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Deadly Heat Waves Sweep the Globe

Climate

This summer is undoubtedly one for the record books. Brutal heat has literally melted roads, ignited forest fires and affected millions around the planet. Extreme weather has scorched the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the U.S, as weather experts predict that this year will surpass last year as the hottest in recorded history.

“I’d not be surprised if 2015 ends up the warmest year on record,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt in June.

The Middle East

Death tolls are currently climbing in Egypt as temperatures soar to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Associated Press reported that more than 60 people—mostly elderly—have died from the heat and high humidity. An additional 581 people have been hospitalized for heat exhaustion.

The entire region has been devastated by the relentless heat. Earlier this week, Iran hit a sweltering 164 degrees—just a few degrees shy of the highest ever record heat index. Pakistan's devastating heat wave in June killed 1,233 and hospitalized more than 1,900 due to dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. In neighboring India, 2,500 people succumbed to heat a month earlier.

Asia

Japan is experiencing heat-related deaths in 29 out of its 47 prefectures, with Tokyo currently experiencing an "unprecedented" streak of temperatures over 95 degrees, according to Weather.com. The week of July 27 through Aug. 2—where 25 people died from heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses—was considered the "deadliest" week in the country and nearly equaled the death toll of 30 in the preceding three months combined, Weather.com added in its report.

Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese weather authorities have issued heat wave alerts as some parts of the country experienced temperatures in the triple digits. The Guardian also reported in July that North Koreans were ordered to start work at 5 a.m. in order to cope with temperatures around 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Pyongyang.

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Europe

The heat has smashed records across the continent, reminding some of the devastating summer of 2003 that claimed 30,000 lives. "Europeans have been painfully aware of the dangers of extreme heat since the killer heat wave of July 2003," said Weather.com senior meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.

"This July 2015 was the warmest July on record for Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria," Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground's director of meteorology, told the website.

Eastern Europe is also seeing temperatures up to the mid-90s, when highs around 75 are more common this time of year, AccuWeather wrote. And Poland is also experiencing the mass extinction of one very unsuspecting victim: IKEA meatballs.

North America

Although summer is coming to an end, many parts of the U.S. will still be baking in the sun's rays. Some Los Angelenos, for instance, will feel temperatures in the 100s this week, the Los Angeles Times reported. Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service, told the publication on Monday that while the city's temperatures are not record-breaking, they are still about 10 degrees above average for this time of year.

The American summer of 2015 has also been marked by destructive wildfires that have burned through the West. So far, flames have burned nearly 5 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut) in the state of Alaska. Climate Central even created an interactive map that shows in real time the active wildfires in the U.S.

Climate change?

Global warming has been suggest as one of the possible culprits of this extreme heat.

“The heat wave is still ongoing and it is premature to say whether it can be attributed to climate change or whether it is due to naturally occurring climate variability,” stated Omar Baddour, who coordinates the World Meteorological Organization’s World Climate Data and Monitoring Program.

“But climate change scenarios predict that heat waves will become more intense, more frequent and longer. It is notable that the time between major heat waves (2003, 2010 and 2015) is getting shorter," he added.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."