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"In the future, Britain will experience 46C summer days and extreme thunderstorms known as 'supercells'. It is important for us to prepare now, as this may be our final opportunity to do so." - Bill McGuire
Climate Environment World News

“In the future, Britain will experience 46C summer days and extreme thunderstorms known as ‘supercells’. It is important for us to prepare now, as this may be our final opportunity to do so.” – Bill McGuire

I

It is the August holiday weekend of 2050 and the United Kingdom is suffering from an unprecedented heatwave. Temperatures in many parts of England have reached 40 degrees Celsius for eight consecutive days, peaking at 46 degrees Celsius. Even at night, urban areas are experiencing temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. Due to the lack of insulation in homes, the living conditions feel like that of a furnace. Desperate for relief from the heat, thousands have resorted to sleeping in the streets and local parks. Hospitals are facing a high volume of patients in the emergency room and wards, mostly elderly and vulnerable individuals who have succumbed to dehydration and heatstroke. The current estimated death toll is over 80,000.

No, this isn’t the beginning of a dystopian drama, but a snapshot of a mid-century heatwave unless we prepare for the increasingly extreme weather that will be driven by climate breakdown. To say that the government has no credible plan for this, as the UK Climate Change Committee did last week, is – if anything – an understatement. Britain is woefully underprepared for extreme weather, and in a number of key areas we are going backwards. About one in 15 of England’s most important flood defences were in a poor or very poor condition in 2022, up from roughly one in 25 just four years previously. The government’s Great British insulation scheme is operating at such a slow pace that it would take nearly 200 years to upgrade the country’s housing stock, while Labour has rowed back on its ambitious plans to insulate 19m homes within a decade.

Both major political parties appear unconcerned about the impending chaos that extreme weather will bring upon us. The impact of heatwaves and floods, which are expected to be widespread, will significantly affect our everyday lives and ability to earn a living. A recent study from the European Environment Agency emphasizes the disastrous consequences of climate change, particularly in Europe where heat stress, river flooding, and flash floods will be prevalent. This prediction is also applicable to the UK. The disruption of transportation and utilities, interference with business and industrial operations, strain on food production and supply, and increased burden on healthcare facilities will all contribute to the challenges and unpredictability of daily life.

The greatest threat is heat. In July 2022, portions of the UK experienced temperatures surpassing 40C for the first time ever, leading to over 4,500 deaths related to the heat. If mid-century predictions hold, longer, more frequent, and more extreme heatwaves could result in an even higher death toll of 45,000. While we cannot accurately predict exact peak summer temperatures, it is likely that they will continue to exceed 40C. The forecast for July 23, 2050 created by the Met Office was nearly identical to the actual temperature recorded on July 19, 2022, which became the hottest day on record in the UK. The future potential for temperatures is limitless.

The issue of extreme heat is not the only concern. Our homes are at a higher risk of flooding than burglary. With the increasing frequency of heavy rainfall, the percentage of homes affected by flooding will substantially increase, currently at one in six homes in England. The planet’s rising temperatures will lead to more frequent occurrences of “atmospheric rivers,” which are long ribbons of moist air spanning about 2,000km. These will contribute significantly to flooding, causing days of non-stop extreme rainfall that will saturate the ground and overwhelm river systems.

In the future, longer and more intense heatwaves will result in an increase of supercell thunderstorms. These powerful convective storms are currently more prevalent in the US, and in the UK they can produce tornadoes and hailstorms that cause significant damage. Recently, a supercell storm produced a tornado that caused property destruction in Greater Manchester, giving a glimpse of what the future may hold. The heavy downpours associated with supercell storms are a major contributor to flash flooding. This poses a significant threat in urban areas, where paved surfaces impede water absorption, causing rapid and overwhelming accumulation of flood water. This can lead to transportation disruptions, and cause water to seep into basement apartments.

There are additional dangers to be concerned about. In addition to intense floods during the winter and summer, powerful and frequent wind storms, there will also be rapid droughts that occur due to a combination of minimal rainfall and humidity levels. These threats pose significant challenges for agriculture. According to a 2022 report, crop yield failures in major farming areas like Canada, the US, and China are predicted to be 25 times more severe by 2050. The UK will also face an increased likelihood of failed harvests due to extreme weather conditions. The risk of serious wildfires and coastal flooding caused by storm surges, which are exacerbated by rising sea levels, adds to the overall grim outlook.

Is there any action we can take to address climate breakdown, which will affect everyone? We can attempt to lessen its severe consequences, but mere tinkering will not be enough. To properly prepare for the intense weather ahead, we need to completely overhaul our climate mitigation strategies across all areas – urban, suburban, and rural.

A significant portion of our response to flooding is influenced by how we use land. Restoring peatlands and reforesting higher ground can absorb large amounts of water, while reserving low-lying areas for river overflow can lessen the risk of floods downstream. In order to assist individuals in coping with extreme temperatures, it is necessary for us to increase green spaces and decrease parking lots in our urban areas. This can be achieved through extensive tree planting to provide natural cooling and shade. Additionally, we should consider replacing tarmac and concrete with more permeable materials to minimize the impact of sudden floods. Implementing measures such as painting buildings white and utilizing reflective materials on roofs can also lower urban temperatures by several degrees.

We also require efficient alerts and quick actions to minimize the danger of loss of life caused by sudden floods and wildfires. However, the most crucial measure to avoid numerous heat-related fatalities is to prioritize insulation.

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    Bill McGuire is a retired professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, and the writer of Hothouse Earth: A Guide for Inhabitants.

Source: theguardian.com