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Siberian wildfires within the Arctic Circle, Sakha Republic, Russia (Lat: 67.58842, Lng: 136.76119) - May 18th, 2020. (Photo: Pierre Marcuse, via Creative Commons BY-2.0)

Double Trouble: Heat Wave plus Quarantine

Record breaking heat wave in Siberia amidst of COViD-19 pandemia may seriously exacerbate the death toll


Written by Igor Ezau, Senior researcher with Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research.

High air temperature during summer heat waves considerably increases number of deaths. City dwellers are particularly vulnerable as buildings and street canyons trap and exacerbate the heat extremes.

As a distinct signature of contemporary global warming, the heat waves become stronger and more frequent in the recent years. The Moscow heat wave in 2010 almost doubled the mortality rate in the Russian capital against its average level.

Large number of excessive deaths was reported for the European heat waves in 2003, 2018, 2019. Summer 2020 arrives with unprecedented new temperature records.  

See also the story on why some processes are more effective in heating the Earth than others. Popular story based on publication in Nature Communications (2016) by Richard Davy and Igor Ezau.

12 degrees above former May record

This week, Siberia is an arena of record-breaking temperatures. Even north of the polar circle, temperatures are souring to +25°C over snow-covered tundra – the whole 12°C higher than the previous record for May in Norilsk and Igarka.

Unseasonably early fires are observed. At the same time, Southern Siberian regions see the temperatures above +35°C. This heat wave continues the warm temperature anomaly that is established in the area since January 2020.

This unprecedented early heat wave hits several large cities where population is locked down by strong Russian quarantine measures. It is difficult to sit in isolation in small overheated apartments even without any movement restrictions.

If fires become massive as in 2019, choking smoke will add to the health risks. In the current situation, such a drastic deterioration of living conditions may seriously exacerbate the death toll in the area.