Extreme heat is here to stay: UN weather agency warns

UNITED NATIONS  -  Heatwaves sweeping large parts of the world offer yet an­other reminder that extreme weather events -- boosted by human-induced climate change -- have become “the new nor­mal”, the UN World Meteoro­logical Organization (WMO), a Geneva-based UN agency, warned Friday. WMO Spokes­person Clare Nullis said that heat warnings have been is­sued by many weather services across Europe this week, in­cluding in France, Germany, Po­land and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, parts of the Mid­dle East were expected to see temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius in the coming days and Japan was experiencing a “pro­longed” heatwave which shat­tered temperature records. Speaking to reporters in Geneva about the recent massive wild­fires fueled by the hot and dry conditions in Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, Ms Nullis high­lighted the “many evacuations and much devastation”.

“Unfortunately, that is a picture with which we’ve become all too familiar this summer,” she said. The WMO Spokesperson also not­ed that Canada’s record-breaking season was continuing and that it was “completely off the charts” this year. As of 17 August, more than 600 wildfires across the country were out of control, she said. Even Canada’s far north near the Arctic Circle had not been spared, as a mass evacuation or­der was in force in the town of Yel­lowknife in the Northern Territo­ries due to an approaching blaze.

Meanwhile, in the British Co­lumbia town of Lytton, a record temperature of 42.2 degrees Celsius was reached this week, Ms Nullis said.

WMO also warned that Hur­ricane Hilary had intensified “very rapidly” to a major cate­gory four hurricane off Mexi­co’s Pacific Coast, “fed by warm ocean surface temperatures”.

Sustained winds of up to 220 kilometres per hour were expect­ed in Mexico’s coastal areas over the weekend. Ms Nullis noted that, as was often the case with tropical cyclones, “the threat is not just from the wind but also from water”, and rainfall of up to 152 millimetres was forecast in the affected areas in Mexico. The usually arid southwest of the United States, including major cities such as San Diego, would also see “a huge amount of rain in a short time”, she said, with a high risk of flash flooding.

WMO climate expert Alvaro Silva commented that “the fre­quency and intensity of many extremes, such as heatwaves and heavy precipitation, have increased in recent decades”. He noted that it can be said with “high confidence” that human induced climate change from greenhouse emissions is the main driver. The southwest Pa­cific was another region hit hard by the impacts of a warming cli­mate, WMO said, with weath­er-related disasters “unravelling the fabric of society” there. Ac­cording to the UN agency’s latest report, sea level rise threatened the future of low-lying islands, while increasing ocean heat and acidification devastated vulner­able marine ecosystems. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taa­las said that the El Niño climate pattern will have a major impact on the region this year, bringing higher temperatures, disrup­tive weather “and more marine heatwaves and coral bleaching”.

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