The hot temperatures forecast for central Europe this week could break records for June. The heatwave is caused by an area of high pressure in the atmosphere, which leads to clear skies over Europe but also brings up hot air from northern Africa. Forecasts suggest the heatwave could last until the weekend (29-30 June).

But can we expect hotter summers across Europe in future, and what is the role of climate change? NCAS scientist Professor Len Shaffrey explains. 

How could climate change have a role in heatwaves?

“Global temperatures are increasing due to climate change. The global rise in temperatures means the probability that an extreme heatwave will occur is also increasing. For example, recent studies have assessed that climate change has at least doubled the probability of extremes such as the 2018 European heatwave.”

If we take radical steps to combat climate change would we see a reduction in extreme weather events?

“At this stage, taking radical steps to combat climate change means substantially reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. This will mean that we can limit, and perhaps even stop, the rate of increase of climate change and its impacts, which is why the Paris Agreement and political discussions regarding reaching zero carbon dioxide emissions are so important. Actually reversing the impacts of climate change would mean removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and we're very far off from having the technology to do that at a global scale.”

The 2018 heatwave in Europe was seen as extreme, but this year looks to follow suit – how can populations prepare for hotter summers?

“Society will have to adapt to a changing climate. For heatwaves, this might mean improved healthcare and awareness of health impacts on the elderly and vulnerable, improving building and city design to mitigate the impact of hot temperatures, and enhanced civil responses to heatwaves (e.g. temporary public water fountains during heatwaves, etc...). It's probably not right to call the current conditions the 'new normal'. Europe has always experienced hot and cool summers and we'll continue to do so in the future. However, our hot summers will be hotter and our cool summers not so cool.”

Professor Len Shaffrey is the Climate and High-Impact Weather Theme Leader, and is based at the University of Reading. 

Image: Hot air moving towards Europe from northern Africa at 10UTC on Thursday 27 June 2019

Related articles and studies: 

Len Shaffrey’s three (and a half) reasons why it was so hot and dry in the UK and Ireland during July 2018. 

World Weather Attribution: Heatwave in northern Europe, summer 2018

Met Office Hadley Centre Technical Note: Attribution of the 2018 summer heatwave in the UK