European summers are getting warmer and the very hot summer of 2003 – when more than 20,000 people died in an extensive continent-wide heat-wave – will be the norm by the 2040s, a study by the Met Office has concluded.
Based on current climate projections if there is no let-up in the amount of carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, summers similar to 2003 will be considered cool relative to the new climate established at the end of the century, the Met Office said.
The period of extreme heat across Europe in July and August 2003 is believed to have been the warmest for up to 500 years – with Britain recording its highest ever temperature of 38.5C. About 15,000 people are thought to have died of heat-related causes in France, with nearly 10,000 extra deaths reported in Italy, Portugal, the UK, Germany and Holland.
Scientists concluded in 2004 that the summer heat of 2003 was highly likely to have been exacerbated by man-made global warming. A fresh analysis by the Met Office of European weather over the past 10 years has concluded that 2003 is part of a rising trend of warmer summers across Europe and more than half the summers in southern Europe will be warmer by the 2040s.
“Summer 2003 certainly had an influence in the UK… At the moment, we're able to say that by the 2040s we can expect events like 2003 to be normal,” said Professor Stephen Belcher, head of the Met Office's Hadley Centre.
Warmer summer temperatures will also mean heavier downpours as warmer air can hold more moisture, Professor Belcher said.
“Heavy rain is becoming heavier and that's consistent with our picture of a warming world and warming atmosphere… There is evidence that in the UK we are seeing more heavy rainfall events,” he said.