Although the event occurred over three years ago, the summer heat wave of 2003 is still prominently featured in every popular presentation of the global warming issue. A web search of “Europe Heat Wave 2003” produces nearly 950,000 sites to choose from, and if you take that plunge, you will see estimates of 35,000 deaths directly attributed to that heat wave, although that number varies considerably from one site to the next. Although the number of deaths may vary, virtually every one of the sites mentions global warming as an underlying contributor, and statements like “even more extreme weather events lie ahead” are commonplace in the thousands of essays on the topic. Not surprisingly, many of these thousands of heat wave articles end with something like “the world must cut the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.”
We have covered heat waves many times in the past at World Climate Report and shown that the link between extreme heat waves and global warming (or, at least, increasing death) is not nearly as strong as we are led to believe. An article in the recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters dares to ask the question “Was the 2003 European summer heat wave unusual in a global context?” We saw that title and new this was going to be good.