Warm air from Africa and climate change driving heatwave, say experts

Temperature records have been tumbling in Europe and the UK could see its hottest ever day in the south east of England – but why is it so hot?

Experts at the Met Office say the current weather pattern is driving hot air from the south, but there is “no doubt” climate change is playing a role in what could be unprecedented temperature highs.

Met Office spokesman Oli Claydon, said: “There’s a very large area of high pressure over eastern Europe and up into Scandinavia.

“That’s combined with a jet stream that has taken a bit of a downturn to the south across the Atlantic, then shooting up north to the west of the UK.

“That combination of the jet stream and the high pressure is working to funnel up the warm air from the continent which has its source origins in North Africa.”

But the kind of heatwave the country is experiencing is being made more likely, and more intense, by climate change, experts warn.

A study from the Met Office previously showed last year’s summer heatwave was made around 30 times more likely than it would be under natural conditions as a result of human activity driving global warming.

The world has seen temperatures rise by a global average of 1C since pre-industrial times, and more in some areas, increasing the likelihood and frequency of extreme heat spells.

Professor Peter Stott, from the Met Office, said: “There’s no doubt that climate change is playing a role here because of the elevated temperatures and that’s related to the fact we’ve got this weather pattern being drawn up from North Africa.”

That part of the world has warmed by double the global average, while continental areas are warming faster than over the sea.

So when the UK shares weather patterns with places that are warming fast, it is “pushing us into temperatures that are unprecedented, pushing us into those ranges that we have never seen before or are very, very infrequent”, he said.

He added that the existing record temperature for the UK, of 38.5C, set in August 2003 in Faversham, Kent, was set in recent times when the impact of climate change was already being felt.

And it is not just the UK, with heatwaves seen across the northern hemisphere both this summer and last.

The east coast of America has recently been in the grip of a heatwave and much of Europe is seeing records broken at the moment, while last year, Europe and Japan saw sweltering summer conditions.

“Having this frequency of heatwaves across the hemisphere would have been extraordinarily unlikely without climate change, and it’s now being made a possibility, and it’s what we’re seeing,” Professor Stott said.

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