimated to summer temperatures,” said study co-author Roop Singh, of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. “In Spain, for example, we saw heat wave adaptation measures put in place earlier than usual, which is exactly the type of adaptive heat action we need to see more of to reduce preventable deaths from heat.”
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Rapid-attribution studies like this are becoming more common
Rapid-attribution climate studies such as this one, which are becoming more common in recent years, have value even though they’re not peer-reviewed, scientists say.
“Attribution is the only tool we have to understand whether extreme weather is inflamed by climate change,” said Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson, who was not part of the study. “Rare weather events are becoming more and more ‘normal.’ Climate change has loaded the weather dice.”
Contributing: The Associated Press