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A resident splashes water onto their face during a heat wave in Sacramento, Calif., July 8, 2021. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The risk of large heat waves happening simultaneously in at least two parts of the Northern Hemisphere is growing due to global warming and its effects on atmospheric circulation, a new study finds.

Why it matters: The study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Climate, adds to concerns about food supply disruptions and other major societal impacts, depending on the location of the concurrent extremes.

Driving the news: The research, led by Cassandra Rogers, a post-doctoral researcher at Washington State University, examined climate data from 1979 to 2019 and found a six-fold increase in the number of simultaneous large heat waves occurring in the Northern Hemisphere warm season between the 1980s and 2010s.

  • During the same period, the heat events grew in size and intensified. The study was discussed Thursday at a major Earth science meeting in New Orleans.

Details: While heat waves themselves can pose huge risks to human health, with hundreds of deaths attributed to last summer’s Pacific Northwest heat wave, for example, they can also prime the environment for wildfires and affect agriculture.

  • A 2019 study by Columbia University’s Kai Kornhuber, a co-author of the new research, found that simultaneous heat waves caused about a 4% decrease in crop production.
  • That research identified specific patterns of the jet stream, which steers storms, that are associated with heat extremes that tend to occur simultaneously in different breadbasket regions.
  • One such pattern, for example, can cause heat waves to break out in central North America, Eastern Europe and East Asia, the study found.

What they did: This study quantified large heat waves as periods of three or more days with daily mean temperature greater than the local 90th percentile with a range roughly the size of Mongolia or Iran (about 620,000 square miles).

  • The researchers were able to show that the primary driver of the increase in simultaneous heat waves is the background warming of the climate, plus warming's influences on atmospheric circulation, through changes in the jet stream, for example.

What they’re saying: "The fact that we know what's happening, we know these events are going to continue to happen, is a real opportunity to actually prevent the deaths that could happen," Rogers told Axios.

  • "I think it's a little silver lining there, as bad as the predictions are,” she added

Go deeper

The most startling facts in 2021 climate report

An unsettling part of the human condition today is that the year you were born will most likely be the coolest year of your life, globally speaking.

By the numbers: Newly released climate data from NOAA, NASA and Berkeley Earth show that the planet has had an unbroken streak of 45 years of warmer than average temperatures.

Updated 30 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Transplants rebound from COVID lull
  2. Vaccines: WHO: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America
  3. Politics: Government website for free COVID tests launches early
  4. World: Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older
  5. Variant tracker
31 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Schumer pushes for doomed filibuster changes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer addressed reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the Democratic caucus Tuesday night he plans to propose instituting a one-time "talking" filibuster requirement, and bypassing the 60-vote threshold for major legislation, to pass the party's election reforms package via simple majority.

Why it matters: While Schumer acknowledged both votes are expected to fail — and some vulnerable Democrats up for reelection feel it will put them in a tough spot — he argued it's worth putting members on the record for historic legislation.