It’s not officially summer yet in the northern hemisphere. But the extreme has already arrived.
Fires are raging across Canada and parts of the eastern United States are blanketed in choking orange-grey smoke. Puerto Rico, like the rest of the world these days, is under severe heat warnings. Earth’s oceans are heating up at an alarming rate.
Human-induced climate change is the force behind such extreme events. While no specific studies have yet attributed this week’s events to global warming, global warming could lead to severe wildfires and heatwaves, such as those affecting major parts of North America today. It is scientifically clear that the odds are greatly increased.
A global weather pattern known as El Niño is now upon us, which could cause temperatures to soar and record record heat. Thursday morning, scientists announced its arrival.
Taken together, this week’s extreme conditions make it clear that the world’s richest continent is still unprepared for the perils of the not-too-distant future. In a sign of that, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that the Canadian government could soon create a disaster response agency, saying, “We can do what we can to anticipate, protect and act in advance of more incidents like this. I will do everything I can for sure.” Coming. “
Recent fires have also shattered the notion that some places are not near the equator or far from the ocean, making them relatively safe from the worst dangers of climate change. Almost without warning, smoke from a distant fire changed everyday life.
Schools canceled outdoor activities in Buffalo because so much wildfire smoke crossed the border. Detroit was suffocated by a toxic fog. Airports in the northeastern part of the country have suspended flights.
“Wildfires are no longer just a problem for people living in fire-prone woodlands,” said Alexandra Page Fisher, a professor of fire adaptation strategies at the University of Michigan.
In the United States, more and more people are already living with the smoke of wildfires. A 2022 study by researchers at Stanford University found that the number of people exposed to toxic pollution from wildfires on at least one day a year increased 27-fold between 2006 and 2020.
The two countries experiencing such extremes, the United States and Canada, are major producers of oil and gas, which when burned produce greenhouse gases that significantly warm the Earth’s atmosphere. . The average global temperature today is more than 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than before the industrial revolution.
Park Williams, a geologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said climate models are actually predicting more rain in eastern Canada and northern Alberta over the next few years. However, this year was not the case. This year has been an unusually dry year for much of Canada. Then came the heat.
The boreal forests of western Canada provided ready-to-use fuel. The trees and grasses of eastern Canada turned into craters. “A hot, dry year can cause things to dry out and become flammable faster than they would otherwise,” says Dr. Williams.
By Wednesday, more than 400 wildfires had erupted from west to east across Canada, more than half of which were out of control.
Other parts of the world are experiencing extreme heat this year. Vietnam set a new heat record in May, with temperatures surpassing 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit). China breaks heat record At over 100 weather stations in April. The boreal forests of Siberia are also burning.
Like the boreal forests of North America, climate change is making Siberia’s wildfire season longer and more intense. Brendan Rogers, an expert on northern bushfires at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, said lightning strikes are also increasing igniters. Certainly, conditions vary from year to year, but “the common denominator is warm/hot and dry conditions that prepare the ecosystem to burn,” he said in an email.
Where does the excess heat in the atmosphere go? Much of it is absorbed by the ocean, so ocean temperatures have risen steadily over the past few decades, reaching a record in 2022.
But this spring, something strange happened. Scientists have announced with unusual alarm that ocean temperatures have reached their warmest in 40 years.
Scientists are still out on why, but some say the increase could be a harbinger of El Niño coming. This weather pattern typically lasts for several years and brings heat to the surface of the eastern Pacific. We’ve been living with that cool cousin, La Niña, for the last few years.
Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli of Tampa Bay, Fla., television station WFLA, warned on Twitter about the double whammy of El Niño in a world already warming due to climate change. “We should expect Amazing year of global extremes,” he wrote.
Puerto Rico has already felt the effects this week, with record temperatures and high humidity pushing the heat index to 125 degrees Fahrenheit In some parts of the island (about 52 degrees Celsius).
“We are sailing in uncharted waters.” WAPA Meteorologist Ada MonzonPuerto Rican television station tweeted.