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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C
PA This week's conditions could soon become the norm here at the height of summer, Emma Taggart writes. Seven of the ten hottest years in Ireland since the start of the 20th century have happened since 1990. Longer heatwaves and more intense rainfalls can be expected in the decades ahead.

'Irish temperature records will be broken in the coming years because we're in a climate crisis'

Ireland’s heatwave has saw temperatures exceed 30 degrees this week.

WARM SUMMERS ARE not a new event in Ireland, but the heat in the recent spell was an unexpected element of the good weather for many people across the country.

Northern Ireland’s all-time temperature record was broken multiple times, there were suggestions earlier this week that the island of Ireland’s 124-year-old record of 33.3 degrees could also fall, while the Republic recorded its first “tropical” night in 20 years.

Hot weather and temperatures above 30 degrees are more akin to what you’d expect in the south of Spain, but such conditions could soon become the norm here at the height of summer.

Ireland is not immune to a shift in its weather patterns as a result of climate change: seven of the ten hottest years here since the start of the 20th century have happened since 1990, while annual temperatures have also been above average in 23 of the past 25 years. 

Dr Darren Clarke, Environmental Geographer at DCU, expects these trends to continue in the years ahead.

“The record temperatures that we are seeing in many parts of Ireland are likely to be broken again over the next couple of decades because we’re in the midst of a climate crisis,” he explains.

Research from Climate Ireland shows that since 1900, there has been an increase in the surface temperature here of 0.8 degrees.

It suggests that in the coming years, average surface air temperatures are expected to rise across Ireland during all seasons, with more intense and longer heatwaves.

Indeed, current predictions show that by the middle of the century, Ireland is expected to be on average 1.1 to 1.6 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times.

That may seem small, but such increases play a significant role in climate change: data from NASA estimates that the average global temperature is now 1.02 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This has already lead to an upsurge of extreme flooding events.

A rise of just 1 degree in the average global temperature increases the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water by 7%, leading to a rise in the severity of rainfall which in recent times has become more extreme.

Flooding and heat waves across the world have left hundreds of people dead in the last few weeks, and there are some concerns that rising temperatures and extreme flood events could also cause loss of life in Ireland.

A 2013 study by researchers at the former Dublin Institute of Technology suggested that around 294 deaths in Ireland were caused by seven heatwaves between 1981 and 2006, and that these events also let to more illnesses and hospitalisations.

Professor Peter Thorne of Maynooth University warns that similar effects may be the result of this week’s weather, noting that the heatwave will “inevitably lead to a degree of excess deaths”.

“According to projections, this might be a typical summer in 2050 and cool summer in 2100,” Thorne says.

“We have got to adapt our infrastructure to cope, not with the climate that we have experienced, but with the climate that we will experience.”

Other countries are already dealing with new extreme weather events.

In the Henan province of China, 622.7mm of rain was recorded over a 24-hour period on 20 July – almost equivalent to the region’s average annual rainfall, 645mm. Around 200,000 people were evacuated from the area due to flooding, and at least 33 people have died.

On the same date in nearby Zhengzhou, over a month’s worth of rain fell in just an hour.

Similar scenes were witnessed in Europe last week.

In Germany, flooding in the west of the country has left at least 171 people dead while another 155 people are still missing.

These flooding events come just weeks after a record-breaking heatwave in North America, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in both Canada and the United States.

At the beginning of July, more than 100 wildfires in western Canada were fuelled by the heatwave, which saw temperatures reach 49.6 degrees in the province of British Columbia for the first time in history.

The province’s medical examiner’s office said at the time there were 719 deaths in week up to 2 July, “three times more” than the average number of deaths recorded over this period under normal circumstances.

Farther south, the US states of Washington and Oregon also sweltered under record-high temperatures.

The Bootleg fire in Oregon state became so large that it burnt over 606 square miles, an area about the same size as Leitrim.

Wildfires throughout the United States have become so widespread that the billowing smoke has caused air quality in cities across the country to decline rapidly this week, with New York announcing an air quality health advisory for the entire state on 20 July.

Keith Lambkin, a senior climatologist at Met Éireann noted the role of climate change in causing such extreme heat in the region.

“A rapid attribution study of those (heatwaves) found that it is highly unlikely that we would not have reached those extremes had it not been for global warming,” he said.

“More extreme events have a fingerprint of of climate change”.

It is clear that while floods and heatwaves occurred prior to the industrial revolution, before the globe started heating up, these weather events have not resulted in such extremes or cause such deadly consequences during humanity’s time on the planet.

Peter Thorne of Physical Geography at Maynooth University explained that the heat waves being experienced now are “more intense than they would have been in a world where we hadn’t invented the steam engine and gone through an industrial revolution”.

But he also says that heatwaves are just one of a number of ways in which climate change could impact Ireland, with flooding most likely to affect us in the coming years.

“The main climate impact on Ireland is probably increased extreme precipitation events,” Thorne says.

He explains that the warming of the earth’s average temperature will lead to a rise in extreme precipitation, which could cause problems for Ireland’s infrastructure.

“It could have major implications for the built environment, in terms of flooding risk and urban flooding, but also in terms of drainage land management,” Thorne says.

Hurricanes and tropical storms could also be a source of disruption, with the occurrence of such storms likely to increase in the coming years.

Met Éireann’s Keith Lambkin suggests that in future, Ireland’s average annual rainfall may not vary much, but that drier summers may mean precipitation could be more severe when it does rain.  

“We’re seeing a trend towards more heavy rainfall events in the autumn or winter and heavy rainfall events during the summer, again creating longer drier summers,” he says.

With the Climate Action Bill signed into law on Friday and many of its amendments criticised by campaigners, the future of how Ireland deals with climate change hangs in the balance.

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