Study: Pacific Northwest heat wave ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change

seattle beach

The extreme heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada last week made news not only for the record-breaking temperatures but also for the tragic loss of human life.

A group of international researchers in the World Weather Attribution Network released a study yesterday determining that this unprecedented event was “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.” 

Kristie Ebi, a professor with the UW Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHanGE) and in the departments of Environment & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS) and Global Health (DGH), participated in the research. 

“This study is telling us climate change is killing people,” said Ebi to the Associated Press. “It will be many months before a death toll can be calculated from June’s blast of heat, but it’s likely to be hundreds or thousands.”

The scientists analyzed current observational data and computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today with the climate of the past, following peer-reviewed methods. They note two possible explanations for how climate change made the heat more likely to occur. 

In both scenarios, as warming continues, extreme and dangerous heat waves will be a lot less rare.

While last week’s weather was both serious and unexpected, there is also good news in the data: As we continue to mitigate the effects of climate change, we also know that we have the tools to adapt. 

“In the United States, heat-related mortality is the number one weather-related killer, yet nearly all of those

deaths are preventable,” said Ebi. “Heat action plans can reduce current and future heat-related morbidity and mortality by increasing preparedness for heat emergencies, including heatwave early warning and response systems, and by prioritizing modifications to our built environment so that a warmer future does not have to be deadly.”

Read more about the study here.