The UK can expect a dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves in the coming years after new research found that “extremely warm summers” are now 10 times more likely to occur in some parts of Europe than they were just a decade ago.
The average summertime temperature in Europe has shot up by about 0.81°C in just over a decade, in part because of the impact of climate change. The rise in the underlying temperature has “considerably increased” the chance of summer heatwaves and extreme heatwaves, according to the research by the Met Office.
A heatwave is defined as 1.6°C above the average between 1961 and 1990, while the extreme heatwave of 2003 was 2.3°C higher than average. It was the warmest summer in at least 500 years, killing more than 52,000 people across Europe, including more than 2,000 heat-related deaths in the UK.
“Extremely warm summers that would occur twice a century are now expected to happen twice a decade,” said Dr Nikos Christidis, the lead author of the paper.
“Moreover, the chances of heatwaves as extreme as seen in 2003 have increased from about one in 1,000 to about one in 100 years and are projected to occur once every other year by the 2030s-2040s under continuing greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Dr Christidis told The Independent that although his research did not look at the UK, it could be used to draw important conclusions for the country’s summertime temperatures. “This paper has implications for the UK, where we would expect to see a broadly similar trend,” he said.
The Met Office research is based on temperatures in parts of Central and Mediterranean Europe, which averaged 0.81°C higher between 2003 and 2012 than in the 1990s.
Dr Peter Stott, the paper’s co-author, warned that 2003 temperatures – though extremely high by historical standards – will come to be regarded as relatively chilly in the coming years.
“This paper shows how our vulnerability to heat extremes is rapidly changing and we expect that to continue. Updated model projections of future changes suggest that by the end of the century, summers as hot as 2003 will be considered unusually cool,” he said.
The paper, which is published in the journal Nature, builds on a Met Office report from 2004 which looked at the extreme heatwave the year earlier and found that it had become more than twice as likely due to human influence on the climate.
This latest paper looked at how the chances of hot weather in the same region have changed in the intervening decade. It was published as world leaders meet in Lima this week in an attempt to hammer out a global treaty of legally binding carbon-emissions cuts that would limit global warming to 2°C, the point beyond which it becomes increasingly devastating.
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