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Here’s how climate change may have impacted last week’s record-setting heat wave in NorCal – KCRA Sacramento

For much of this summer, it seemed like the really nasty heat would pass Northern California by this year. Then last week happened. A late summer 2022 heat wave centered over the southwest United States rewrote many records in several categories. Recapping the recordsThe temperature hit at least 100 degrees for 10 straight days in downtown Sacramento. That is the second-longest heat wave on record for the area. For three of those 10 days, the temperature reached at least 110 degrees. Until last week, Sacramento had not had a 110-degree day during the month of September going back to the year 1877.And of course, there is downtown Sacramento’s new all-time record high temperature of 116 degrees which was set on Tuesday, Sept. 6. That cleared the previous record of 114 degrees which was set in July of 1925. Did climate change impact the heat wave?Dr. Patrick Brown is a climate scientist with The Breakthrough Institute, which works to find solutions to environmental challenges. Brown says that when looking for connections between heat waves and climate change, three characteristics should be considered: duration, breadth and intensity. According to decades of climate research, the connection between global warming and the length of a heat wave as well as the coverage area of a heat wave are unclear. But there is a clear relationship between climate change and heat wave intensity.”We can calculate that with climate models and with observations,” Brown said, “and we see that in California, there’s roughly a 10 to 20% enhancement of the hottest temperatures relative to the global average.” Brown says Sacramento’s record-setting 116-degree high on Sept. 6 would have been closer to 114 degrees without the effects of carbon emissions, following the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s. Extreme heat can and has occurred without the influences of greenhouse gas warming, but the presence of global heating produced by climate change increases the odds for new extremes in the future. According to the climate projections that Brown has run, conditions that produced a high of 116 degrees on Sept. 6, 2022, could produce a high of 120 degrees in the year 2100 without greenhouse gas mitigation. But hasn’t Earth been hot before?For Sacramento, modern climate records trace back to 1877. By those standards, last week’s high of 116 is the hottest on record for downtown. But climate scientists know that Earth has been hot before, likely much hotter than what we’re seeing now.“When we say ‘unprecedented heat’ we do mean over a finite period of time,” Brown said. “The Earth was warmer in the past. So we’re not saying all-time Earth record heat since 4.5 billion years ago.”The key difference, Brown said, is that when Earth was hotter, modern civilizations weren’t trying to live with that heat, nor were they contributing to it.Brown said that highlights the importance of adapting to climate change while also working to mitigate future impacts by reducing fossil fuel emissions as much as possible.Is record heat a “new normal?”Brown said he hears this question often. “I think that that’s kind of an incorrect way of thinking about it because we’re not at some steady state,” Brown said.According to Brown, as long as more greenhouse gasses are being added to the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning, Earth’s climate will continually warm. He said California’s hottest temperatures are increasing about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit each decade.”And that is not going to stop until emissions of CO2 are at zero,” Brown said. “That’s when you reach your new normal.”

For much of this summer, it seemed like the really nasty heat would pass Northern California by this year.

Then last week happened.

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A late summer 2022 heat wave centered over the southwest United States rewrote many records in several categories.

Recapping the records

record heat wave

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Sacramento’s late summer heat wave set many records over a ten day period.

The temperature hit at least 100 degrees for 10 straight days in downtown Sacramento. That is the second-longest heat wave on record for the area.

For three of those 10 days, the temperature reached at least 110 degrees. Until last week, Sacramento had not had a 110-degree day during the month of September going back to the year 1877.

And of course, there is downtown Sacramento’s new all-time record high temperature of 116 degrees which was set on Tuesday, Sept. 6. That cleared the previous record of 114 degrees which was set in July of 1925.

Did climate change impact the heat wave?

Dr. Patrick Brown is a climate scientist with The Breakthrough Institute, which works to find solutions to environmental challenges.

Brown says that when looking for connections between heat waves and climate change, three characteristics should be considered: duration, breadth and intensity.

According to decades of climate research, the connection between global warming and the length of a heat wave as well as the coverage area of a heat wave are unclear. But there is a clear relationship between climate change and heat wave intensity.

“We can calculate that with climate models and with observations,” Brown said, “and we see that in California, there’s roughly a 10 to 20% enhancement of the hottest temperatures relative to the global average.”

Brown says Sacramento’s record-setting 116-degree high on Sept. 6 would have been closer to 114 degrees without the effects of carbon emissions, following the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s.

Extreme heat can and has occurred without the influences of greenhouse gas warming, but the presence of global heating produced by climate change increases the odds for new extremes in the future.

According to the climate projections that Brown has run, conditions that produced a high of 116 degrees on Sept. 6, 2022, could produce a high of 120 degrees in the year 2100 without greenhouse gas mitigation.

But hasn’t Earth been hot before?

For Sacramento, modern climate records trace back to 1877. By those standards, last week’s high of 116 is the hottest on record for downtown.

But climate scientists know that Earth has been hot before, likely much hotter than what we’re seeing now.

“When we say ‘unprecedented heat’ we do mean over a finite period of time,” Brown said. “The Earth was warmer in the past. So we’re not saying all-time Earth record heat since 4.5 billion years ago.”

The key difference, Brown said, is that when Earth was hotter, modern civilizations weren’t trying to live with that heat, nor were they contributing to it.

Brown said that highlights the importance of adapting to climate change while also working to mitigate future impacts by reducing fossil fuel emissions as much as possible.

Is record heat a “new normal?”

Brown said he hears this question often.

“I think that that’s kind of an incorrect way of thinking about it because we’re not at some steady state,” Brown said.

According to Brown, as long as more greenhouse gasses are being added to the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning, Earth’s climate will continually warm. He said California’s hottest temperatures are increasing about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit each decade.

“And that is not going to stop until emissions of CO2 are at zero,” Brown said. “That’s when you reach your new normal.”

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