How summer 2021 has changed our understanding of extreme weather

White, Christopher J (2021) How summer 2021 has changed our understanding of extreme weather. The Conversation.

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    Abstract

    A succession of record-breaking natural disasters have swept the globe in recent weeks. There have been serious floods in China and western Europe, heatwaves and drought in North America and wildfires in the sub-Arctic. An annual report on the UK’s weather indicates extreme events are becoming commonplace in the country’s once mild climate. August 2020 saw temperatures hit 34°C on six consecutive days across southern England, including five sticky nights where the mercury stayed above 20°C. In the future, British summers are likely to see temperatures greater than 40°C regularly, even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C. The Canadian national temperature record was shattered in June 2021 meanwhile, with 49.6°C recorded in Lytton, British Columbia – a town that was all but destroyed by wildfires a few days later. Many of these events have shocked climate scientists. The Lytton temperature record, for example, was head-and-shoulders above those set during previous heatwaves in the region. Some scientists are beginning to worry they might have underestimated how quickly the climate will change. Or have we just misunderstood extreme weather events and how our warming climate will influence them?