13th July 2024

The “harmful humid warmth” that engulfed western Africa in mid-February was made 10 instances extra seemingly by human-caused local weather change, a brand new fast attribution research finds. 

All through February, western Africa was hit by unusually intense warmth. Temperatures exceeded 40C in some areas, prompting the Ghanaian and Nigerian meteorological providers to situation warmth warnings.

The World Climate Attribution (WWA) service have analysed the area’s “warmth index” – a measure that comes with each temperature and humidity, to mirror the physiological impacts of the intense circumstances.

Whereas the common air temperatures in west Africa reached 36C over 11-15 February, the warmth index for a similar interval was about 50C, in line with the research.

The research authors discover that local weather change made the heatwave 10 instances extra seemingly and 4C hotter. They warn that if world warming reaches 2C above pre-industrial temperatures, “related occasions will happen about as soon as each two years and can turn out to be an extra 1.2-3.4C hotter”.

There was “very restricted” knowledge out there on the impacts of this heatwave throughout west Africa, the research notes. Nevertheless, the authors instructed a press briefing that warmth is a “silent killer” and that lack of reported impacts doesn’t imply the heatwave was not harmful.

The report says that “to cut back heat-related morbidity and mortality in southern west Africa, there’s an pressing want for improved monitoring and analysis on the impacts and dangers related to heatwaves”.

Early heatwave

Nations throughout west Africa have been sweltering below unseasonably sizzling temperatures for weeks.

Wasiu Adeniyi Ibrahim is a meteorologist from the Nigerian Meteorological Company and a co-author on the research. He instructed a press briefing that in west Africa, probably the most extreme sizzling and humid climate of the yr is normally recorded throughout March and April.

Nevertheless, by February this yr, the area was already reporting record-breaking temperatures. This intense warmth was pushed by an “anomalous high-pressure system over the Sahara area” which “carried sizzling air in the direction of the coast”, Ibrahim defined.

On 7 February, the Ghanaian capital metropolis of Accra recorded its hottest day in historical past when temperatures reached 38C. 

The finals of the Africa Cup of Nations soccer event had been performed in Ivory Coast on 11 February. This yr, for the primary time, the Confederation of African Soccer included two-minute cooling breaks on the 30th and 75th minutes, with provisions for extra breaks below excessive warmth.

Extreme Temperatures Around The World on X: CLIMATIC HISTORY REWRITTEN

The Nigerian Meteorological Company issued a warning on 13 February after air temperatures hit 41C within the north of the nation, stating that the warmth might trigger circumstances together with fainting, warmth rash, “weak spot of the physique” and respiratory points. The company suggested individuals to remain hydrated, search shade and keep indoors as a lot as potential between noon and 4pm.

“Consultants warn that the intense temperatures, amid the epileptic energy provide, might set off ailments, threaten livestock, and result in dying,” the Nigerian newspaper Punch mentioned, reporting on the warmth warning. 

The WWA provides that, throughout Nigeria, “docs reported a rise in sufferers presenting for heat-related sickness” and “individuals complained of poor sleep resulting from sizzling nights”. 

The Ghanaian Meteorological Company launched an “pressing public service announcement” on 20 February, advising precautionary measures similar to staying hydrated and avoiding direct solar publicity.

Because the month progressed, a whole lot of regional and nationwide temperature information throughout the area had been damaged, together with hottest February nights in Ghana, Benin and Togo.

‘Harmful humid warmth’

Excessive warmth is especially harmful when mixed with excessive humidity. When it’s sizzling, the human physique produces sweat to chill itself down. Nevertheless, as humidity will increase, sweating turns into much less efficient.

To evaluate the severity of the recent and humid circumstances, the research authors analysed the “warmth index”. This measure “combines temperature and humidity to mirror the way it feels to the human physique”, Dr Izidine Pinto – a researcher on the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and co-author on the research – defined to a press briefing.

The research says:

“Whereas the common air temperature in west Africa was above 36C, the warmth index for a similar interval was about 50C, reflecting how a mixture of humidity and excessive temperatures induced harmful circumstances.”

The authors concentrate on a area of southern west Africa the place the warmth was probably the most excessive, together with Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and small elements of Guinea and Cameroon.

The maps beneath present the five-day warmth index over this area averaged over 11-15 February (left), the place purple signifies hotter temperatures, and the distinction in comparison with the 1991-2020 common (proper), the place crimson signifies hotter temperatures. The blue bins in each maps point out the research area.

Five-day average heat index over 11-15 February (left), and the difference compared to the 1991-2020 average (right), using ERA5 reanalysis data.
5-day common warmth index over 11-15 February (left), and the distinction in comparison with the 1991-2020 common (proper), utilizing ERA5 reanalysis knowledge. The blue field exhibits the research area. Supply: WWA (2024)

Pinto instructed the press briefing that as there was no meteorological station knowledge out there for most of the nations within the research area, the researchers needed to “look ahead to the gridded datasets to be up to date and validated for the area” earlier than conducting their evaluation. This delayed the discharge of the research findings, he mentioned.

To place the heatwave into its historic context and decide how unlikely it was, the authors analyse a timeseries of annual most five-day warmth index over the research area, proven beneath. Increased bars with darker colors point out the next warmth index.

Annual maximum five-day heat index over southern West Africa.
Annual most five-day warmth index over southern West Africa. Supply: WWA (2024)

The authors discover that in at the moment’s local weather, this heatwave was a one-in-10 yr occasion.


Attribution is a fast-growing subject of local weather science that goals to determine the “fingerprint” of local weather change on extreme-weather occasions, similar to heatwaves and droughts. To conduct attribution research, scientists use fashions to check the world as it’s at the moment to a “counterfactual” world with out human-caused local weather change.

They will additionally use these fashions to evaluate how far more intense or frequent the occasion can be in a good hotter world.

On this research, the authors examine the influence of local weather change on the utmost five-day warmth index in southern west Africa.

They discover that world warming made the west African heatwave 4C hotter. They add that if world warming reaches 2C above pre-industrial temperatures, related occasions might turn out to be an extra 1.3-3.4C hotter. 

The authors additionally calculate that local weather change made the heatwave 10 instances extra prone to happen, including that related occasions might happen each different yr in a 2C world. 

The graphic beneath illustrates these outcomes. a pink dot signifies the variety of years in each 100 that an occasion just like the February heatwave over southern West Africa can be seen at totally different warming ranges.

The sq. on the left exhibits a world with out local weather change, through which such a heatwave would occur lower than as soon as each 100 years. The center sq. exhibits that in at the moment’s local weather, the heatwave is a one-in-10 yr occasion. And the sq. on the precise exhibits that in a 2C world, a heatwave of this severity might be anticipated each different yr.

Expected frequency of the February 2024 west African drought at different warming levels.
Anticipated frequency of the February 2024 west African drought at totally different warming ranges. Supply: WWA (2024).

(These findings are but to be printed in a peer-reviewed journal. Nevertheless, the strategies used within the evaluation have been printed in earlier attribution research.)


West Africa was not the one area to expertise record-breaking warmth in February 2024. 

February 2024 was the world’s hottest February on file, and nations throughout southern Africa – together with Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – noticed temperatures of 4-5C above the February common. 

Africa’s record-breaking warmth continued into March. 


In Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest metropolis, many residents confronted a number of weeks with out water. “Authorities in Johannesburg, South Africa’s business hub, have blamed the continuing heatwave for the dearth of water in some elements of town for a number of weeks,” Every day Information reported on 13 March. 

On 18 March, the well being and training ministries of South Sudan closed its faculties, after climate providers projected an excessive two-week heatwave with temperatures of as much as 45C. Mother and father had been suggested to maintain all youngsters indoors, and ministries warned that any faculty discovered open through the warning interval would have its registration withdrawn.

BBC Information added:

“Muslims, who make up round 6.2% of the nation’s inhabitants, have been hit particularly exhausting as many are observing Ramadan – a month of fasting. They’re subsequently not permitted to drink water or every other liquids to remain hydrated through the day.”

Over March 18-19, no less than 5 nations in Africa, together with South Africa and South Sudan, reported record-breaking temperatures.

Nevertheless, the WWA research says that whereas the heatwave “doubtlessly affected hundreds of thousands”, there’s “very restricted” knowledge out there about its impacts. As such, it says that only a few heat-related impacts had been reported by the media and authorities organisations.

“This, after all, doesn’t imply there are not any impacts,” mentioned Maja Vahlberg from the Purple Cross Purple Crescent Local weather Centre, who’s a co-author on the research.

In reality, Vahlberg instructed a press briefing that early-season heatwaves are usually “extra impactful than heatwaves within the sizzling season” as a result of “the human physique has to very quickly alter to excessive temperatures”.

Heatwaves are a “silent killer”, Pinto instructed the press briefing, warning that “you solely see the impacts later”.

The shortage of reporting on the impacts of the heatwave “displays the necessity to enhance consciousness of harmful warmth and detection of warmth impacts”, the research says.

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