A Global Record: 2023’s Heat Wave
By: Sarah Phillips
For most of the United States, from Florida to California, the summer so far has been marked by record temperatures, and for some states, poor air quality and severe storms have compounded the scorching weather (“June”).
For decades, climate change has played a destructive role in increasing both the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and those that took place in Canada earlier in the year – some of which continue to burn – were so large that they contributed to air quality alerts in 16 U.S. states (“June”). The extra heat energy in the atmosphere has also intensified the tornadoes that devastated the Ohio Valley, the Great Plains, and Florida in June (“In”, “June”).
Meanwhile, Europe is experiencing its driest period in 500 years (Millan). And it has yet to endure its strongest heatwave of the summer; areas in the southwest, particularly Spain, are predicted to be subjected to temperatures above 104°F, and many more will reach at least 100°F (Korosec). Morocco and Algeria have already suffered worse: Inhabitants of northern Africa endured peak temperatures of more than 113°F in the early days of July (Korosec).
Typical fears associated with heat waves include heat stroke and dehydration, but, according to the World Health Organization, heat waves “rarely receive adequate attention because their death tolls and destruction are not always immediately obvious” (“Heatwaves”). Hospitals are strained past their capacities; people with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses are at greater risk of a medical complication; agriculturists lose their livelihoods; many more lose their food security (“Heatwaves”, “Heat”). In Spain, for example, drought has “left virtually no aspect of daily life” untouched: Farmers are struggling to find enough water for their livestock, and water allowances mean dishes, clothing, and people may go unwashed at night (Millan).
While all of this will pass, 2023’s worldwide heat wave is a severe point on the timeline of an environmental crisis that will not. Since the 1960s, the average number of annual heat waves in the United States has more than doubled, and both their duration and intensity have steadily increased as well (“Heat”). As Jennifer Francis, a scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center, puts it, 2023 is likely the hottest period Earth has seen “going back at least 100,000 years” (Paddison). And, according to Francis, most climate scientists are frightened but unsurprised (Paddison). The global trend of widespread inaction regarding environmental issues, which exists across all walks of life, is seemingly obstinate enough to persist through even these record-breaking times (Paddison).
Scientists’ predictions for the next five years are a small taste of what may be in store for our world should environmental action not accelerate. According to the World Meteorological Organization, there is a 98% chance that, between 2023 and 2027, a new record high global average temperature will be reached – beyond the one set this year (“Global”). Disproportionate warming at the poles means that associated disasters, such as flooding and drinking water contamination, will follow (“Global”).
Hope, however, can be drawn from the fact that so much effort has been taken to document current climate events – even as they draw these alarming conclusions, researchers the world around are exploring possibilities for how to combat further deterioration of our environment.
“Global Temperatures Set to Reach New Records in next Five Years.” World Meteorological Organization, 17 May 2023, public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/global-temperatures-set-reach-new-records-next-five-years#:~:text=There%20is%20a%2066%25%20likelihood,be%20the%20warmest%20on%20record.
“Heat Waves (Recent).” Smith College, 21 June 2023, www.science.smith.edu/climatelit/heat-waves-recent/.
“Heatwaves.” World Health Organization, www.who.int/health-topics/heatwaves#tab=tab_1. Accessed 13 July 2023.
“In a Warming World, the Storms May Be Fewer but Stronger.” NASA, 5 Mar. 2013, earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/ClimateStorms/page2.php#:~:text=Extra%20heat%20in%20the%20atmosphere,clouds%20high%20into%20the%20atmosphere.
“June Marked by Record-Setting U.S. Heat Waves, Severe Weather.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 11 July 2023, www.noaa.gov/news/june-marked-by-record-setting-us-heat-waves-severe-weather#:~:text=The%20heat%20was%20on%3A%20A,record%20of%2095%20degrees%20F.
Korosec, Marko. “Europe in the Grip of the Strongest Heatwave of Summer Season 2023 as We Head into next Week.” Severe Weather Europe, 7 July 2023, www.severe-weather.eu/global-weather/heat-dome-strongest-heatwave-summer-2023-europe-mk/.
Millan, Laura. “2023 Heatwave, Drought Wreaking Havoc in Spain as Temperatures Soar.” Bloomberg.Com, 13 July 2023, www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2023-07-13/2023-heatwave-drought-wreaking-havoc-in-spain-as-temperatures-soar.
Paddison, Laura. “Global Heat in ‘uncharted Territory’ as Scientists Warn 2023 Could Be the Hottest Year on Record.” CNN, 8 July 2023, www.cnn.com/2023/07/08/world/extreme-global-temperature-heat-records-climate/index.html.