Millions of people are sweltering under Japan’s worst heatwave for almost 150 years, in the latest early-season hot weather streak to hit the Northern Hemisphere this month.
Record heat has struck every continent north of the equator in June, raising fears about what July and August – typically the hottest months of the year – have in store for Europe, North America and Asia.
The blistering temperatures are yet another reminder of the human consequences of human-induced climate change, which scientists agree is already increasing the frequency and severity of heatwaves.
They are also starting earlier in the year.
InJapan, fears of power shortages in order to keep air conditioners running are growingand Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for a ramp-up of nuclear power.
Most of the country’s nuclear plants were switched off after the March 2011 tsunami that set off the Fukushima nuclear accident.
“The electricity demand and supply situation is expected to be the toughest in the last three days (of this week),” an
industry ministry official told reporters.
Tokyo recorded temperatures above 35C on Wednesday for a fifth straight day, totaling the country’s worst extreme heat event in June since records started in 1875.
The mercury is not expected to drop to 30C until into next week.
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Around the world in record heat
It comes as Britain’s Met Office finds that climate change is slashing the odds of record-breaking June temperatures in Western Europe, becoming 10 times more likely in just 20 years.
An unusually early and intense heatwave spread up from North Africa through Europe ahead of the summer solstice, bringing temperatures more typical of those seen later in the summer.
In some parts of Spain and France, temperatures have reached 10C over the average for the time of year. Nearly the whole of Spain faced an extreme fire risk for consecutive days.
Drought has also hit many parts of Europe. In Italy, the worst drought in 70 years has meant salt water from the Adriatic Sea is flowing back into the sluggish river Po, bringing further damage to crops hit by an early summer heatwave.
“If there is no rain in the next 10 or 15 days, the crops that are not yet lost will be gone,” said Giancarlo Mantovani, director of the Reclaiming the Po group that tries to protect the river.
“We are progressively losing the harvest,” he warned.
Meanwhile, in North America, on 15 June nearly one third of the population was under some form of heat advisory.
This followed a prolonged heatwave in March and April in India and Pakistan, estimated to be about 30 times more likely because of human-caused climate change.
‘Heat island’ effect makes people vulnerable
Extreme heat is deadly, especially for the vulnerable. City residents are susceptible because of the urban “heat island” effect, as materials used in buildings absorb more heat.
The heat can also aggravate air pollution and poses a threat to food security.
But ways to cope and adapt exist and work – one is to develop heat-health early warning systems and action plans.
Hundreds of local losses of species have been driven by increases in the magnitude of heat extremes, as have mass death events on land and in the ocean.
A new paper in Reviews of Geophysics warned that the hot and dry conditions conducive to wildfires are increasing under climate change, making landscapes more susceptible to burn more often and more severely.
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