One of the most remarkable weather events of my lifetime is unfolding this summer in Russia, where an unprecedented heat wave has brought another day of 102°F heat to the nation's capital. At 3:30 pm local time today, the mercury hit 39°C (102.2°F) at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. Moscow had never recorded a temperature exceeding 100°F prior to this year, and today marks the second time the city has beaten the 100°F mark. The first time was on July 29, when the Moscow observatory recorded 100.8°C and Baltschug, another official downtown Moscow weather site, hit an astonishing 102.2°F (39.0°C). Prior to this year, the hottest temperature in Moscow's history was 37.2°C (99°F), set in August 1920. The Moscow Observatory has now matched or exceeded this 1920 all-time record five times in the past eleven days, including today. The 2010 average July temperature in Moscow was 7.8°C (14°F) above normal, smashing the previous record for hottest July, set in 1938 (5.3°C above normal.) July 2010 also set the record for most July days in excess of 30°C--twenty-two. The previous record was 13 such days, set in July 1972. The past 24 days in a row have exceeded 30°C in Moscow, and there is no relief in sight--the latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures near 100°F (37.8°C) for the next seven days. It is stunning to me that the country whose famous winters stopped the armies of Napoleon and Hitler is experiencing day after day of heat near 100°F, with no end in sight.http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/8/7/890455/-This-week-in-science
To put this in rough perspective -- and note this is not absolutely precise, it's purely ballpark to give you some feel for what the Russian people are enduring -- if this heat wave was hitting North America, it would be near 100°F in Fairbanks, Alaska. Most of Canada would be baking at 100° or higher, the northeast, from Maine to the Great Lakes region would be hitting upwards of 105° everyday, even the nightly low in the massive urban heat islands of New York and Chicago would be over 90°! The midwest grain belt and parts of the Pacific Northwest would not see a drop of rain for two months and pushing as high as 110° in places. The desert southwest, even some of the higher elevations of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas, would be as uninhabitable as Death Valley or the Sahara.
It would mean nation-wide massive power brownouts, unprecedented crop failures, water rationing like you have never seen, record wildfires raging in dozens of states, thousands of deaths [Correction: Dr. Jeff Masters at WeatherUnderground informs me it would probably more like tens of thousands of deaths] and life threatening heat related illness, roads and highways clogged with broken-down, over-heated cars, and emergency services stretched beyond the breaking point across the US and Canada.So nothing to worry about, right? Well, it's gonna affect the price of your pasta and toast.
At least 20 percent of Russia’s wheat crop has already been destroyed by the drought, the extreme heat—circa 40 º C for several weeks now—and the wildfires. The export ban is needed, explained Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, because “we shouldn’t allow domestic prices in Russia to rise, we need to preserve our cattle and build up supplies for next year”. If anybody starves, it won’t be Russians.Here's a novel thought - why don't we take measures to reduce greenhosue gas emissions now?
This is the vision of the future that has the soldiers and security experts worried: a world where access to enough food becomes a big political and strategic issue even for developed countries that do not have big surpluses at home. It would be a very ugly world indeed, teeming with climate refugees and failed states and interstate conflicts over water (which is just food at one remove).
What is happening in Russia now, and its impacts elsewhere, give us an early glimpse of what that world will be like. And although nobody can say for certain that the current disaster there is due to climate change, it certainly could be.
Late last year, Britain’s Hadley Centre for Climate Change produced a world map showing how different countries will be affected by the rise in average global temperature over the next 50 years. The European countries that the Hadley map predicts will be among the hardest hit—Greece, Spain, and Russia—are precisely the ones have suffered most from extreme heat, runaway forest fires, and wildfires in the past few years.
The main impact of global warming on human beings will be on the food supply, and eating is a non-negotiable activity. Today Russia, tomorrow the world.