2022's extreme weather

Another record-breaking year on planet Earth

(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images)

From sweeping floods in the Midwest to brutal heat waves in Europe, the weather all around the globe is intensifying. Every summer seems to be a record-breaking one, and experts expect this year to be no different. Currently, scientists are pointing at climate change being the cause. ​​Here's everything you need to know:

How is climate change distinguished from normal weather?

Climate change is the shift in the average temperature and weather patterns found in certain regions around the world. Unlike the weather, which is the constant day-to-day changes you can see when you step outside, the climate is the average change over a long period of time.

Why is it happening?

A few natural occurrences that can impact the climate are the Earth's distance from the sun, ocean changes, and volcanic eruptions. However, many climate scientists believe that these alone "cannot account for the planet's rapidly rising temperature" and there is evidence to suggest that humans have played a larger role in climate change, The New York Times reports.

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During the Industrial Revolution, people began burning more fossil fuels, adding additional greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. "The world has already warmed between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial average," writes The Washington Post. If countries continue down this path of overproducing fossil fuels, the future will be even hotter.

This increase in temperature will cause a domino effect of natural disasters. "We cannot take a punch from one these hazards alone, forget about three or four of them simultaneously," Camilo Mora, a climate scientist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who studies cascading disasters, said to the Post. "The idea that we can keep emitting greenhouse gases and buy our way out of it later with adaptation just doesn't make any sense." Her research points out that by 2100, parts of the world could experience as many as six climate-related disasters simultaneously — that is, if humans do not cut down on greenhouse gas emissions soon.

How are heat waves impacting the world?

For many locations, summer came early. The Midwest kickstarted its summer with a heat wave in May. At the same time, in another part of the world, Spain was experiencing its "hottest heat wave on record so early in the year," reaching temperatures of 104 and 110 degrees, writes The Washington Post. It doesn't stop there, as many countries are left preparing for a series of extreme weather in the weeks and months ahead.

"Summer has become the danger season where you see these kinds of events happening earlier, more frequently, and co-occurring," Rachel Licker, principal climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a research and advocacy group, told the Post. "It just shows you how vulnerable our infrastructure is and that this is just going to get increasingly problematic."

Regions like the United States and Europe are expected to see temperatures of about 10 to 20 degrees above average this summer.

Rising temperatures also mean quicker snowmelt. Earlier this month, Italy experienced a deadly avalanche due to the rising temperatures melting the glaciers, Axios reports. Add in rainfall and you also get situations like that in Montana and Wyoming, which are facing disastrous floods. Similarly, on Monday, roughly 30,000 residents in Australia (where it is winter) were told to evacuate as they are expecting their "fourth round of flooding in less than a year and a half," writes AP News.

Through statistics and analyzing heat waves, scientists are able to measure how climate change affects heat waves in certain areas. Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, analyzed the most extreme heat waves, like the one that took place in 2021 around Canada and the Pacific Northwest. "It was virtually impossible without climate change," says Wehner to NPR.

Why does it matter?

If we don't take action to address climate change, our summers will look vastly different. "Humans adapt quickly to these kinds of events and they're becoming normal to us instead of seeing what's going on," Alexis Bonogofsky, a sheep ranger, and program manager for the World Wildlife Fund, said to the Post. "We're going to see these forms of natural disasters more frequently, and I hope that at some point people will realize what's happening and start addressing the root cause."

It's predicted that, by the end of the century, it will be too hot and unbearable "to go outside during heat waves in the Middle East and South Asia." Extreme droughts will limit crop production and raise prices, and many places as we know them — parts of Texas and Bangladesh, for instance — will be gone due to rising sea levels.

Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg, and it's melting fast.

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