WASHINGTON – The heat wave that killed more than 10,000 people across Europe last summer is only a taste of things to come as the planet becomes steadily warmer, a Swiss expert predicted this week. Climate models predict that temperatures above 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) will become a regular feature of summer in southern and eastern Europe by the end of this century, the researcher said.
Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Martin Beniston of the University of Fribourg said not only will summers be as hot as in 2003, but the accompanying drought, crop failure and deaths can be expected as well. “The record heat wave that affected many parts of Europe during the course of summer 2003 has been seen by many as a ‘shape of things to come’, reflecting the extremes of temperature that summers are projected to occur in the later decades of the 21st century,” Beniston wrote.
“Model results suggest that under enhanced atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations, summer temperatures are likely to increase by over 4 degrees C (8 degrees F) on average, with a corresponding increase in the frequency of severe heat waves.” This past summer gave an unpleasant foretaste, Beniston said.
In Switzerland, “2003 is likely to have been the warmest summer since
1540,” he wrote. According to the World Health Organization, 11,435 people died from heat-related illness in France in the first two weeks of August alone as temperatures soared.
Beniston used a well-known climate model to predict what temperatures will do at the end of the century. In general, overall temperatures are expected to increase by 4 degrees C (8 degrees F) “from the Atlantic across Central Europe to the Black Sea.”
“Stronger increases (6 degrees C or 10 degrees F) occur over the Iberian Peninsula and the southwestern parts of France, in part because of a probable reduction of soil moisture related to a simultaneous increase in summer drought,” Beniston added.
This would mean an extra 60 days or more above 30 degrees (86 degrees F), with some days being considerably warmer, Beniston predicted.