Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 Caused 11,000 Deaths in Moscow Alone

From late June to mid/late August, Russia experienced its worst heat wave on record, coined the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010. Dr. Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and host of the popular Wunderblog, says Moscow -- the country’s capital and most populous city with over 10 million -- experienced a remarkable 62 consecutive days with above average high temperatures.

"Our ancestors haven't observed or registered a heat like that within 1,000 years. This phenomenon is absolutely unique" -- Alexander Frolov, Head of Russia's weather service (as reported by Jeff Masters)

Russian City Official, Evegenya Smirnova (as reported by Agence France Presse [AFP]) says nearly 11,000 more people died in Moscow during July and August 2010 than at the same time in 2009. This highly abnormal number is attributed to the extreme heat the city experienced during that time period in 2010. This number doesn’t include other major cities in the heat wave region such as St. Petersburg (4.6 million inhabitants, Russia's 2nd most populous city) and Nizhny Novgorod (1.3 million people, 5th most populous city in Russia).

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), “[o]fficials say it may take months for the government to tally the damage from the disaster that destroyed over a quarter of Russia's grain harvest, but several economists have put the cost to the economy this year at roughly 7-15 billion dollars.”

The likelihood of extreme weather and severe heat wave events is increasing as climate continues to rapidly change with the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog compares Russia's heat wave with other unprecedented heat waves and discusses the possible causes in the following from his post, Causes of the Russian heat wave and Pakistani floods” (13 Aug 2010):

The Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is one of the most intense, widespread, and long-lasting heat waves in world history. Only the European heat wave of 2003, which killed 35,000 - 50,000 people, and the incredible North American heat wave of July 1936, which set all-time extreme highest temperature records in fifteen U.S. states, can compare. All of these heat waves were caused by a highly unusual kink in the jet stream that remained locked in place for over a month. The jet stream is an upper-level river of air, between the altitudes of about 30,000 - 40,000 feet (10,000 - 12,000 meters).

What caused this unusual jet stream pattern?...Long-lived "blocking" episodes like this are usually caused by unusual sea surface temperature patterns, according to recent research done using climate models...Human-caused climate change also may have played a role; using climate models, Stott et al. (2004) found it very likely (>90% chance) that human-caused climate change has at least doubled the risk of severe heat waves like the great 2003 European heat wave."

Comparing the 2003 European heat wave with the 2010 Russian heat wave, Masters says in “Over 15,000 likely dead in Russian heat wave; Asian monsoon floods kill hundreds more” (9 Aug 2010):

“While the temperatures in that [European] heat wave were not as extreme as the Russian heat wave, the nighttime low temperatures in the 2003 heat wave were considerably higher. This tends to add to heat stress and causes a higher death toll. I expect that by the time the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is over, it may rival the 2003 European heat wave as the deadliest heat wave in world history.”

Russian & European Heat Wave, Temperature Departure from Average

"A comparison of August temperatures, the peak of the great European heat wave of 2003 (left) with July temperatures from the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 (right) reveals that this year's heat wave is more intense and covers a wider area of Europe." Image credit: Jeff Masters, as generated by NOAA/ESRL.

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