This article is printed in the Danish Newspaper Politiken on June 17th.
Do we dare to take the chance that the crazy weather is a coincidence and not climate-driven?
While most have enjoyed the exceptionally hot spring with lots of sunshine and summer temperatures in Northern Europe, others have seen the drought spread on the fields and in the gardens with subsequent major economic losses. As always, when such events occur, the view is reversed either against a higher power or against scientific experts to get an answer as to why such an unusual event occurs.
On the basis of strict scientific considerations, a clean single event like this cannot be directly attributed to climate change. So we often get that answer every time an extreme event has occurred.
The question is just how many coincidences we accept before we surrender ourselves to the most likely, which is that the many extreme weather events we see in these years are a manifestation of climate change!
We can no longer ignore the extreme weather, as we see everywhere over the globe. Although it is nice that we can sit out in the middle of May without freezing, we have to ask ourselves if we dare to take the chance that the exceptionally good weather is a coincidence and that it is not created by climate change.
And the heat is not without problems. As the temperature rises, as is the case, the likelihood for extreme events is simply increasing. This is comparable to dice tests. If we throw a completely normal dice 36 times, we statistically will have six sixs. If we now change the dice, so there is a greater likelihood of getting six and again throwing the dice 36 times, we may get ten sixs. The heat does the same for the weather. With a warmer climate, there is greater likelihood of extreme weather.
The experiment illustrates what our lifestyle with fossil fuel combustion has done in nature. It increases the likelihood of the extreme weather.
But the big focus on the heat has blurred another unusual event – or incidents – the torrential rain.
In recent years torrential rain have become more numerous and their season has been significantly expanded in Denmark. Once upon a time such event could happen in the summer, where there is both heat and humidity present. But it’s not like that anymore. Many people want to know the reason, when the basements have been filled with water or when flooding stops traffic.
The funny thing is that this phenomenon has become the new normality. We see it today as a common and natural weather phenomenon, but few years ago it was a rarity.
I usually refer to incident on August 20, 2007, where a cloudburst handed 142 mm of water in the city Gråsten in southern Denmark. Since that day, we have had a cloudburst every year -and in increasing numbers and with an extended season, so they now occur from April to September.
The formation of clouds requires especially heat and humidity, and both are not so common in the spring months – and not at the same time, yet we saw it this year already April 30 and more followed in early May.
Recently, I attended a conference in Paris where television colleagues from most continents participated for the purpose of telling each other about the weather changes we see in our respective countries. The heat wave in May was not only a Danish phenomenon. It has affected our neighboring countries in the same way as here and created new records in majestic temperatures in most of northern Europe.
In Holland, it has been estimated that it was the warmest of May for 300 years, but in the new climate it can occur every 60 years. Finland reports, in line with Denmark, record hours of sunshine and record high temperatures. Similarly, colleagues from Croatia, Lithuania, North Germany, Sweden and Norway have told the same story about new records.
The records were not only reserved for the countries under the heath wave. In the neighboring countries, other types of records are reported. France set a new record in a thunderstorm. Admittedly, the measurements began here in the year 2000, but it was noteworthy that the previous record of 85,000 lightning in May 2009 was broken this year when the French sky recorded a total of 204,000 lightning in May. The thunderstorm was accompanied by heavy flood clouds in the south of France and similarly in the area of Barcelona in Spain.
It was also noted that Pakistan delivered a new world record in April’s temperature when a station measured 50.2 degrees. Neither Africa has avoided rough weather this spring, where both Kenya and Nigeria have had unusually heavy rain, caused by high ocean temperatures in the Indian Ocean, which was also crucial for Oman’s end of May to be hit by a unusually violent tropical hurricane, Mekanu. It hit the city of Salalah, where more than 600 mm of rain fell in a few days. Normally, there will be almost 100 mm in a year.
The examples are so numerous, and one should take a megaphone into the square in front of the Government and shout: “Do something”
For it’s not just this year that the examples are popping up. We have talked about the climate since the 90’s and have turned and debated all the facts. Certainly, science has not always agreed – and not at all in the beginning, but there is so much certainty and so many similar reports that we all know that is crazy.
Some people cling to the hope that science is wrong, and others believe that, on the basis of a principle of comfort, the risk is wildly exaggerated.
So when there is a consensus in science and the examples of violent weather, why is it not a big incentive to do something and why do not we take it seriously. I can understand the individuals, who finds the whole question too big and inconceivable, but I find it hard to understand our decision makers, who have received the responsibility to lead this world, that they do so little.
Yes, we got the Paris agreement, but precisely because it’s not ambitious enough and therefore does not solve the problem, we have to continue to discuss solutions and new initiatives – it’s high time.
Let’s just turn our view back to the heat wave and drought here in May / June. We’ve had dry springs before. For example, in 1992, where the drought began on May 13 and lasted June, so the month of June gave only one mm of rain. So that spring was very dry too. But the difference is partly because the drought started a little earlier this year, and not least that the temperature this year is significantly higher.
Last time it was almost so hot in May was in 1889, where the average temperature in Denmark was 13.8 degrees. This year it was 15.0 degrees. It is more than one degree difference in the average temperature, and it can tilt a lot of balances in the weather.
Whether or not the unusual global spring weather continues throughout the summer, we still do not know, but I will follow developments closely.