Was 1976 really as hot as 2022, or is that just climate denial?

Climate map with red, orange and yellow showing the heat of the earth

It is really very hot. Image credit: NASA

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s very hot. Not just hot, but the heat wave sweeping across Europe is currently shattering previous records, mirroring predictions of the devastating effects of climate change – except it’s happening 30 years before scientists originally thought.

@metoffice produced a hypothetical weather forecast for 23 July 2050 based on UK climate projections.

Today, the forecast for Tuesday is shockingly almost identical for large parts of the country. pic.twitter.com/U5hQhZwoTi

— Dr Simon Lee (@SimonLeeWx)

England is currently melting in temperatures expected to reach 41C (106F) and recently experienced the hottest night on record, places in France topped 43C on Monday and Spain is experiencing wildfires who rage. The UK government has been forced to issue the first-ever orange warning for the risk of death posed by the heat, urging residents to stay indoors.

That said, you’d expect a lot of people to finally become more aware of the real impacts of climate change – after all, that heat wave doesn’t even happen during El Nino, which usually brings high temperatures. However, many have instead taken the position that these temperatures are hardly remarkable, as in 1976 the UK experienced almost the same heat. So, is 1976 even a little like this heat wave, or is it just climate denialism?

The heat wave of 1976 versus 2022

In 1976, the UK experienced the highest temperatures since records began. England and Ireland experienced severe drought as intense heat soared to over 30C for 16 days in a row, and the summer was one of the hottest and driest ever. Twentieth century ; it was also attributed to 20% “excess deaths” during the heatwave period.

At its peak, the summer of 1976 saw a high of 35.9°C. Yet despite the high temperatures, this was an incredibly rare event that has not been seen for many years.

Compare that to the heat wave of 2022. Temperatures are expected to peak at 41°C, but have already soared past 1976, with some places experiencing 40°C, breaking the previous record. Yet that record was set just three years ago in 2019, when 38.7C was recorded in Cambridge, UK. The speed at which records are now being set is startling, and the regularity of hot, dry summers is becoming more apparent.

Over the past 30 years the average temperature has increased according to a 2020 Met Office climate report, and nine of the ten hottest days on record have occurred during this period.

“1976 was indeed a heatwave and we’ve had heatwaves before, but the fact is they’re happening more often and they’re getting more intense,” said Professor Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, in a statement to the BBC.

But that’s not all. Not only is the UK bubbling on a scale well beyond 1976, but the whole world is. Taking a NASA climate anomaly map, it becomes apparent that the 1976 heatwave was significantly less widespread and much less intense compared to the 2022 heatwave.

Look at the difference? Image credit: NASA

Consequently, over the past two years, the UK and other countries have experienced heat waves that pale 1976 in comparison, setting and breaking new records as they go. The average temperature has risen, freak events like now are becoming more intense and frequent, and the Met Office and raw data indicate that both of these factors are directly linked to climate change. Maybe it’s time to take note.

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