Summer of 2003 heatwave across Europe, The Guardian
- Summer heatwave matches predictions
David Adam, science correspondent
Tuesday February 3, 2004
The heatwave last summer that killed thousands across Europe and saw
temperatures in Britain soar past 100F (38C) is a sign of things to
come, a climate scientist has warned.
Martin Beniston of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland analysed
the characteristics of the 2003 heatwave, and says it is unlike
anything seen in the past 100 years. He says the conditions more
closely match what researchers think will happen later this century,
with global warming increasing average temperatures by several
degrees and severe heatwaves becoming more frequent.
"The average and the extremes of temperature we had in 2003 are
definitely what the models are telling us for the future. They're
completely different from what we've had in the 20th century," Prof
Beniston said. "2003 looks very much like what we can expect in the
He ran two computer simulations to analyse the heatwave. The first
recreated European temperatures between 1961 and 1990, and the second
predicted them for the period 2071 to 2100 after taking into account
global warming. He then compared these with data recorded in Basel
last July, August and September. He found that in terms of average
and maximum temperature, the results from 2003 looked most similar to
the predictions for later this century.
Maximum temperatures last summer were about six degrees celsius
higher than the 1961 to 1990 average, hotter than at any time since
1901. The findings are published in the journal Geophysical Research
The 2003 heatwave was also more similar to the future climate
predictions in terms of the length of the season during which the
temperature rises above 30C for a number of separate or consecutive
days. Despite this, last summer did not break all records for
extremes: there were 12 consecutive days above 30C in 2003, as
opposed to 16 in 1976 and 14 in 1947.
Prof Beniston said the results should be a wake-up call to
politicians: "If this is something that's going to be taking place on
a more frequent basis in future then people are going to have to
think about what they're going to do to reduce the risks to health
and improve food security and water availability."