The fact checks of the (hard to find) claim that the heat wave of 1976 was hotter than 2022

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Belgium had some hot days between July 17 and July 20. As expected, the media was full of it. I noticed that around the same time some news media companies made a comparison with the summer of 1976, putting forward that it was hotter now than in the summer of 1976 and, although the number of hot days were much lower, that this doesn’t mean that its severity is being exaggerated by them.

The Flemish public broadcasting company (VRT) did a similar thing and made it into a fact check format. Here is the title of the fact check (translated from Dutch):

CHECK – No, the hot summer of 1976 was not hotter and doesn’t show that climate change doesn’t exist

I naively expected that the fact checker actually found some examples of claims that the summer of 1976 was hotter than 2022 and that this observation somehow would call climate change into question. The fact checks linked to four examples that seemingly illustrate such claims, but following those links that isn’t the case…

The first link goes to a tweet reacting to an interview with a climatologist. In that interview, the climatologist made the claim that the intensity of heat waves will increase if we keep burning coal, oil and gas. This is the reacting tweet (translated from Dutch):

Which heat waves? The summer of 1976, that was a heatwave… 🙄…

What I miss in this tweet is the statement (or even the suggestion) that the summer of 1976 was hotter and that this calls climate change into question. This is in any way, shape or form an example of the claims the fact checker is debunking.

The tweet links to a FAQ on the website of a Belgian meteorologist, listing the longest stretches of days with a maximum temperature of at least 30 °C (called “tropical days”):

  • 15 consecutive tropical days
    • June 24 → July 8, 1976
  • 8 consecutive tropical days
    • August 6 → 13, 2020
  • 7 consecutive tropical days
    • August 8 → 14, 1911
  • 6 consecutive tropical days
    • July 7 → 12, 1941
    • August 3 → 8, 1975
  • 4 consecutive tropical days
    • July 27 → 30, 1911
    • July 10 → 13, 1923
    • May 31 → June 3, 1947
    • August 15 → 18, 1947
    • July 27 → 30, 1948
    • June 29 → July 2, 1952
    • July 3 → 6, 1957
    • August 1 → 4, 1990
    • July 16 → 19, 2006
    • July 8 → 11, 2010
    • July 19 → 22, 2017
    • July 24 → 27, 2018
    • July 23 → 26, 2019

The year 1976 is on top with by far the most consecutive tropical days. As far as I can see, this tweet and the linked FAQ are factually correct. It also (rightfully) calls into question that the four days of higher temperatures in July is a heat wave.

In Belgium, the definition of a heat wave is a period of five consecutive days with a maximum temperature of at least 25 °C, from which at least three days with a maximum temperature of 30 °C. Which was not the case last week (there were four consecutive days with maximum temperature above 25 °C from which 2 with a maximum temperature above 30 °C).

This in contrast to 1976 that had 17 consecutive days with maximum temperatures higher than 25 °C from which 15 (consecutive) days above 30 °C. The heat wave of 1976 therefor was 13 days longer and had 13 more tropical days than the four hot days of this year. The fact checker acknowledged this and therefor called it a “heat peak” rather than a “heat wave”.

The second link goes to a TikTok video about the heat wave of 1976 in the UK. It seems to be an old fragment from the 1970s, so it obviously can’t make a comparison with 2022, nor call climate change into question because of it. I am not sure why the fact checker specifically links to this video; it seems he wanted to show that it was not just a nice summer as was suggested in the next link.

The third link goes to a tweet from someone from the Netherlands calling 1976 a beautiful summer (translated from Dutch):

There was a heat wave in both 1975 and 1976. Then they called it a beautiful summer. There was no extreme weather. These temperatures can be reached in July. In the Netherlands too. Usually it is not that warm, but these are the temperatures that makes one enter a pub.

Notice that also in this example there is no mention of temperature being higher in 1976, also no mention that the much lower number of hot days in 2022 somehow refutes climate change.

The fourth links goes to a tweet from someone also from the Netherlands criticizing the NOS (Dutch Broadcasting Foundation from the Netherlands) (translated from Dutch):

Yes, as soon as the first rays of the sun appear, the propaganda machine of the NOS starts spinning. Almost all-weather forecasts are immediately linked to climate change by the NOS. In recent weeks it has been considerably colder than average

I could agree with that, the NOS (as is the VRT) is notorious for being alarmist in its reporting of climate change. But again, there is no claim that the temperatures were higher back then and also absent is the claim that this somehow would show that climate change doesn’t exist.

Basically, these linked pages have in common that none of them contain an example of the two claims that are being fact checked

But then, if the links don’t show examples of those claims … who exactly made the two claims that the fact checker found so necessary to debunk?!?!

After reading the fact check a couple times over, I looked a bit closer to the image that was between the second example and the explanation of the heat wave definition. It was a screenshot with a huge “neen” (“no”) on it:

The other text was rather small (less than half of the body text), it was not linked to its source and there was no mention of it in the fact check itself. Therefor I initially assumed that it was some graphic to prettify the article and ignored it. Enlarging it a bit showed that it was actually a tweet with following text (translated from Dutch):

Not too bad anyway, 1976 was warmer and longer ...

Aha! That was apparently the message that the fact checker was debunking… At least part of it. Two claims were made in this tweet: first that 1976 was warmer (which indeed is not true) and second that the heat wave of 1976 was longer than the heat peak (which is true). This surely is an example of someone making the claim that the summer of 1976 was hotter, but where is the claim that this somehow would mean that climate change isn’t real?

Now this got me really curious … why did the fact checker only provide a tiny screenshot of the sole example that (only partly) justified his fact check … and why on Earth didn’t he link to the source?!?!?

That became pretty obvious when I found the original tweet on Twitter. The image showed that the tweet came from an account called “dopsleutel14” (socketwrench14). The tweet itself was quickly found. It was a reaction to a tweet posted by Buienradar (a Dutch weather information site) showing a red colored map of the Netherlands during the heat peak. Dopsleutel14 posted his tweet with a picture of the same map, but in more subdued colors and with a picture of an (alarmist) Dutch meteorologist having, ahem, a pretty airy bottom half (strategically covered by the Zeeland peninsula).

Is this claim so widespread that it justifies a fact check? Well, today -two full weeks after the tweet was posted- the tweet accumulated a whopping …

… wait for it …

… 1 like and 1 reply (both from the same account) and 0 retweets

Now I could better understand why the fact checker didn’t link to that tweet and just provided a tiny screenshot as an example of the claim he was debunking. Doing so would discourage most people from going to the source and find out that the fact check is actually based on a claim made in (only part of) an obscure tweet with virtually no engagements.

If that is the best example he could find, then the claim that the heat wave of 1976 was hotter than the heat peak of 2022 must be pretty rare.

Post Scriptum

There is still that second claim. The fact checker didn’t even give one single example of someone making such a claim, so it might be even more rare.

But then, if he didn’t find an example of the second claim, how did he justify that in his fact check? To do that, he first stated that “several” people don’t think it is the temperature or the duration of the heatwave that matters, but the tone of the media reporting on the 2022 heat peak, considering it exaggerated and saying that people didn’t make a fuss out of it back in 1976. That is where the last two examples came in.

These two examples obviously didn’t contain the claim that the 2022 heat peak shows that climate change isn’t real, but the fact checker builds on those examples and theorizes that they fit in a broader context in which “several” people consider the current reporting “climate hysteria”. Now it is only a small step to arrive at the claim being fact checked (I can imagine that people who consider current reporting “climate hysteria” could potentially make such a claim).

Basically, he didn’t need someone actually making that claim, he just theorized one on his own.

via Trust, yet verify

August 2, 2022

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