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Climate change confusion: Extreme heat waves aren’t taking place more frequently than expected

Thank You Brother, Ricin

“O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.”  Psalms 95:6 (KJV) 

The Pacific Northwest heat wave of 2021 brought boiling temperatures of more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. While many may see this as a sign of the times, are these extreme events really occurring more often due to climate change? A new study concludes that while we continue to see the very real and threatening effects of a warming planet, fortunately heat waves of this level are occurring no faster than climate change models already predicted.

A team from UCLA says climate change may be influencing how hot temperatures get each summer, but record-breaking events like the heat wave of 2021 are not so extreme that they can’t be predicted by climate change simulations. In fact, researchers say the Pacific Northwest heat wave is roughly a once-in-10,000-years­­ type of event.

“It was outrageous how extreme and severe that heat wave was,” says Karen McKinnon, an assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and a part of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, in a university release. “Climate models struggle to capture events this extreme, and most early research puts the chances of it occurring at zero.”

McKinnon and co-author Isla Simpson from the National Center for Atmospheric Research analyzed historical weather trends in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, as well as climate model simulations during their study. Their review found that climate models are able to simulate extreme heat waves just like the one in 2021 — revealing that they only happen once every several thousand years. Moreover, in the cities where temperatures peaked around 121 degrees, the models show this will only happen once every 100,000 years!

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