Wednesday 23 August 2017

Forest fires, cancelled flights and melting roads as extreme heat takes hold

(Photo: Fenland Police)
(Photo: Fenland Police)
A firefighter walks close to a wildfire in Carvalho, central Portugal. Photo: AFP/Getty

Henning Gloystein

Extreme heat across large tracts of the northern hemisphere raised fears for crops in China, fuelled forest fires in Portugal and Russia, forced flight cancellations in the US, and melted tarmac on roads in Britain.

Yesterday marked the summer solstice - the longest day of the year - and temperatures reached the high 30s in European cities such as London, Paris and Madrid.

Rounding up the record temperatures set in the past two months, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the Earth was experiencing "another exceptionally warm year" and the heatwaves were unusually early.

"Parts of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States of America have seen extremely high May and June temperatures, with a number of records broken," the WMO said.

The trend seen during the past two months has put average monthly global temperatures among the highest ever recorded since data began to be collated in 1880.

A study published earlier this week found that nearly one in three of the world's people were already exposed to potentially deadly heatwaves and predicted that number would rise to nearly half by the end of the century unless governments take steps to aggressively reduce climate-changing emissions.

"People are talking about the future when it comes to climate change, but what we found from this paper is that this is already happening, and this is obviously going to get a lot worse," said Camilo Mora, geography professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the study published in the 'Nature Climate Change' journal.

Even before this month, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data showed Europe, the United States and north-east Asia - including eastern China, Japan and South Korea - had experienced unusually warm weather between March and May.

In China, the world's top grain producer, hot and dry conditions in the main corn belt have delayed plantings and stunted crop development.

"The drought that hit parts of China's north-east is the worst for this time of the year in the past decade, in the breadth of areas it has affected and the length of time it has lasted," said Ma Wenfeng, analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultancy.

The hot, dry weather is a major factor behind forest fires that have killed dozens of people in Portugal.

And the Russian news agency Tass reported scores of forest fires, mostly in Siberia and the far east region of .

In south-west America, flights were cancelled mostly by regional airlines whose aircraft operate at a lower maximum temperature. And in Britain, the intense sun had melted tarmac roads in Surrey.

Solar power generation was expected to surge in Germany, with Eikon data showing a potential of 27,500 megawatt-hour (MWh) could be generated, compared with a seasonal norm of just 20,000 MWh.

Irish Independent

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