It’s a #GlobalHeatwave

Email: s.h.lee@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

Sometimes a simple tweet on a Sunday evening can go a long way.

This summer’s persistent dry and warm weather in the UK has led to many comparisons to the summer of 1976, which saw a lethal combination of the warmest June-August mean maximum temperatures (per the Met Office record stretching back to 1910) and a record-breaking lack of rainfall (a measly 104.6 mm – since bested by 1995’s 103.0 mm –  compared with the record-wettest 384.4 mm in 1912). When combined with a hot summer the year before and a dry winter, water shortages were historic and the summer has become a benchmark to which all UK heatwaves are compared. So far, 2018 has set a new record for the driest first half of summer for the UK (a record stretching back to 1961) but it remains to be seen whether it will truly rival ’76.

All these comparisons made me wonder: what did global temperatures look like during the heatwave of 1976? Headlines have been filled with news of other heatwaves across the Northern Hemisphere, including in AfricaFinland and Japan. Was the UK heatwave in 1976 also part of a generally warm pattern?

So I had a look at the data using the plotting tool available on NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) site, and composed a relatively simple tweet which took off in a manner only fitting for a planet undergoing rapid warming:

At the time of writing, it’s been retweeted over 8,800 times in under 48 hours and featured as part of a Twitter Moment. Even Héctor Bellerín, a footballer for Arsenal, retweeted it!

Once the tweet had taken on a life of its own, I was also well aware of so-called “climate change deniers” (I don’t like the term, but it’s the best I can do) lurking out there, and I was somewhat apprehensive of what might get said. I’ve seen Paul Williams have many not-so-pleasant Twitter encounters on the subject of climate change. However, I was actually quite surprised. Aside from a few comments here and there from ‘deniers’ (usually focusing on fundamental misunderstandings of averaging periods and the interpolation used by NASA to deal with areas of low data coverage), the response was generally positive. People were shocked, frightened, moved…and thankful to have perhaps finally grasped what global warming meant.

I endeavoured to keep it cordial and scientific, as the issue is too big to make enemies over – we all need to work together to tackle the problem.

So, maybe now I have some idea how Ed Hawkins felt when his global warming spiral went viral and eventually ended up in the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony. I guess the biggest realisation for me is that, as a scientist, I’m familiar with graphics such as these showing the extent of global warming, but the wider public clearly aren’t – and that’s part of the reason I believe the tweet became so popular.

I can’t say that the 2018 UK heatwave is due to global warming. However, with unusually high temperatures present across the globe, it takes less significant weather patterns to produce significant heatwaves in the UK (and elsewhere). And with the jet streams that guide our weather systems already feeling the effects of climate change (something which I researched as an undergraduate), we can only expect more extremes in the future.

3 thoughts on “It’s a #GlobalHeatwave

  1. John July 27, 2018 / 3:28 pm

    Good piece about comparisons. I live near Ottawa, Canada. I can’t harness the rage i have for the same small group of greedy Corporate maniacs stripping the world of our ability to survive only for financial gain NOW. I have seen (more noticably in the past 20 yrs) the whole texture of climate/temperatures change radically. i was born in ’54 and remember weather being MUCH cooler then and have since witnessed temps climb EXPONENTIALLY. The longer our species waits, the faster this vicious circle of degredation occurs.

    Now, having stated the obvious (to those perceptive enough), i have seen literally tousands of reports stating the same thing: the situaton is critical and we need to act NOW.

    But who does anything? The collective geopolitical entities globally are setting a precident for more emmissions and more deforestation now: exactly when we need to stop both and “re-plant” on a massive scale.

    Our biggest threat is misinformation…economies can actually be boosted by dumping archaic industry and going to more efficient energy and lifestyles.

    Well…that’s it for me…thumbs ache from texting…(!)

    Like

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