Impacts of climate change Heatwaves, hurricanes, storm surges

How does global warming affect us? 

Climate change leads to more extreme weather.

Heatwaves are fast becoming the new norm. And we're likely to see more intense tropical cyclones.

Levels of planet-warming greenhouse gases have rocketed in the past 100 years. This is largely due to humans burning coal, oil and gas, and cutting down forests.

If we don't stop doing these things, the planet will continue to heat up. Each degree of warming will bring more extreme weather.


drought crops

What causes drought?

Prolonged periods of low rainfall can lead to drought, though other factors are often involved. Scorching hot weather causes more water to evaporate into thin air, and climate change is leading to more intense heatwaves that are drying out crops and landscapes.

Cutting down forests also contributes to drought. This is because trees increase rainfall. Large-scale deforestation reduces rainfall in some areas by up to 30%.

In 2022, extreme and unusual weather has triggered droughts in Europe. Meteorologists have said this could be the continent’s worst in more than 500 years.

drought crops
Climate change drought land

Who is affected by drought?

Droughts are among the most expensive weather-related disasters in the world. They affect plants, animals and people in unimaginable ways...

Evidence suggests that a severe drought was one of the catalysts for the desperation and unrest that descended into the Syrian civil war. And that human-caused climate change has made such droughts in the region more than twice as likely.

Drought also leads to locust plagues. In 2020 one of the largest swarms on record covered 2,400 sq km in Kenya.

The 2018 heatwave scorched land and emptied reservoirs in the UK. It led to hosepipe bans, dying crops and farmers struggling to feed livestock. But it doesn't compare to drought in places like southern India where it's got so bad that some farmers have taken their own lives.

Climate change drought land


Sun beating down

What is a heatwave?

A heatwave is a long period of unusually hot weather and humidity. It can lead to widespread drought and increase the risk of wildfires.

Heatwaves harm crops and wildlife and are deadly to humans. Air stagnates so pollution sticks around in the environment instead of being replaced with fresh air.

Climate change may have made the 2019 heatwave at least three times as likely to happen.

Sun beating down
smog at sunset

What are the effects of heatwaves?

Extreme heat and high levels of air pollution are dangerous. People with heart conditions, asthma and severe allergies are most at risk.

Almost 900 extra deaths were recorded during the summer 2019 heatwave conditions in England, many of which were linked to high temperatures and preventable.

Heat-related deaths could become a summer norm, with 7,000 people a year set to lose their lives by 2050. It's another good reason to demand urgent climate action from our government.

smog at sunset


Neighbourhood on fire at night

Frequency and causes of wildfires

Fires broke out across Europe during the 2018 heatwave, from Sweden to Portugal to Greece. Australia saw unprecedented fires in 2019-20, and even the Arctic had more than one hundred long-lived and intense fires in summer 2019.

Hot weather increases the danger of wildfires, whether they've been started deliberately or not. When forests remain drier for longer it creates the conditions for wildfires to ignite and spread.

Climate change is driving up temperatures – increasing the danger wildfires pose around the Mediterranean. And scientists expect wildfires around the world to burn more land as temperatures continue to rise.

Neighbourhood on fire at night
Wildfires appear over a hill behind a house in Texas

Impact of wildfires

Wildfires cause heartache and misery. They're a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions and are also responsible for 5-8% of the 3.3 million annual premature deaths from poor air quality.

In southern Colorado a wildfire ravaged more than 130 homes and blackened nearly 170 square miles – more land than 60,000 Wembley pitches.

Even in the UK, wildfires raged in places like Saddleworth Moor.

Wildfires appear over a hill behind a house in Texas

Severe flooding

York Floods - September 2012 - UK

Greater risk of flooding

Global warming in our region means more downpours of rain, snow, hail or sleet, or as the scientists say "the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events in North America and Europe has likely increased".

Climate change will make flooding in the UK worse, and it's already a huge problem. Over the past decade, severe flooding and record-breaking rainfall have inflicted misery across the nation.

And the UK Environment Agency has warned that we're going to get more intense bouts of flooding.

York Floods - September 2012 - UK
Flooded streets of York

Flooded homes and businesses

Floods in the UK have left communities struggling to cope.

February 2020 was the wettest February ever recorded in the UK. It added to a miserable winter season throughout England and Wales. Storms Ciara and Dennis resulted in more than 3,300 properties being flooded in England, and in the Welsh county of Rhonda alone, 1,000 properties were flooded.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to defend the UK from floods and extreme weather.

Flooded streets of York

Tropical cyclones

Hurricane between Florida and Cuba

More destructive hurricanes and typhoons

These fierce storms produce violent winds (74 miles per hour or more), dangerous waves, torrential rain and flooding.

Hurricanes and typhoons are the same thing. They're both tropical cyclones that form over warm ocean waters near the equator.

Human-caused global warming is raising sea levels and ocean temperatures. These conditions are likely to create more intense tropical cyclones – carrying higher wind speeds and more rain.

Hurricane between Florida and Cuba
Top of a stormy wave

Higher storm surges

A storm surge happens when water is pushed towards the shore by strong hurricane winds. If the surge hits normal high tide, it can rear up to 20 feet or more, causing extreme flooding in coastal areas.

Climate change is likely to lead to higher storm surges as sea levels rise.

Higher sea levels give storm surges a higher starting point, increasing their size and reach when they make landfall.

Top of a stormy wave
Hurricane Katrina Storm Damage

The dangers of hurricanes

Intense hurricanes have increased in the past few decades, threatening more people. Dangers include flying debris, flooding and disruption to vital services like healthcare.

Hurricanes range from (1) a risk of minimal damage to (5) catastrophic. Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017, was a category 5. It's estimated to have killed over 4,600 people. It was one of three major Atlantic hurricanes to make landfall in the same year.

2020 saw the second highest number of hurricanes in the USA, which resulted in the death of more than 400 people.

Global warming is likely to result in more devastating hurricanes.

Hurricane Katrina Storm Damage
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