Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Global Significance of the Russian Heat Wave

This is a weather map of North America (I think) from Weather Underground that has almost nothing to do with what follows. I just liked how it looks. But it is part of a discussion about a new storm building in the Gulf that may affect the U.S.

It's not entirely clear to me all of what the Russian Heat Wave implies, especially its relationship to the fires that are raging in the area. But Jeff Masters' blog yesterday at Weather Underground did say this:

"The Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 brought temperatures of 37°C (99°F) to Moscow today, and smog and smoke from wildfires blanketed the city for a sixth straight day. Air pollution levels were 2 - 3 times the maximum safe level today, and peaked on Saturday, when when carbon monoxide hit 6.5 times the safe level. The death toll from heat and air pollution increased to approximately 330 people per day in Moscow in recent days...

A plot of the departure of July 2010 temperatures from average (Figure 1) shows that the area of Russia experiencing incredible heat is vast, and that regions southeast of Moscow have the hottest, relative to average. Moscow is the largest city in Russia, with a population just over ten million, but there are several other major cities in the heat wave region. These include Saint Petersburg, Russia's 2nd most populous city (4.6 million), and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's 5th most populous city (1.3 million people.) Thus, the Russian population affected by extreme heat is at least double the population of Moscow, and the death toll in Russia from the 2010 heat wave is probably at least 15,000, and may be much higher. The only comparable heat wave in European history occurred in 2003, and killed an estimated 40,000 - 50,000 people, mostly in France and Italy. While the temperatures in that heat wave were not as extreme as the Russian heat wave, the nighttime low temperatures in the 2003 heat wave were considerably higher. This tends to add to heat stress and causes a higher death toll. I expect that by the time the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is over, it may rival the 2003 European heat wave as the deadliest heat wave in world history."

The factor of toxic air may not occur to everyone as a product of such a prolonged period of intense heat, especially the carbon monoxide. Some other non-obvious consequences are raging peat fires and the danger of nuclear radiation, according to this story. After noting that other nearby nations like Belarus are also experiencing extreme heat, Masters goes on to relate this event--which Russian officials are saying is unprecedented for at least a thousand years--to the Climate Crisis:

"These nations comprise 19% of the total land area of Earth. This is the largest area of Earth's surface to experience all-time record high temperatures in any single year in the historical record. Looking back at the past decade, which was the hottest decade in the historical record, Seventy-five countries set extreme hottest temperature records (33% of all countries.) For comparison, fifteen countries set extreme coldest temperature records over the past ten years (6% of all countries). Earth has now seen four consecutive months with its warmest temperature on record, and the first half of 2010 was the warmest such 6-month period in the planet's history. It is not a surprise that many all-time extreme heat records are being shattered when the planet as a whole is so warm. Global warming "loads the dice" to favor extreme heat events unprecedented in recorded history."

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