What Causes a Heatwave?

What causes a heatwave

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This summer, the British people have enjoyed weeks of glorious temperatures of 30C (and higher), which has prompted many of us to ponder the question: What causes heat waves?

So we are going to answer that very question here in this article.

What is a Heatwave?

Before we move into the nitty-gritty of what causes heat waves to occur, we’re going to define what a heatwave actually is – just to make sure everyone’s on the same page. 

According to the Met Office, a ‘heat wave’ refers to an ‘extended period of hot weather relative to the expected conditions of the area at that time of year, which may be accompanied by high humidity’. 

So, for this blog post, we will be using this description as the cornerstone of this article. 

What Causes a Heatwave?

In short, heatwaves occur as a result of trapped air. 

Typically air circulates the earth via huge currents of winds. However, every now and then, these winds get trapped over a particular region.

Due to the air lingering in one place for longer than usual, it’s able to bask in the sun for longer, causing them to reach uncharacteristically high temperatures. 

It’s this process that causes what we have commonly come to know as ‘the heatwave’.

What Causes the Air to Trap?

Generally, the air gets caught as a result of high atmospheric pressure. This pressure sweeps into an area and stays there for a minimum of two days.

Typically, this forces the air downwards, where it compresses and consequently, its temperature increases. It’s this high concentration of pressure that makes it harder for other kinds of weather to infiltrate and take over. As such, it’s not uncommon for heatwaves to last for several days, and in some cases, weeks. 

Unsurprisingly, the longer the air remains trapped, the hotter it becomes. The wind is minimal and in some instances, nonexistent.

Namely, because the intense pressure of the weather system prevents clouds from entering the region. This further adds to the intensity of the sunny weather we experience during a heatwave.  

Is Climate Change Responsible for Heatwaves?

Although heatwaves are naturally occurring weather events, i.e., they would happen with or without global warming, studies suggest climate change increases the likelihood of heatwaves occurring.  

For instance, the Met Office studied the UK heatwave that occurred during the summer of 2018. They predict the chances of us experiencing a summer as hot (or warmer) as this one, is just over one in 10.

Interestingly, this likelihood is 30 times more than before the industrial revolution. This massive change is mainly because these days there are much higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

Are Heat Waves Dangerous?

In short, yes. Heatwaves can be extremely dangerous. 

Back in August 2003, the UK experienced a heatwave that lasted for as long as ten days, with highs of 38.5 °C (in Faversham, Kent). This sadly resulted in 2,000 deaths.

The best way to protect yourself is to stay inside and switch on the air conditioning to keep cool (especially during the hottest parts of the day). If possible, we also suggest avoiding strenuous activity and, of course, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

To learn more, get in touch with us today. We can at least help you on the air conditioning services side of this challenge in the future 🙂

10th September 2020
What causes a heatwave
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