The southwest of Canada and the northwest of the United States have experienced “exceptional and dangerous” heat waves since last weekend, In the words of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Temperatures in Canada are above 49 degrees and in some cases do not fall below 20 at night in latitudes They are not used for such extreme heat. Authorities in British Columbia (Canada, 5 million people) and Oregon (4.2 million, United States) are investigating the hundreds of deaths caused by these extreme temperatures, while libraries and sports centers had to be turned into centers of popular refreshment. Shelter.
Climate change Is created by human activities Experts say that this contributes to an increase in the frequency and severity of this type of event. Also, if the rate of greenhouse gas emissions Proceed until now, These types of dangerous events will increase even more in the future.
Why did this heat wave occur?
In Canada and the United States this week they called the thermometer-triggered event the “heat dome.” Mar Gomez, physicist and head of meteorology at the portal eltiempo.es, explains that behind the heat wave is a “powerful blocking anticyclone” on the northwest coast of North America, which prevents the arrival of cold air. Gomez explains that La Nina also contributes to climate change, which affects atmospheric currents and makes the appearance of such heat waves “more likely” in North America.
The U.S. and Canada Meteorological Services have issued dozens of warnings about record temperatures in the region. But the zero point is the municipality of Lytton (250 people) in British Columbia, where historical scores have been recorded for three consecutive days. The thermometer reached 46.6 degrees on Sunday, up from 47.9 on Monday and 49.6 in the same city on Tuesday. The locking situation in Lytton is underscored by Canada’s Rocky Mountains, Gomez says.
Is such an event normal?
This is not normal. Experts point out that the temperature recorded in the region this week is used more for low temperatures, 20 degrees higher than normal for this time of year. “It’s almost 50 degrees in Berlin at the same latitude,” explains Juan Antonio Acel, Professor of Earth Physics at Waikoloa University. “It’s not uncommon for temperatures to rise like this in that area,” Gomez said.
Is climate change to blame?
Climate science is somewhat forensic science. That is, the characteristics of extreme events such as heat waves are made when the episode passes, and the possibility that something like this could have happened without the planet’s global warming process being explored due to the greenhouse gases emitted by humans. “There were always records and peaks,” Assel recalled. But he adds: “Climate change is increasing the likelihood of this happening.”
In the same vein, Omar Podor, head of the WMO Climate Policy and Monitoring Division, explained this week that “heat waves are becoming more frequent and intensified as the concentration of greenhouse gases increases with global temperature”. In other words, global warming is causing an increase in the average temperature of the planet – which is 1.2 degrees warmer than it was already during the industrial period (1850) – but an increase in the frequency of heat waves.
Will there still be episodes like this?
IPCC, An international panel of experts created the scientific foundations on climate change three decades ago, He warned her The last big statement (Dating from 2018), when the planet rises above that temperature compared to pre-industrial times, the risks and impacts on human health and the environment of “extreme weather events such as heat waves” will increase.
Studies further determine that, according to Podor, these waves “start earlier and end later, and increase in human health.” Assel adds: “Unfortunately, we will see more of this in the future. Next summer will not be the hottest summer we have ever experienced, but we are going to experience the hottest. ”
What health effects does this have?
As of early Thursday (Spanish time), there were nearly 600 high-temperature-related deaths in British Columbia and Oregon, according to a local Reuters death toll. Most of them – 486 – are in British Columbia, where officials are talking about sudden deaths.
Deaths from heat stroke are only the tip of the iceberg of this problem, Julio Diaz Carlos III National School of Health. “They account for 2% to 3% of heat-related deaths,” says the expert. Because, Like pollution, “Heat exacerbates other symptoms, especially in the elderly.” For example, these are heart, kidney or neurological problems that can increase mortality due to episodes of intense heat.
Dias recalled that only 140 people died of direct heat waves in Spain during the Great War of 2003, but the highest death toll in July and August of that year reached 6,600. To determine the true impact of this wave in North America, we will have to wait for data on excess mortality. “This way you can determine how many people have died from the heat and should not have died,” says Thias.
Local authorities in the most affected areas had to set up libraries and special centers in sports centers and other facilities so that people could cool off and relax. Some homes are made for these events, for example, with air conditioners. “In France, in the same heat waves of 2003, 14,000 people died, and in many cases it was in areas unfamiliar and without air conditioners,” says Thias.
What are the associated risks of heat waves?
This expert from the National School of Health of the Carlos III Institute of Health adds another important problem with heat waves: the risks associated with it, such as fires in an area affected by high temperatures. Gomez explains: “The city of Lytton, where temperature records have been broken, had to be evacuated these days due to wildfires.” In fact, much of this small town is plagued by fires.
For this reason, Thias emphasizes the importance of implementing integrated plans that take into account all the risks involved and adequate and updated action plans are being prepared. “You have to be prepared when something happens,” he warns.
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