Western Heat Wave ‘Virtually Impossible’ without Climate Change

The blistering heat wave that scorched the Pacific Northwest last month would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of climate change, scientists say. In fact, it was nearly impossible even with it.

That’s according to a new study from World Weather Attribution, a climate research initiative that investigates the influence of climate change on individual weather events.

“We’ve never seen a jump in record temperature like the one in this heat wave, as far as I can remember,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate scientist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and co-leader at World Weather Attribution, in a briefing yesterday.

The heat wave, which swept through Oregon, Washington state and western Canada in the final days of June, sent temperatures skyrocketing throughout the Pacific Northwest (Climatewire, June 28).

Seattle hit an all-time high at 108 degrees. Portland also broke a record at 116 degrees. And the tiny village of Lytton, in British Columbia, made international headlines when local temperatures soared to an eye-popping 121 degrees. Just days later, the village was all but consumed by a devastating wildfire.

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, hundreds of deaths have been attributed to the heat. Experts say many more additional fatalities are likely yet to be reported.

The new study, completed over the course of just 10 days, set out to quantify exactly how remarkable the event was. It concludes that the heat wave would have been, at the very least, 150 times less likely in a world without climate change—but potentially far more rare than that.

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