This past week, both the U.S. and Europe have had significant localized heatwaves. The one in Europe is particularly bothersome for the media, since the area is not prepared for temperatures that exceed 100°F like areas in the in the United States in places like California, Texas, and Oklahoma, where air conditioners are the norm, regularly experience. The mainstream media has uniformly blamed the heatwaves on human caused climate change. This attribution is wrong.
The headlines have been truly apoplectic, and absolutely wrong. For example:
And in the United States, the media hype is just as wild and just as false:
Every summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it gets hot; that’s what summers do. Also, every year, a localized heatwave occurs somewhere in the world.
The error that is common to all of these news articles is the fact that weather is not climate.
Weather is an event that might last for minutes to a few days. A heatwave is a weather event that is typically linked to large scale weather patterns, such as a high-pressure cell which can create heat-domes in the summer. Climate is an average of weather over a thirty-year period as defined by the World Meteorological Organization. Note my highlights:
Each of these stories trying to link climate change to the heat wave does so without any proof whatsoever. They are nothing more than speculative fearmongering.
And, it isn’t limited to print and Internet media, the TV stations are overhyping it as well to make it seem like a crisis with the use of color. Figure 1 is a comparison of TV graphics on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Summer 2012, versus Summer 2022.
Note that in 2012, some of the temperatures were actually higher, and they didn’t need to fill in areas with red to make it look worse than it actually is.
Another thing that you won’t find reported in the BBC on in the newspapers/Internet media is the fact that while record heat was going on in Western Europe, Eastern Europe was experiencing well below average temperatures. Figure 2 below shows the juxtaposition of heat in the UK and Europe compared to the below normal temperatures in Eastern Europe, which the press has ignored.
That dramatic regional temperature difference seen in Figure 2 is a sure sign of this being a weather pattern, and not global scale climate change aka global warming as the media would have you believe. The same applies to the heat wave in the U.S. as seen in Figure 3. It is regional in its scope, not global.
As reported in Climate at a Glance: U.S. Heatwaves,
…in recent decades in the United States, heat waves have been far less frequent and severe than they were in the 1930s.
The all-time high temperature records set in most states occurred in the first half of the twentieth century.
The heat wave of 1936 was far deadlier. To their credit, The Washington Post got it right in this report:
The killer U.S. heat wave of 1936 spread as far north as Canada, led to the heat-related deaths of an estimated 5,000 people, sent thermometers to a record 121 degrees Fahrenheit in Steele, N.D., and made that July the warmest month ever recorded in the United States.
But the real issue is that extended high temperatures like the U.S. and Europe have experienced this month have happened before climate change became the universal go-to for blame. It only takes a small amount of research to discover these facts.
A search of the term heatwaves, on Wikipedia, for instance, finds that a heatwave and drought in 1540 in Europe lasted for 11 months, and that a heatwave in 1757 was the hottest in the past 500 years until 2003. Also, Netweather Community TV, called the 1906 heatwave in the U.K during August and September, “one of the most exceptional heatwaves to ever occurred in the UK.” A 1911 heatwave in France contributed to more than 41,000 premature deaths. More recently, in Europe, there was a massive months-long heat wave in 1976. This came at a time when the Earth was experiencing a 30 year cooling trend, that led many scientists to warn the next ice age was looming. Wikipedia’s entry on the 1976 event reports:
The summer of 1976 was considered to be the hottest summer in Europe, and especially the United Kingdom, during the 20th century. A large high-pressure area dominated most of Europe for all of the summer months. The pressure system moved into place in late May 1976 and remained until the first traces of rain were recorded on 27 August.
. . .
For the entire period much of Europe was bathed in continual sunshine with the United Kingdom seeing an average of more than 14 hours of sunshine per day. 1976 was dubbed “the year of the ladybird” in that country due to the rise in the mass numbers of the insect brought on by the long hot period. In the United Kingdom, the summer coincided with a 16-week dry spell, the longest recorded over England and Wales since 1727.
That high pressure pattern is almost identical to what has been seen in UK and Europe today. The difference is that the media today immediately goes to blame climate change rather than weather patterns, and in the case of this article in The New York Times, they even try to convince you that comparisons between the hot summers of 1976 and 2022 are somehow “misleading.”
“Yet the comparison to 1976 is misleading. The highest recorded temperature then was 35.9 degrees Celsius, whereas on Tuesday it surpassed 40 degrees.”
The BBC reported:
“Thermometers hit 40.3C at Coningsby in Lincolnshire, while 33 other locations went past the UK’s previous highest temperature of 38.7C, set in 2019.”
What the BBC and the NYT don’t tell you is that the 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) was set at a Royal Air Force (RAF) base next to the heat absorbing sea of runway asphalt and tarmac. Figure 4 shows the temperature hour-by-hour that day and where it was recorded.
By contrast, the BBC reports “…the [previous] highest temperature ever recorded in the United Kingdom was 101.7 degrees, observed in Cambridge [at Cambridge University Botanic Garden] in July 2019.“
A botanical garden is an entirely different environment than an RAF air base. The latter would be expected to be much warmer due to the lack of shade, the heat absorbing materials present, and the hot air expelled from jet engines. So, the “misleading” claim of the NYT is really about the lack of solid journalism in reporting the environment under which these temperatures were recorded.
It is well-known that the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect can contribute to warmer high temperatures, and given the UK went from 56 million people in 1976 to 67 million in 2020, it isn’t the least bit surprising that the UHI increased as infrastructure to support that 11 million extra people was added to that island nation.
The final word comes from meteorologist Cliff Mass, PhD, who did a thorough analysis of the short-lived heatwave event and writes (emphasis his):
The truth and overwhelming scientific evidence provide a different story: the recent European heatwave is mainly the result of natural processes but was enhanced modestly by human-caused global warming.
The situation is very much like the [Pacific] Northwest heatwave of last summer; with many of the same elements.
The bottom line is that the recent European heat wave was caused by an amplification of the northern hemisphere wave pattern, with global warming contributing perhaps 5-10% of the warmth. Natural variability of the atmosphere was the proximate cause of the warmth and does not represent an existential threat to the population of Europe.
Clearly, there’s no cause for alarm, no matter what the media says. But the media won’t tell you any of that, because it ruins their narrative of being able to blame the heatwave on climate change, while hoping you don’t notice their distortion of the truth about ordinary weather events we see every summer.
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.