How climate change is exacerbating heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods

How climate change is exacerbating heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods

Written by Mark Pointing and Esme Stallard,BBC News Climate and Science

Reuters Residents transport their belongings on kayaks in a flooded residential area in Dubai in April 2024.Reuters

A new study says climate change is the most likely explanation for why Dubai is experiencing increasingly heavy rainfall events.

Here are four ways climate change is linked to extreme weather.

1. More intense rain

This can lead to more drops and heavier rainfall, sometimes in a shorter period of time and over a smaller area.

A chart showing how record temperatures cause heavy rains.  1) Increased heat from the sun causes greater evaporation 2) Increased humidity forms clouds 3) Heavy rain
AFP Destruction in DernaFrance Press agency

The mayor of Derna in northern Libya indicated that up to 20,000 people may have died as a result of the floods.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says this pattern will continue with further warming.

2. Hotter and longer heat waves

Even a small increase in average temperatures makes a big difference in maximum temperatures.

The distribution of daily temperatures shifts to warmer levels, making hotter days more likely and more intense.

"A small shift makes a big difference".  Line chart showing how small changes in climate increase the likelihood of hot weather and extreme weather.

In early April 2024, temperatures in Mali reached 48.5°C during an intense heatwave across Africa's Sahel region, which was associated with increased hospitalizations and deaths.

This can happen as a result Thermal domesThese are areas of high pressure where hot air is pushed down and trapped, causing temperatures to rise over large areas.

A drawing showing how thermal domes form.  1) A mass of warm air builds up in still, dry summer conditions 2) High pressure in the atmosphere presses the warm air downward 3) The air becomes compressed and becomes hotter

3. Longer dry periods

It can be difficult to link climate change to specific individual droughts.

But heatwaves fueled by climate change can exacerbate droughts by drying out soil. This makes the air above heat up more quickly, resulting in more intense heat.

During periods of hot weather, increased demand for water, especially from farmers, puts increased pressure on water supplies.

Map of drought severity across South America.  Much of the Amazon Basin saw the most severe levels of drought, marked by orange and red colours.

4. More fuel for wildfires

But climate change makes the weather conditions necessary for wildfires to spread more likely. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says.

Intense, long-lasting heat draws more moisture from the soil and plants.

These extremely dry conditions provide fuel for fires, which can spread incredibly quickly, especially if winds are strong.

REUTERS Flames reach upward along the edge of a wildfire as seen from a Canadian Forces helicopter surveying the area near Mistissini, Quebec, Canada, June 12, 2023.Reuters

Canada had its worst wildfire year on record in 2023

Climate change has more than doubled the likelihood of extreme “fire weather” conditions in eastern Canada in May and June 2023, helping fires spread. WWA says.

Wildfires are expected to become severe More frequent and severe in the future Globally, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). This is due to the combined effects of land use change and climate change.

The United Nations Environment Program indicates that the number of the most dangerous fires could rise by up to 50% by 2100.

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