5 Reasons Why the Heatwave of 1976 is so Very Different to 2022

Written by
Poppy Stringer
5
min read
July 26, 2022

We are all painfully aware of the heatwave that has struck the UK in the last week as we have all struggled to cope with the record high temperatures. This heatwave has brought to mind, for those old enough, the record breaking summer of 1976 and has led some people to believe that we are overreacting about the severity of this heat wave and its climate consequences and that the Met office is creating unnecessary ‘hysteria’, since it's been happening for nearly half a century. But what we are experiencing now, is not the same as what happened then.

Here are 5 reasons why the heatwave of 1976 is different to 2022;

  1. The high temperatures are shattering previous records. In 1976 the maximum temperature recorded was 35.9 degrees and the recent heatwave exceeded this by over 4 degrees, recent temperatures also shattered the previous highest temperature of 38.7 degrees which was recorded in 2019. Britain experienced its first ever Red Extreme Heat Warning, which states that temperatures may reach over 40 degrees and there is a threat of serious illness or even death among healthy people.  
  1. The heatwave of 1976 was rare, 2022’s is not. The heatwave of 1976 was incredibly rare for that time period, with the average temperature of july 1976 being 18 degrees but in the 2010’s the average temperature recorded in July was more than 20 degrees and the top ten warmest years ever for the UK have been since 2002. There were future heat waves in ‘95, ‘97, ‘03, ‘06, 22, with the 1976 heatwave being the first and locked into the British psyche as a phenomenon. Albeit the 76 heatwave was also a period where there were over two months of no rainfall and water needed to be rationed, it was still extremely rare for that decade rather than being a common occurrence as we see heat waves now.
  1. It is not just a British issue this time around, it’s global. Alongside Britain, the rest of Europe has also experienced a heatwave with the extreme heat causing an estimated 1,977 wildfires across the entire continent. The average global temperature is rising steadily and the heat map below from the BBC clearly shows how much warmer the global climate has become in the last 70 years. The average temperature of the world is rapidly rising and this is the issue that the heatwave brings to light, yes there have been plenty of heatwaves before but their increasing frequency and high intensity demonstrates how much climate change is affecting our planet, much more than it was in 1976.

  1. 1976 saw a 20% increase in Deaths - 2022 Is Estimated to be Higher

In 1976 excess deaths across the two month period as a whole stood at 700 according to ONS data, and the 1976 heatwave is said to have been the cause of 20% ‘excess deaths’. In 2003, the heat wave that struck Europe, hitting France especially hard, had a death toll of over 70,000 people which was a 59% ‘excess death’, which is nearly a 40% increase in ‘excess deaths’ since 1976. The true impact of the 2022 heatwave may not be fully understood for a couple more weeks but a professor at UCL, Ilan Kleman stated that “once temperatures reach over 37 degrees the death toll begins to increase” and that “The heatwave was extremely serious, there was the potential for very high death rates”. Although it is currently unclear what the percentage increase in death rates was over the last few weeks, it can be assumed that once the data has been collected the increase in deaths will be higher than that of the 1976 heatwave demonstrating that the heatwaves severity have increased and need to be taken significantly more seriously

  1. It is much clearer that the 2022 heatwave is a result of human activity rather than the natural weather changes that were seen in the 70’s.

Scientists are not 100% sure of the 1976 heatwave but they do believe it may have been a result of a change in the jet stream that dictates our weather. But this current heatwave is part of a bigger shift in our climate, it is one of the clearest signs of human influence on our environment. The Met office says that this heatwave has been made ten times more likely because of climate change. It is the greenhouse gasses that we release that are trapping in the sun's heat and warming the surface of the earth that led to the worrying situation we are now in.

There is one single solution to this problem; change.

We cannot continue to live the way we do, we have to change our carbon habits, it has to be a daily effort to reduce, avoid and offset or extreme weather, like this UK heatwave will become the normal.

Visit SKOOT.eco to begin your journey to carbon neutral.

Poppy Stringer

A Gen Z, who helps keep us all grounded with her passion for change now, not tomorrow. Someone who is just embarking on her career, who helps us create our interesting and thought provoking content, alongside helping with customer support. A true digital native.