Summer is the season for disasters. The climate crisis is hitting from China to Europe

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Low water level in the Vistula. We recorded how the drought affected the river in the capital

We have been writing about drought in Poland since spring – we had an extreme fire hazard in May and poor prospects for the next few weeks. The Vistula regularly rubs against the record low water level, like other rivers in Poland. And Europe. And also China or USA.

Weather extremes have always happened. But now climate change is fueling droughts, rainstorms and hurricanes. In the northern hemisphere – from China to Europe to America – we see it especially in the summer. And we see that we are not prepared for this new reality.

If there is no drought, it is a flood

It was not for nothing that a lot of talk about the problem of drought started already in spring. In fact – it has not ceased to be up-to-date. Because drought in Poland is not a one-time catastrophe, but a chronic problem. Already in spring, there was a shortage of water, incl. because the winter was quite warm and snowless. Later, the heat and long periods without rain found fertile – in a negative sense – ground.

It doesn’t mean we haven’t had any rain since May. You can see it even after the last few days – in the west of Poland the weather was rainy, even torrential. 103 mm of rain fell within 24 hours in Opole. This is 1/5 more than the monthly (!) Precipitation norm for August. Only that – as experts keep repeating – such heavy rainfall does not improve the situation in drought. To alleviate it, especially in the long term, mild and prolonged rains are needed. The downpour runs down the dry earth, sometimes leading to erosion. Flash floods may occur. And then the water mostly flows to rivers (because we lack good retention) and to the sea, and the moisture in the soil and groundwater reserves remain at a low level.

This paradox can be seen, for example, on maps with IMGW alerts. As the Institute itself informs, there are repeated situations where warnings about hydrological drought and possible flooding in rivers are issued for the same area. However, these elevated states pass quickly. As you can see in the IMGW chart below, we have a record number of measuring stations on rivers with particularly low flow in recent years. Low water level and high temperature could contribute to the disaster on the Odra River.


The same scenario is repeated in Poland almost every year. After a snowless winter, a warm, dry spring comes and we have a recipe for drought. In 2020, tracts (usually wetlands) burned down Biebrza National Park. In 2021, neighboring Germany faced a flash flood, and violent downpours and flooding occurred regularly in Poland.

Hot as ever

Summer brought heat waves, incl. in Europe or now in China. Taking into account the temperature only on land, July 2022 was the hottest in the history of measurements.

As calculated by the service, absolute temperature records were broken in the UK – over 40 degrees Celsius was recorded there for the first time. How they checked scientistssuch heat in the UK would be “extremely unlikely” were it not for man-made climate change. It was also extremely hot then in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Temperature records were also broken in United States. In Japan, the July heatwave was described as “the worst in the history of the country”.

This is still a “mild” heatwave compared to the Yangtze River basin in China. It has been going on for two months there. The temperature reaches 45 degrees during the day, and sometimes it does not fall below 34 at night. There is talk of the “worst heat wave” in the history of observation.

In India and Pakistan, the heat came exceptionally fast. March was the hottest in over 120 years. This hit agriculture and exacerbated the food problems caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It’s another summer like this in a row. Last year, the heatwave in western North America broke temperature records. In Canada, almost 50 degrees Celsius was recorded, and areas hit by extreme temperatures quickly fell victim to fires. According to researchers from World Weather Attributionthis phenomenon would be “practically impossible” without climate change.

Rivers without water

Heatwaves, along with other factors, translate into droughts. In China, there is a shortage of water in rivers and reservoirs. Nature, inhabitants and agriculture suffer from it. But the consequences are global. Lower yields mean higher food prices. Even if we do not buy a given product from China, its lack of there may mean that it will be more expensive in Europe.

The more so because here the heat and irregular rainfall cause the worst drought not in years, but for centuries. Most of the European Union is covered by the drought warning. In Italy or France, it is already known about huge losses in agriculture. In the latter country, the drought is additionally fueling the energy crisis, because it is more difficult to cool nuclear power plants.

Floods are also a problem in the US. As he describes “The Guardian“This summer saw” extreme “rainfall in some states (while others continue to face drought and fires). In Kentucky, downpours, floods and landslides in early August killed 37 people. rainfall, as is normally recorded for a year The log concludes that in 11 days there were four downpours, classified as 1000 years of rain – so heavy that they statistically happen once every thousand years.

Season of disasters

All the climate change we are witnessing now is happening on a planet that we have heated by 1.2 degrees Celsius. This means that we are still below the considered relatively safe value of 1.5 degrees. We can expect to hit him in about a decade. If we do not stop burning coal, oil and gas as soon as possible, this ceiling will be pierced and we will be heading towards 2 degrees of warming and more.

While further north these disasters are to some extent seasonal, in tropical countries it is hard to find a break. In East Africa, residents say their weather is either drought or flood.

In early August, the Washington Post began a series of articles on the extreme phenomena associated with climate change. As the editors wrote: summer has changed from a vacation period to a season of disasters.

We can – and must – adapt to rain, drought, heat and other effects of climate change. The UN panel of scientists this year published a report in which it focuses, among others, on adaptation to climate change. However, adaptation has its limits, and for it to be effective, climate change must be stopped as soon as possible.

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