Scientists from the United Nations and the European Union announced Thursday that the first three weeks of July were the three hottest weeks on record and that the month was almost certain to set a record for the warmest in recorded history.
“Unless an ice age were to appear all of sudden out of nothing, it is basically virtually certain we will break the record for the warmest July on record and the warmest month on record,” Carlo Buentempo, director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which partnered with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told the Associated Press.
“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a pithy summation of the findings at a press conference.
“Many scientists — including those at Copernicus — say it’s almost certain that these temperatures are the warmest the planet has seen in 120,000 years, given what we know from millennia of climate data,” CNN reported.
Prolonged heat wave
This week, roughly 150 million Americans are sweltering under heat alerts as the monthlong heat wave broiling the Southwest and Florida has recently spread to the Midwest and Northeast. In Washington, D.C., the heat index, which combines heat and humidity, is projected to reach 104°F on Thursday and 107°F on Friday.
In El Paso, Texas, temperatures have exceeded 100°F for a record-breaking 41 consecutive days. Phoenix surpassed 110°F for 26 consecutive days, setting a new national record. Pavement temperatures can reach 170°F in those conditions, and burn patients who fell on the sidewalk or touched a doorknob are filling burn units in Las Vegas, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Such extremes have also been seen worldwide for much of the summer. Last month was by far the hottest June globally on record. July 6, set a new record for hottest global average temperature when it surpassed the previous record from August 2016. Every day since July 3 has been the hottest day on that date.
Emergency room physicians in cities suffering extreme heat waves say they are seeing a sharp increase in patients with heat-related ailments. Extreme heat also increases the risk of potentially deadly cardiovascular problems like heart failure.
“This is the worst summer in recent memory,” Frank LoVecchio, an emergency medicine physician at a hospital in Phoenix, recently told NBC News.
Extreme heat also challenges power grids to keep pace with increased demand for air conditioning. The 13-state eastern U.S. grid operator PJM Interconnection LLC, which spans from Washington, D.C. to Illinois, issued an Energy Emergency Alert level one on Thursday, meaning “it is concerned about being able to maintain adequate power reserves,” according to Bloomberg News.
Although Thursday’s announcement was focused on air temperature, oceans have also been affected. A buoy in Manatee Bay, Fla., recently registered the hottest water temperature in world history: a jacuzzi-like 101.1°F.
What’s causing the spike in temperatures
Scientists say the cause of this extreme heat is climate change caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels.
“The extreme weather which has affected many millions of people in July is unfortunately the harsh reality of climate change and a foretaste of the future,” Petteri Taalas, the secretary general of the WMO, said in a statement. “The need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is more urgent than ever before.”
Like 2016, 2023 is a year that features an El Niño weather pattern, a band of warm ocean water that causes temperatures to spike. But scientists note that the reason that recent El Niño years have been the hottest in history is because baseline temperatures are steadily rising thanks to an increase in emissions.
“Years with El Niño events tend to be warmer than other years, but the inexorable march of temperatures upwards due to climate change is adding a permanent El Niño worth of heat to the Earth’s atmosphere every 5 to 10 years,” Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth said in a statement.
A separate study released Tuesday by the research organization World Weather Attribution found July’s extreme heat waves would be “virtually impossible” without climate change. The study found global warming made the current heatwave in southern Europe, which has resulted in raging wildfires, 2.5°C (4.5°F) hotter.
World leaders respond
On Thursday, Guterres called for the leaders of the largest economies to set more ambitious new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a sentiment echoed by climate scientists.
Later in the day, President Biden announced a new set of actions to address extreme heat, including directing the Labor Department to increase inspections of potentially dangerous workplaces and increasing enforcement of heat safety violations.
“I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of climate change anymore,” Biden said.