Climate, disastrous events risk becoming normality

By 2080, events like those in Milan could be 21 times more frequent

Scorching heat and terrible storms in just 48 hours. What happened in a large part of Northern Italy risks becoming the new normal all over the planet and concretely explains what theextremes of atmospheric phenomena.

In the last decade, the disasters caused by global warming have multiplied. For years, the Mediterranean has already been a basin in which “the effects of climate change are extreme and anticipated, compared to other regions of the world, and Italy is at the center of this climate change hot spot”, warned Legambiente in the “2022 Report of the Observatory of Legambiente CittàClima”.

The monitoring carried out by the Observatory has identified 780 Italian municipalities in which significant impacts have already been recorded from 2010 to the end of October 2022. The events with damage recorded on the climate risk map reached 1,503 with a 27% increase in less than a yearbetween 2021 and the first 10 months of 2022. In 2022 alone, 254 events of this type were recorded.

After the Casamicciola Terme tragedy, there were already 287 deaths in Italy from climatic events from 2010 to October 2022. The consequences of floods, tornadoes and heavy rains also towards houses, public spaces and archaeological heritage.

In Europe, according to the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) report “State of the Climate in Europe 2021”, temperatures have increased by more than double the global average over the past 30 years. Only last summer, in Spain they respected each other almost 3,000 deaths from heat waves of June and July.

In the UK, last July, they registered at least 1,680 deaths; in France 11,000 throughout the summer.

Frightening numbers but which are tiny compared to the devastation that has been affecting other parts of the world for years: in Pakistan, after exceeding 50°C in the spring, between last July and August the rainfall was 190% greater than the average for the past 30 yearswith over 33 million people involved in floods and over 1,300 victims.

In South Africa, the flood of 11 and 12 April 2022 resulted in over 400 deaddestroyed at least 120,000 homes and evacuated 40 thousand people.

After a year, the temperatures have scored new heat records, and meteorologists predict that in the coming days Europe could reach its highest peaks ever. Some areas of Italy could exceed 48°C. Meanwhile, on Sunday 23 July in China the historical record has already been exceeded, with an unimaginable temperature of 52.2°C in the shade registered in the city of Sanboa.

How the increase in temperatures affects the extremes of the phenomena

Precisely the increase in the global average temperature is the main cause not only of drought, but also of floods and storms.

The Arctic in particular heats up four times faster than the global average, and the scientific community believes that warmer temperatures in this region are causing a slowdown in the strong northerly winds known as
jet streams
. explains the phenomenon in the words of Alvaro Silva, export of the climate sciences division of the WMO (World Meteorological Organization): “This jet stream becomes weaker, especially when warm air is carried north and the cold air to the south. Under these conditions, almost stationary weather conditions are established, leading to prolonged heat waves and droughts in some regions, as well as heavy rainfall in others“. Also for this reason, dry places are getting drier and wet places are getting wetter.

This summer is also characterized by the return of the
El Niño weather phenomenon
which will further amplify the frequency and intensity of extreme events. In fact, it involves an increase in the surface temperature of the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean, a situation which contributes both to an increase in the cases of extreme temperatures and those of other exceptional meteorological phenomena.

The explanation of how the increase in temperatures causes the extremes of the phenomena can be found in basic physics: the increase in temperatures causes an expansion of the atmosphere which in this way can accumulate more energy
before unloading it with violent climatic events. Potential energy is increasing more and more, rainfall is decreasing in frequency (and increasing drought) but increasing in intensity.

Projections of extreme events in the coming years

“The frequency of extreme heat waves – reads the 2022 Report of the Observatory of Legambiente CittàClima – could increase by more than 30% in the coming years”.

Several studies echo these forecasts, including the one published in the journal Nature Climate Change signed by the experts Fischer, Sippel and Knutti. The research reads that “record heatwaves will be 2 to 7 times more likely in the next three decades e 3 to 21 times more likely between 2051 and 2080”. The areas most at risk, according to the researchers, are the densely populated regions of North America, Europe and China. The projections are obtained considering the CO2 levels unchanged.

A premise that unfortunately appears plausible despite the many promises of governments and communities on the subject. In fact, as the latest ENEA report on the Italian energy system explains, in the course of 2022 there was a 1% drop in CO2 levels at European level (a negligible decrease) but above all the level of this gas is increased by 0.5% globally.

With this trend, events such as the violent storm that hit Milan and its surroundings will no longer be a rarity, but the new normality of a distorted planet.