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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Emilio Fraile A firefighter battling the Sierra de la Culebra fire in Spain on 18 June.

Europe heatwaves: Ireland unlikely to see 40+ degrees 'anytime soon', climate expert says

Countries like Spain and France have been experiencing a blistering June heatwave.

WITH SOME EUROPEAN countries suffering under temperatures of 40 and 50 degrees in recent weeks, a climate expert has said Ireland will not reach this heat “anytime soon” 

Spain, France and other countries in western Europe have been experiencing an intense June heatwave. 

Climate science shows that heatwaves will occur earlier in the year as an effect of global warming.

Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization, said the European heatwaves are “unfortunately a foretaste of the future”. 

Peter Thorne, climatologist and professor at Maynooth University, said they are “entirely what we expect” based on the science. 

“It’s shocking to people who don’t really follow this stuff, but to experts like myself and many of my colleagues this is an entirely expected phenomenon,” Thorne told The Journal

Ireland is experiencing a temperature increase roughly in line with the global average – which is currently 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 

And with milder temperatures the average in Ireland, Thorne said the country will not see temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius “anytime soon”. 

The highest temperature recorded in Ireland was 33.3 degrees in Kilkenny in the late 1800s. 

The highest temperature in the 20th century was 32.5 degrees in Offaly. 

“We’re going to break that,” Thorne said.

“We’re going to break both of those eventually, probably in the coming years or certainly in coming decades. But we’re not going to break those immediately by up to seven degrees. 

40 degrees is probably attainable in central Ireland with the right setup and with additional years of greenhouse gas accumulation, but it’s highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

“Temperatures in the mid-30s with the right setup would probably be attainable today, 35 might be attainable today, but 40 is a stretch.” 

Increased temperatures around the world

A report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this year made clear that climate change is already causing severe and widespread disruption around the world. 

The UN’s report found that 3.3-3.6 billion people – around half of the world’s population – are vulnerable to climate change. 

Earlier this year, countries like India and Pakistan experienced temperatures of above 50 degrees.

Millions of people have been more recently stranded by flooding in India and Bangladesh. 

Emergency services have battled wildfires in northern Spain. There have also been fires in parts of Germany where temperatures reached 38 degrees Celsius in eastern regions.

Seven of the ten hottest years in Ireland since the start of the 20th century have happened since 1990. 

Keith Lambkin, senior climatologist at Met Éireann, said Ireland isn’t experiencing earlier heatwaves to the same extent as in other parts of Europe.

Irish heatwaves are usually experienced in July. 

“It’s not unusual to see them in June or August either, but it would be quite unusual to see them in May and September,” Lambkin told The Journal

He said heatwaves in countries like Spain and France are caused by winds pushing up from Africa.

“That’s one reason we escaped this particular heatwave,” he said. ”The prevailing wind [in Ireland] is generally coming from the west so we tend to have that more moderate climate.

“It’s a different weather regime effectively, so we’re not going to experience that type of overheating. 

“But it’s not to say our temperature won’t change either.”

Heatwaves occur in Ireland when there are five days or more with a temperature of at least 25 degrees Celsius. 

In terms of dealing with these higher temperatures, Peter Thorne said Ireland is “fundamentally not set up for heat”. 

“We’re not acclimatised at all in Ireland to those kind of extremes” of 40+ degrees, he said.

“You just have to think back to the few days that were very warm last year and how uncomfortable that was because our buildings could not cool. They just act as heat traps. 

“And that was when we were attaining 28, 29 [degrees] during the day.” 

He said countries that regularly hit higher temperatures in the 30s, 40s and even 50s have “infrastructure and adaptation responses” to help them cope with high heat.  

We have no such adaptation measures in Ireland so we suffer even at much much lower temperatures than the 40s or 50s. We suffer even in the high 20s, let alone the late 30s.

“It’s the thermal shock, it’s what you’re used to versus what you suddenly have to cope with.”  

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently warned that the last seven years were the hottest on record, global sea levels reached a new record high in 2021, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have reached record levels.

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