Blog 5 – Extreme events

How can this not be the topic for this blog. In Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France previous heat records have been completely obliterated by the last heat wave. And although it was not as hot here in Norway, we had a heat wave too. The past five days it was around 30 degrees. After some thunderstorms yesterday, it has cooled a litte. From tomorrow onwards the temperatures will finally reach nice cycling temperatures again. These heat waves are part of extreme events which are expected to occur more frequently with the ongoing climate change. It goes hand in hand with some drastic consequences, some of which I have come across during my trip. And I will tell more about it. First the daily updates!

Sea I went swimming in to cool down

Last bit in Sweden to Gjernes

Day 27 – 70 km to Fredrikstad – I crossed the amazing border between Sweden and Norway. Met a German cyclist on the road and had a very long ice cream break to stay out of the sun. We rode together for a bit and while he headed for the faster route to Oslo, I continued the “1” in the blazing sun. I had no clear plan for the day. After cycling for miles through villages, I ended up at a campsite. There I met another cyclist and she gave me some very useful information on which ferries were not going anymore, or only on weekdays.

Day 28 – 66 km to Horten – I started at the bikeshop, where they managed to fix my handlebar. It had gotten somewhat loose. All I remember further is that it was hot, but managable. The views were nice, but still quite similar to Sweden. The breeze on the deck of the ferry between Moss and Horten was very refreshing.

Day 29 – 65 km to Granholmen – This day was awful. There were some more climbs involved, but mostly it was just blazing hot. Again, it reminded me of Germany: plant trees along a cycling path for some shade! I wanted a shower and went to a campsite shown on my map. Instead, I found newly built houses. I was exhausted, had to cycle another 10 km in the sun, but ended up at amazing campsite, were I went for a swim before anything else.

Day 30 – 0 km – Another real rest day. The plan was to update my expenses properly, and write. The last part I did,s well as some shopping and washing clothes. Besides a very nice evening with my Polish neighbours, I mainly did nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was just too warm.

Day 31 – 53 km to Langesund – I started early, to avoid the heat. By the afternoon I managed to cover quite a distance, but my knee was giving some problems. So instead of cycling around the fjord to Langesund, I decided to take the ferry from Helgeroa. It was a long wait, but with a lovely elderly couple to talk with. There were also refreshments. Ice cream and (finally!) two showers with some thunder and lightning. The ferry ride was absolutely amazing! The campsite I was aiming for, again, no longer existed. Instead I went to a forest. This time free camping gave me other interesting experiences. Waking up at 1 because of deer barking…

Day 32 – 61 km to Gjernes – Still a very warm day. And my leg isn’t feeling right, so I decided to walk up the steeper, yet still cyclable, hills. In the morning spent a lot of time photographing butterflies. Spent some time in a harbour writing. After yet another ferry ride ended up at a lovely family-farm campsite and couldn’t resist jumping into the lake before anything else (again).

Border between Norway and Sweden

Overall, I am liking Norway more and more. The border crossing was very promising, but the villages and agricultural fields that followed less so. Slowly the landscape is changing. Forested hills, some wheat fields in the valleys and harbour villages looking over the fjords alternate the landscape I’m cycling through. In contrast to Sweden, there are many cycling paths. The people here are very friendly and curious about the journey. Many stop to have a chat. A drawback is that this country is extremely expensive. My groceries are more than double from what I paid in Germany.

What I’ve covered so far

Extreme events

Extreme weather or climate events can be technically defined as the occurrence of a value or weather variable above (or below) a threshold value near the upper (or lower) end of the range of its observed values in a specific region. Besides heat waves, they can occur as cold spells. Extremely heavy local rainfall might fall under this term too. With ongoing climate change, heat waves are expected to become more normal. The simplest reason for this is the increase in temperature.

The average temperature always has large variation around it. Extreme event, such as heat waves, occur in the outer margins. When the average temperature moves up, and our definition of a heat wave stays the same (i.e. the threshold value), this results in a larger chance of higher temperatures. Heat waves are likely to occur more often, but also the chance of a way more intense heat wave increases. Which is basically what happened last week. I copied a picture from the internet, which nicely shows what I just said.

Many people will say that the last heat wave and the previous one this summer are caused by climate change. But saying that is not absolutely true. They might be a consequence of climate change, yes. But it is difficult to separate weather from climate. In a simple way, you could argue that a single heat wave is not caused by climate change. Heat waves occurring more often than in the past, ís a consequence of climate change. One new temperature record may not be the result of climate change, but beating the record day after day most likely is.

Drought and fire

Whether a heat wave is the result of climate change or not, they have many negative consequences. When temperature rises, evaporation of water increases. If there is no new water supply in terms of rain, this will create drought. Although the warm temperatures may be great for vinyards, the resulting drought can be catastrophic for other agriculture, and thus our food supplies. And not only agriculture. Nature in general suffers when there is a drought. Populations or species that are already fragile state may even go extinct due to drought spells.

More hazardous than drought, but due to it, are fires. It has been all over the news that large parts of the arctic is on fire. Ironically, emitting even more carbondioxide and thus enhancing climate change and the chance of more fires. These firese do not only occur in the arctic. Forest fires, heath fires, fires in the dunes, they all have some things in common. Especially heather and vegetation in the dunes is tough and quite dry by itself. Needles on the forest floor too. They may combust quite easily. Once it has started, it depends on the presence of the species what the intensity and the duration of the fire will be. I should read up on more fire ecology papers, but I assume that drought may impact all three traits of a fire.

Blackened trees from a fire

Thunderstorms and heavy rainfall

Another interesting consequence of increasing temperature is the fact that other extreme events may occur more often too: heavy thunderstorms. For thunderstorms there are a few basic ingredients: warmth, convection, moisture and (for thunderstorms with tornadoes) shear. Basically, with more chance of warm weather, your immediately increase the chance for (heavy) thunderstorms. In absence of wind, these storms may occur very local and cause flash floods. When there is much more wind, and with shear (wind higher up at a different angle than lower in the air), the rising clouds may start spinning, forming a tornado. Of course, tornadoes can be very harmful, by the inner stormchaser in me can’t help enjoying amazing thunderstorms.

It’s finally raining!

There is still a catch in this story. It is very difficult to predict these storms. Not only as weather, but also how much more often they will occur due to climate change. As said in the “drought and fire” part in this blog, high temperature will also induce drought. This reduces moisture in the air, decrasing the opportunity to form clouds. And then these storms are less likely to occur.

Thunder clouds over the ferry

How can we cope?

I would love to write paragraph on how nature can cope wih heat, and how you can separate consequences of heat from consequences of drought. Actually, I was in the north of Sweden 8 years ago to perform an experiment on how springtails respond to rainfall and heat as extreme events. So, I could say a lot about this. But it might end up as a way too long blog. I will therefore just stick to how I coped with the warmth here, and how we should adaot in general.

Perfect lake to cool down in

The sun is at its most powerful roughly between 1 and 3. Temperatures are usually highest between 4 and 6. I tried to avoid both as much as possible, by cycling the largest distance in the morning. I would then take a long break for lunch in the shade. In the afternoon I would cycle from one spot in the shade to the next, stopping to cool down and drink. Not always a wise decision. On some of the last days I should have stopped cycling entirely. On my rest day, I made sure my tent had maximum shade, and I stayed mainly out of the sun. This is basically all I did to cope with the warmth. But has the essentials in it to cope with any heat.

Breaks in the shade are not always pretty

The essentials to cope with heat are: stay out of the sun, keep yourself cool, drink a lot, and eat a bit more salt than usual. Most people do this in the heat anyway. But with heat waves occurring more often, and drought spells also being more likely, there are some other rules everyone should stick to. Limit you water usage is the main one. Only take a short shower, or simply wash yourself. If you had the opportunity like I had, jumping into a lake is even better I think. Don’t wash your car, don’t use a sprinkler to water your lawn (or if you do, only at night).

What I do find interesting is that many people now buy airconditioners to cool down. In a same way as the fires in the arctic, this is ironic. By using airco, you inavoidably use more energy, and contribute to climate change. I do get it. It is extremely nice to have a cool spot. But I myself will not buy an airco. I’ll try to keep my house as cool as possible, or simply lay in the shade of a tree.

Onwards

In an attempt to conclude this blog, I would say the most important thing to do, is not to adapt or cope with heat waves. It is to make sure that we halt climate change, so that these extreme events don’t become the norm.

And as my last heat wave day coincides with Earth Overshoot Day, this may give an idea for the next blog, Because clinate change is not the only problem we’ve created. While my blog topic may change, the plans for my route don’t. I will cycle again tomorrow. Riding onwards into new landscapes. Till next blog!

Another way to cool down

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