Harrogate climate change scientist warns of more extreme heatwaves
Jul 18, 2022
Harrogate town centre/Professor Piers Forster

Harrogate climate scientist Professor Piers Forster has warned extreme heatwaves could be common in just 10 years due to climate change.

Prof Forster, who has lived in the town since 2005, was one of the main authors of last year’s “code red for humanity” climate change report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on behalf of the United Nations.

The report was discussed around the globe and warned of climate catastrophe unless action is taken now.

Prof Forster has spent his career analysing the effects of climate change and is a director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate and professor of physical climate change at the University of Leeds.

The weather in Harrogate is set to peak at 38 degrees tomorrow, breaking all-time records. Prof Forster told the Stray Ferret why we are currently experiencing this extreme weather:

“The heatwave comes from a combination of a blast of hot air from Europe blowing over very dry soil. Global warming plays a big part in both these factors. Wild fires are raging across southern Europe with temperatures approaching 50 degrees centigrade in parts of Portugal.

“Climate change is warming the land and ocean, and has brought extended drought conditions to much of Europe. This means that heatwaves are over two degree more intense than they would otherwise be and are occurring much more often.  We have some of the longest records in the UK, we can use these to estimate how likely such as heatwave is.”

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Many climate change skeptics have pointed to the UK heatwave of 1976, when temperatures peaked at 35.9 degrees during one day in Cheltenham. But this was five degrees lower than what is forecast for parts of England tomorrow.

Prof Forster said the weather this week is particularly unusual but will become more common unless countries around the world take action to reach net zero.

He added:

“One hundred years ago a heatwave such as this would have occurred once every 300 years, now it’s every 15 years. In a decade or so this will be a typical summer. The science is clear that these heatwaves will worsen until the UK and every other country In the world has reached net zero emissions: all sectors of every economy will need to decarbonise. 

“Given the current crises in the world this seems like a tall ask but there is no other way. Wheat dies if it experiences temperatures of 34C or more at the time of flowering  – this is not a world we want our children growing up in.”

Grim future ‘not a given’

Today, trains from Harrogate to London have been cancelled, Knaresborough Town FC has called off a match and schools, care homes and businesses are putting measures in place to protect vulnerable people from the extreme heat.

Prof Forster said we will have to learn to adapt to more heatwaves but a “grim future” is not guaranteed if policymakers work to urgently cut emissions.

He added:

“I don’t think people realise how much the UK’s climate will change over the next two decades: we are going to have to adapt our behaviour, homes, work places, hospitals, schools, roads and trains to such hot days. Expect wild fires and spending days in doors to avoid bad air quality. 

Our research at the University of Leeds shows that this grim future is not a given: cutting emissions urgently and strongly now can slow the rate of warming, giving societies time to adapt. We need to take this heatwave seriously: adjust your day accordingly, stay safe and hydrated.”