Climate Crisis: Weather extremes in North America becoming more frequent

New York in smoke
For weeks, New York City was barely recognizable due to being engulfed in smoke from Canadian forest fires.(Source: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)

Globally, the hottest day in history was recorded at the beginning of July – four times in a row. Since months, North America has been experiencing unprecedented extreme weather conditions. At the moment, at least 93 million people in the region are affected by the heat. The US weather agency, NOAA, is currently regularly publishing warnings against ongoing high temperatures. They said that this is the result of a ridge of high pressure over the Southwestern US that will increase over the weekend.

Heat, clouds of smoke and bath water

US media have been speaking of an extreme heat belt. According to NOAA, these temperatures will persist in upcoming weeks: It is predicted that Texas and and Southern Florida will continue to experience “record-breaking heat”. The Gulf Coast and Mid-South are to expect unpleasantly high temperatures accompanied by “oppressively high” humidity. This combination leads to perceived temperatures between 40 and 46 degrees Celsius.

In Southern Florida, water temperatures have risen above 32 degrees Celsius – and are acutely endangering the survival of coral reefs in the region. Brian McNoldy, climate researcher at the University of Miami, spoke with the US radio station, WBUR, about the situation. Water temperatures in the Florida Keys and Southeast Florida are hotter than ever recorded at any time of the year – and they are not even close to the previously recorded high temperatures.

Canada is also expected to set a sad record this year: The country is suffering from the worst forest fire season in its history. According to authorities, 100,000 square kilometres of forest and other landscapes – an area larger than Hungary – have already been burned down. There are currently more than 900 active fires at the moment – almost two thirds have been classified as “out of control”.

Record-breaking heat and dryness have not only caused fires, but have also resulted in apocalyptic images since months: In June, New York City was repeatedly covered in thick smoke. The air pollution level was so high in the first week of June that the population was urged to stay indoors and air traffic was restricted.

Currently, air quality warnings have been issued in the High Plains to the north, the Mid-West, the Great Lakes, the Southern Central Atlantic and the Northeastern part of the country where concentrated smoke is also especially high. NOAA expects smoke to be seen until the middle of the week in the USA.

Climate change is here

Scientists agree on the connection between the latest weather phenomena with the climate crisis. Ben Zaitchik, professor at John Hopkins University, said that this activity is entirely consistent with what global warming is doing through greenhouse gases. This is in line with the trends that are expected.

Kirsten Thonicke from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research also directly links the magnitude of the Canadian wildfires to the ongoing climate crisis: “The winter in Canada was too dry, the spring too warm; in the arctic areas the effects of climate change are increasing, here it was way too warm”, she explains. In part, temperatures above 30 degrees were measured in cities like Toronto – 18 degrees warmer than usual.

“The reason for this is a constant high pressure area, which brought warm and dry air into the region. With increasing climate change, these weather constellations are becoming more and more stable, so these situations last longer and longer”, Thonicke continues. In any case, the massive fires are a catastrophe and endanger the ability of affected forests and tundra areas to recuperate.

Failure to act comes at a cost

Meanwhile, damage caused by weather and climate catastrophes increases each year. According to official reports in 2022, the damage was 176 billion dollars in the USA alone. In comparison, the average per year was 58.5 billion from 1980 to today.

Recently in New York, an increasingly desperate-looking UN Secretary-General appeared in front of cameras. António Guterres has made the fight against the climate crisis his main focus. He preaches regularly that all countries must dramatically increase their efforts to reduce emissions by 45 percent by the end of the decade.

And while states continue to struggle with compromises for the future and radical measures are out of reach, Guterres came to a sober as well as shocking conclusion a few days ago: “The situation we are witnessing now is the demonstration that climate change is out of control”. (dpa / hcz)