Climate change made this summer’s drought 20 times more likely, study finds

Rising global temperatures caused by the burning of fossil fuels made this summer’s brutal northern hemisphere droughts – which dried up rivers, sparked unprecedented wildfires and led to widespread crop failures – 20 times more likely, according to a new study.

Climate change is rewriting normal weather patterns in real time, according to the study by World Weather Attribution, a consortium of international scientists studying the link between rising global mean temperatures and extreme weather. The droughts that have hit North America, Europe and Asia this summer were so extreme they would normally be considered a 1-in-400-year event, the study found, but due to climate change, the planet can now cope A recurrence of these cases expect conditions every 20 years.

Single daily temperature records in Europe were repeatedly broken in the summer of 2022, and the extreme heat was blamed for 24,000 deaths on the continent. Higher average temperatures also dramatically increase evaporation rates, dry out soil and vegetation, and lead to an increased risk of wildfires, all of which have a negative impact on agriculture.

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“In Europe, drought conditions resulted in lower harvests. This was of particular concern as it followed a climate change-induced heatwave in South Asia that also devastated crops, and came at a time when global food prices were already extremely high due to the war in Ukraine,” said Friederike Otto, Professor for Climate Science at the Grantham Institute in the UK and one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

The Loire under extreme drought conditions

The Loire under extreme drought conditions in Loireauxence, France, on August 16th. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

But as the summer of 2022 demonstrated, climate change is amplifying seemingly contradictory impacts, worsening drought while dramatically increasing the risk of extreme precipitation events. In addition to drying out the soil, increased evaporation rates due to higher temperatures lead to higher humidity. A study published in Science in June found that climate change is disrupting the monsoon season across Asia, making it wetter and deadlier.

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That is exactly what was playing out in Pakistan this summer, when a monsoon season that brought in six times the 30-year average rainfall displaced more than 32 million people and killed more than 1,300.

In other words, climate change is ushering in a new normal characterized by chaotic swings from one extreme to the other, according to a study by climate researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, released in March.

Withered corn plants

Withered corn plants near Ferrara, Italy. (Gabriele Pileri/Reuters)

“Hydroclimate trends in the 21st century are so large that future average conditions will, in most cases, fall within the range of what we would today call extreme drought or extreme precipitation [increased rainfall] States,” the study says.

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Peter Gleick, the founder of the Pacific Institute, who published the UCSB study and told Yahoo News last year that “the hydrological cycle is the climate cycle,” has long warned that climate change will produce the very results observed this summer were the northern hemisphere.

“The warnings that the climate cycle and the water cycle are changing and that these impacts are becoming more severe are now coming true,” Gleick said.

The World Weather Attribution study is only the most recent such report to make these claims.

“Our analysis shows that last summer’s severe drought across much of the northern hemisphere was fueled by human-induced climate change. The result also gives us a glimpse of what lies ahead. With further global warming, stronger and more frequent droughts are to be expected in the future,” says Dominik Schumacher, a researcher at ETH Zurich and one of the authors of the study.

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