How global warming and La Niña fueled a summer of weather extremes

Enlarge / A warming climate can lead to more extreme downpours, as seen in Bangladesh and India in 2022

There’s an old joke about the guy who has his left foot in a bucket of ice water and his right foot in a bucket of hot water, so his overall temperature is average. This seems to apply to climate during northern 2022 summer of extremes: Overall, the planet was tied only for hottest june-augustbut regional heat waves have broken records.

Global warming is undoubtedly a factor, but how the growing extremes that marked the summer of 2022 – heat waves, droughts and floods, sometimes on top of each other – are linked may bewilder the public and policymakers.

Like a climatologistI’ve been working on these issues for more than four decades, and my new book, “The evolution of energy flow through the climate system“, details the causes, returns and impacts. Let’s take a closer look at how climate change and natural weather patterns like La Niña influence what we see in the world today.

The global land and ocean surface temperature from June to August 2022 was 1.6° Fahrenheit (0.89° Celsius) above the 20th century average of 60.1°F (15.6° VS).  It is tied with 2015 and 2017 as the fifth hottest in the 143-year-old temperature record.
Enlarge / The global land and ocean surface temperature from June to August 2022 was 1.6° Fahrenheit (0.89° Celsius) above the 20th century average of 60.1°F (15.6° VS). It is tied with 2015 and 2017 as the fifth hottest in the 143-year-old temperature record.

NOAA

Extreme northern hemisphere summer

The summer of 2022 indeed seemed to feature one climate-related disaster after another.

Record-breaking heatwaves ignited India and Pakistan, then monsoon floods left about a third of Pakistan under wateraffecting approximately 33 million people. Temperatures exceeded 104° Fahrenheit (40° Celsius) for long periods in many places, and even broken 122° F (50° C) in Jacobabad, Pakistan in May.

A satellite image of part of Pakistan shows how flooding has turned rivers into mile-wide lakes.
Enlarge / A satellite image of part of Pakistan shows how flooding has turned rivers into mile-wide lakes.

Asian heat has helped melt some glaciers in the Himalayas, raising rivers. At a time, three times the normal annual rainfall fell in Pakistan during week-long monsoon. More … than 1,500 people died in the flood, it is estimated 1.8 million households have been damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of head of cattle were lost. Food for the coming seasons will be scarce.

Extreme heat in Europe has caused forest fires, especially in Spain and Portugal. The drought in Spain has dried up a reservoir, revealing the “spanish stonehenge“, an ancient megalithic stone circle believed to date back to around 5000 BC. Electricity generation in France plummeted, low rivers reducing the ability to cool nuclear towers, and German barges struggled to find enough electricity. water for sail on the Rhine.

Spaniards fought wildfires in Spain in July 2022 that spread through dry fields and forests.
Enlarge / Spaniards fought wildfires in Spain in July 2022 that spread through dry fields and forests.

Teresa H. Sadler