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Human-driven climate change sent Pacific Northwest temperatures soaring

The deadly heat wave that baked the Pacific Northwest in late June would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change, an international team of scientists announced July 7.

In fact, the temperatures were so extreme — Portland, Ore., reached a staggering 47° Celsius (116° Fahrenheit) on June 29, while Seattle surged to 42° C (108° F) — that initial analyses suggested they were impossible even with climate change, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate scientist with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt, said at a news conference to announce the team’s findings. “This was an extraordinary event. I don’t know what English word covers it.”

Climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions made the region’s heat wave at least 150 times more likely to occur, the team found. As emissions and global temperatures continue to rise, such extreme heat events could happen in the region as often as every five to 10 years by the end of the century.

It’s not just that numerous temperature records were broken, van Oldenborgh said. It’s that the observed temperatures were so far outside of historical records, breaking those records by as much as 5 degrees C in many places — and a full month before usual peak temperatures for the region. The observations were also several degrees higher than the upper temperature limits predicted by most climate simulations for the heat waves, even taking global warming into account.

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