These are the places most exposed to extreme heat

by The Insights

CLIMATE WIRE | A record-breaking heatwave that ravaged the Pacific Northwest in 2021 taught an important lesson, scientists say. Places that historically have not had to deal with extreme heat may not be prepared when it hits.

This was true in the lush temperate regions of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, where air conditioning was still generally considered a luxury rather than a necessity before the deadly heat wave. Temperatures soared well above 100 degrees across much of the region in June 2021, hitting all-time highs in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle and hitting a jaw-dropping 121 degrees in the tiny village of Lytton, Oregon. British Columbia.

Hundreds of people died from it.

Going forward, other parts of the world should take the Pacific Northwest heat wave as a warning, according to a new study. Record heat is on the rise all over the world. But many regions may not be equipped to deal with it, simply because they haven’t experienced this kind of danger before.

“Countries tend to prepare at the level of the greatest event they have experienced within the collective memory,” according to the study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature CommunicationStates.

If the most serious event a nation has experienced isn’t so extreme compared to what could happen in the future, it probably still has some work to do to prepare.

The risks are even greater for places with large or rapidly growing populations, where more people will be affected by future heat waves. In addition, developing countries may not have adequate resources or infrastructure to adapt to extreme weather conditions and put in place heat contingency plans.

The new study finds that some of the places most at risk from extreme heat include Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Central America – regions where record heat events are likely to occur and where local communities may not be prepared.

These are places that in some ways have been “lucky” so far, the document suggests. They have yet to be hit by heat waves that would be considered shockingly out of the norm for their region.

But those extremes probably happen. And “we have to ask ourselves if the heat action plans for these areas are sufficient,” said study lead author Vikki Thompson, a climatologist at the University of Bristol in the UK, in a statement. .

Thompson and the other study authors compiled a list of the highest daily temperatures in regions of the world between the years 1959 and 2021. They then used a special statistical technique that allowed them to mathematically estimate the probability of each extreme relative to the rest of the year. historical record.

Some events turned out to be “implausible” compared to the rest of the record – they were so extreme that they were statistically highly unlikely to occur. The 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave is the most extreme example in the world.

In total, the researchers found that almost a third of the regions they examined had already experienced exceptional heat events. These places are located all over the world – they don’t seem to be concentrated in any particular region. This suggests that the whole world could be exposed to an unprecedented heat risk in the future.

But many other places have not yet been hit by these kinds of extremes. And the authors say these places are likely less prepared for record heat.

Some vulnerable areas include developed countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Australia. But they also occur in more remote areas, with less infrastructure or higher populations, including parts of China and far eastern Russia.

The research takes a slightly different approach than many other extreme heat studies, which focus on places where record-breaking events are already occurring. Places that haven’t yet experienced these kinds of extremes may be the ones that need the most attention, the study suggests.

Otherwise, they can be caught off guard when extreme heat hits.

The Pacific Northwest is just one example of a region that has learned from experience. Cities like Seattle and Portland have mobilized since 2021 to better coordinate emergency plans in the event of high heat. King County in Washington state, for example, last year announced its first-ever extreme heat mitigation strategy.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.

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