Scorching U.K. heat wave would have been 'extremely unlikely' without climate change

A group made up of some of the world's leading climate scientists has concluded that last week's record-shattering heat wave in the United Kingdom would have been "extremely unlikely" without human-caused climate change.

On July 19, the U.K. obliterated its all-time temperature record with a high of 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That bested the previous record of 101.7°F, or 38.7°C, which was set in July 2019. That staggering heat, in a country unaccustomed to it, came amid a 2°F (1.2°C) rise in global average temperatures since mankind began pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere at that start of the Industrial Revolution.

Using computer climate modeling and analyzing data from weather stations throughout the U.K., researchers with the World Weather Attribution initiative determined that "the likelihood of observing such an event in a 1.2°C cooler world is extremely low, and statistically impossible in two out of the three analyzed stations."

"We would not have had last week's temperatures without climate change, that's for sure," Friederike Otto of Imperial College London, who heads the World Weather Attribution group, told the BBC.

A thermometer is used to illustrate the temperature at Trafalgar Square in London on July 19.
A thermometer is used to illustrate the temperature at Trafalgar Square in London on July 19. (Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images)

The same group of scientists made a similar determination following the 2021 heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, in which temperatures climbed 30°F above normal, killing hundreds of people and more than 1 billion sea creatures.

Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute scientist Sjoukje Philip noted that the heat dome that gripped much of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia "would have been virtually impossible without human-induced climate change.”

As temperatures continue to rise due to excess greenhouse gas emissions, so will the number of extreme heat waves, experts have determined.

“Climate change is clearly increasing the severity and frequency of unprecedented extreme heat events globally,” Daniel Swain, climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Yahoo News last year. “That’s also specifically true in individual regions.”

The Pacific Northwest is once again in the throes of a heat wave. Though less severe than the unprecedented 2021 event, it has lasted longer, baking the region in triple-digit heat since Monday. Initial reports from the state medical officer in Oregon, where temperatures in cities like Medford hit a record-breaking 111°F for that day, are that at least four people have died of heat-related causes so far.

As noted in Thursday's World Weather Attribution report, assessing the final death toll from a heat wave takes time.

"Heat waves during the height of summer pose a substantial risk to human health and are potentially lethal. This risk is aggravated by climate change, but also by other factors such as an aging population, urbanization, changing social structures, and levels of preparedness," the report stated. "The full impact is only known after a few weeks when the mortality figures have been analyzed."