It melted roads, brought political tensions to a boil and left millions around the world desperate for shade and water. The heat this summer was record-breaking – and devastating – on a global scale. As the season winds down, the National Post’s Nick Faris and Catherine McIntyre examine the scorcher that was.
JUST HOW HOT WAS IT?
According the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year in recorded history. Five months – including May, June and July – were the warmest ever in their respective time periods. July was the hottest month of all time, across the world’s land and ocean surfaces.
WHERE WAS IT HOTTEST?
While record were broken around the world – from southern Europe to central Asia to east Africa to parts of South America and the western U.S. – no place was hotter than Bandar-e Mahshahr, Iran, on July 31. The temperature there climbed to 46 C, which felt like 74 C. “That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said in a statement. Locals described being unable to walk outside for more than 15 minutes in the middle of the day with seeking shade and water.
WHERE WERE HEAT RECORDS SET?
• Ashgabat, Turkmenistan: 47.7 C on June 30, breaking the record for June set in 1891.
• Walla Walla, LaCrosse and Chief Joseph Dam, Washington: All three towns reached 45 C in June, breaking Washington’s the all-time high of 43.9 C set in July 2006.
• Urumita Colombia: 42.2 C on July 1 was the hottest day ever in Colombia, topping the 42 C record set days earlier on June 27.
• Kitzingen, Germany: 40.3 C on July 5 was Germany’s hottest day ever in July, breaking the previous record of 40.2 C set in 2003 and 1983.
• Madrid, Spain: 39.9 C on July 6, breaking the 1995 July record that reached 39.5 C.
HOW IS HEAT MEASURED
There are more than 100 different ways to measure how people experience heat. While we typically reference the temperature, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle. When it’s 25 C outside and the weather man says it “feels like” 30 C, they are usually referring the Humidex or heat index. The heat index is the most widely used measure of how we perceive heat, and is calculated by combining the two biggest factors: temperature and humidity. In Canada we call this the Humidex, which uses a different formula to measure the same thing. Other measures, such as “real feel temperature” combine more than a dozen factors, including dew points, wind speeds, the angle of the sun and assumptions on how people are dressed.
HOW DEADLY WAS THE SUMMER?
As temperatures reached up to 49 C in Karachi, Pakistan, in June, reports circulated that local morgues were running out of space to accommodate the bodies of those the dead. “They are piling bodies one on top of the other,” Dr. Seemin Jamali, a senior official at the city’s largest government hospital, said at the time. More than 2,000 people died that month in Pakistan, most in Karachi. An even deadlier heat wave – the fifth-deadliest ever – swept through India in May, claiming more than 2,500 lives and melting asphalt roads. More than 100 people died from the heat in August in Egypt, according to the country’s state-run news agency, while at least 90 deaths were reported in Japan.
WHAT DOES HEAT DO TO HUMANS?
HOW HAVE PEOPLE COPED?
Around the world, people have sought to escape the heat by any means possible: staying inside, seeking shade and flocking to pools, lakes and rivers. When villages across India faced severe water shortages in May, doctors and volunteers handed out pouches of buttermilk and raw onions – an Ayurvedic practice in Hindu medicine thought to hydrate the body. But even some coping measures can be dangerous. At least 100 people were reported to have drowned in Turkey while attempting to stay cool during a late-July and early-August heat wave.
WHAT ABOUT THE POLITICS?
The heat was so bad in some places, it spurred protests. Thousands took to the streets of Baghdad during a four-day government-mandated heat holiday at the end of July. The temperature exacerbated the need for quality drinking water and for power to run air conditioners, which Iraq lacks, protesters claimed, as a result of government corruption. The prime minister Haider al-Abadi responded by proposing sweeping anti-corruption reforms and eliminating three vice presidential posts and the office of the deputy prime minister. Power and water shortages in Pakistan spurred similar demonstrations, as protesters reportedly set fire to government buildings in multiple cities. As officials from the Center for Climate and Security noted, “in Pakistan more people have died from the heat wave than from terrorism this year.”
HAS ANYTHING GOOD COME OF THE HEAT?
As shorelines recede in extreme heat, sunken relics of the past are surfacing. Earlier this month, remains of Soviet fighter pilots – including parts of uniforms, a parachute, radio equipment, a sheepskin collar, a pistol and heavy ammunition – were uncovered on the newly exposed shores of Bzura River in Warsaw, Poland. Downstream in the Vistula River, Jewish tombstones and fragments from the Poniatowski Bridge, which the Germans blew up nearby in 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising also surfaced. “The Vistula River is hiding no end of secrets. They are everywhere,” said Jonny Daniels, the head of Jewish foundation From the Depths. Meanwhile, in Monterey County, Calif., the grave of Civil War veteran Cpl. John McBride surfaced in a parched reservoir of Lake San Antonio. McBride, an Irish immigrant, survived the Civil War but was killed 20 years later when an argument on a ranch in the rural town of Pleyto went awry. His grave and some building foundations were all that was left of the town when it was flooded in 1965 to build the reservoir.
WHAT ABOUT CROPS AND LIVESTOCK?
India’s deadly heat wave also killed more than 17 million chickens, catapulting poultry prices in the country up 35 per cent. Severe drought in Thailand, the world’s biggest rice exporter, damaged 80 per cent of the country’s rice farms, causing a predicted 15 to 20 per cent drop in yield, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association. Brazil is expecting its smallest coffee crop since 2009 – 10 per cent lower than last year – thanks to two months of record-low rainfalls in the southeast part of the country, where more than 90 per cent of Brazilian coffee beans are grown. And in Tanzania, farmers are uprooting coffee trees and replacing the once-cash crop with hardier vegetables like cabbage and onions. California’s food supply was also hit hard by persistent hot, dry weather, losing more than 500,000 acres of crops.
WHAT’S DOES EL NINO HAVE TO DO WITH THIS?
While climate change is believed by many to be playing a role in extreme weather around the a world, scientists are also pointing the finger at what has been called the “Godzilla” and “Bruce Lee” of El Ninos to explain this summer’s heat. The El Nino climate phenomenon is caused when dwindling trade winds disrupt the flow of warm water from near the equator to cooler parts of the ocean. This creates “the blob,” a pool of heated water in the Pacific, 100 metres deep and roughly the area of British Columbia. Water from the blob then rises into the atmosphere, creating more extreme and chaotic weather in countries close to the equator. The NOAA predicts there’s a 90 per cent chance El Nino will continue this winter bringing warmer, drier temperatures to Canada.