On heatwaves (and why I’m kind of terrified to go home to Australia)

I caught up with some Australian friends in London last week and conversation turned to the heatwave the week before. The weather in Cardiff is considerably milder than London, so I was curious if it had been as bad as the news reports made it out to be. The general response from my Melburnian mates was that it was a bit hot, but nothing too dramatic.

I think North Wales missed the memo about summer, let alone the heat wave…I was hiking in my (second hand) down jacket last weekend!

Of course, I’m not doubting at all that it was hot for the UK. In fact the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded was broken, reaching 38.7°C on 25 July. (And it isn’t just the UK, July was the hottest month ever recorded globally according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, following on from the hottest June ever.) In 2018 there were 863 excess deaths due to heatwaves in England, according to Public Health England. And given the weather this year has been just as delightfully warm (from my perspective, overbearingly hot according to locals), I’m betting the number will be similar or higher this year.

It comes as no surprise that the climate crisis is contributing to these more frequent and severe heatwaves. A scientific study by the World Weather Attribution Group showed that human-induced climate change made the July heatwave about 10 times more likely, and increased local temperatures by 1.5 to 3°C.

And it is going to get a whole lot worse.

Climate analogues are a tool that we use as engineers to design buildings and infrastructure to cope with future climate conditions. They are also very helpful in visualising what the future climate will feel like in different cities. Effectively, a climate analogue matches the current climate of one location with the projected future climate of another city.

The Crowther Lab just released a beautiful platform that allows people to explore the future climate of cities around the world.

According to their analysis, by 2050 the climate of London will be similar to that of current day Melbourne. I have been in the UK for two years now, but one thing I don’t miss is the hottest heat of a Melbourne summer.

The kind of heat that literally takes your breath away when you exit a building.

The kind of heat that means you are covered in sweat within a minute, not an hour.

The kind of heat where a breeze doesn’t make a difference because the air that blows in feels hotter than ever.

The kind of heat that doesn’t go away at night. (My best tip for sleeping through 30 °C+ nights is using an ice pack as a kind of anti-hot water bottle.)

As I said, it is going to get a whole lot worse.

Summer flowers in Bute Park, how delightful! I’m used to any kind of plant like this being completely dead by the middle of summer.

I’m going home for Christmas this year, and my parents have recently installed air conditioning so I’ll be able to escape the heat even if there are record-breaking temperatures again. But longer term I am pretty terrified (to the extent that we have joked about moving to Tasmania).

In case you were wondering, in 2050 the climate of Melbourne will be similar to that of current day Port Elizabeth, South Africa (where the drought last summer was not as well publicised as Cape Town’s, but reportedly just as severe). And this is a best case scenario, so let’s not let it get worse than that!

Want to take action?

I love this tweet which appeared during the June heatwave in the UK and started making the rounds again in July.

One of the most powerful things that everyone can take part in is the Global Climate Strikes on 20 and 27 September. Given the huge impact of Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future, I am optimistic that this can have a huge influence on the UN Climate Action Summit and global politics going forward. But only if we all join in!

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