Life

Take on Nature: 44C in Madrid is only 'quite warm' compared to this summer

A temperature of 51.3 C (124 F) was recorded in the Sahara Desert on July 5

THE hottest temperature I have ever experienced was 44C. It was lunchtime in Madrid about 25 years ago and I was waiting for a bus after a morning teaching and on my way home for a siesta.

Throughout Madrid there are temperature gauges on street corners and outside metro stations but I didn’t need a flashing LED display to tell me I was melting. As a light-skinned, fair-haired northern European I had been withering for weeks in the blistering heat of the Spanish capital.

Normal body temperature for a healthy human should be between 36.5 and 37.5C, and this was more than six degrees above that top level. When I blew on to the back of my hand my breath was like a cool gush as the city air was warmer than my body temperature.

Despite this year’s heatwave in Ireland during late June and early July, nothing compares to the dry, breathless sensation I felt that day as the figure 44 mocked me from across Puerta Del Sol (the appropriately named Gate of the Sun) in the centre of the Spanish capital. For those who prefer their numbers in Fahrenheit, it was 111.2F

Yet that is really just 'quite warm' compared to some of the global temperatures that have been reported in recent weeks across the globe. While it may come as no surprise to learn that it is hot in the Sahara Desert, this year the region is setting new records.

On July 5 a temperature of 51.3 C (124 F) was recorded in Ouargla, Algeria, which according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMA) is the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on the African continent.

Japan has been particularly badly hit, with dozens dying. The country has declared its heatwave a ‘national disaster' after temperatures of 41C were reported in the city of Kumagaya, the highest ever recorded in the country.

The global heatwave has even extended into the Arctic circle, with reports of temperatures above 32C in northern parts of Scandinavia.

The WMA reported that this has been the hottest year on record. July saw 41 heat records set across the US. One theory for the global heatwave that is doing the rounds at present is that the jet stream, a flow of warm air that flows around the Earth, is displaying strange behaviour.

Greg Carbin, branch chief at the US Weather Prediction Center in Maryland told Bloomberg news website: “Everything is backed up. And it is global.’’

He says more research is needed to find out what is the cause of the heatwave or if it is a whole series of coinciding events.

“It is really a chicken-and-egg thing,’’ Carbin said. “It is really hard in the atmosphere to know what came first because everything is so interconnected.’’

However, most climate scientists agree that human-driven warming is a factor because the composition of the atmosphere has changed so dramatically in the past two generations.

Of course flat-earthers will continue to reject any suggestion that human influence has anything to do with all this. However, according to Oxford climate change scientist Prof Myles Allen: “There’s no question human influence on climate is playing a huge role in this heatwave."

And, guess what? The La Niña weather phenomenon which tends to cool the planet has been weaker than normal this year and so there has been less cooling. As La Niña dies off it is likely to be replaced by El Niño, which warms the Pacific Ocean, meaning global temperatures are going to get hotter.

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