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Dramatically increasing chance of extremely hot summers since the 2003 European heatwave

Abstract

Socio-economic stress from the unequivocal warming of the global climate system1 could be mostly felt by societies through weather and climate extremes2. The vulnerability of European citizens was made evident during the summer heatwave of 2003 (refs 3, 4) when the heat-related death toll ran into tens of thousands5. Human influence at least doubled the chances of the event according to the first formal event attribution study6, which also made the ominous forecast that severe heatwaves could become commonplace by the 2040s. Here we investigate how the likelihood of having another extremely hot summer in one of the worst affected parts of Europe has changed ten years after the original study was published, given an observed summer temperature increase of 0.81 K since then. Our analysis benefits from the availability of new observations and data from several new models. Using a previously employed temperature threshold to define extremely hot summers, we find that events that would occur twice a century in the early 2000s are now expected to occur twice a decade. For the more extreme threshold observed in 2003, the return time reduces from thousands of years in the late twentieth century to about a hundred years in little over a decade.

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Figure 1: Time series of the summer mean temperature anomaly relative to 1961–1990 in region 10° W–40° E, 30°–50° N.
Figure 2: Results from the optimal fingerprinting analyses.
Figure 3: Normalized distributions of the summer mean temperature anomaly in future decades.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Joint DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101) and the EUCLEIA project funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme [FP7/2007–2013] under grant agreement no. 607085.

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N.C. organized the research, performed the analysis and wrote the paper. G.S.J. provided comments and data for the analysis. P.A.S. provided comments and contributed to the text.

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Correspondence to Nikolaos Christidis.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Christidis, N., Jones, G. & Stott, P. Dramatically increasing chance of extremely hot summers since the 2003 European heatwave. Nature Clim Change 5, 46–50 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2468

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