Experts are blaming the ‘Azores High’ subtropical pressure system and climate change in general for the sweltering temperatures and ferocious wildfires raging across the continent
Europe has been left sweltering as a fierce heatwave fuelled ferocious wildfires and stretched emergency services.
Britain for the first time in history recorded a temperature over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
After the UK’s warmest night on record, the Met Office said 40.2C had been provisionally recorded by lunchtime at Heathrow Airport, in west London, taking the country into uncharted territory.
Britain’s previous all-time temperature record of 38.7C, set in Cambridge in eastern England in 2019, had already been smashed earlier Tuesday.
“For the first time ever, 40 Celsius has provisionally been exceeded in the UK,” the Met Office meteorological agency said, warning “temperatures are still climbing in many places”.
The heatwave — the second to engulf parts of Europe in recent weeks — has contributed to deadly wildfires in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain, destroying vast tracts of land.
In France, record high temperatures were registered in 64 different areas around France on Monday as a heatwave peaked in the country, the national weather service confirmed on Tuesday.
Most of the highs were recorded along the western Atlantic coast where temperatures have soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and several forest fires are raging.
The all-time high temperature in mainland France dates to 2019 when the southern village of Verargues, north-east of Montpellier, clocked 46 degrees Celsius .
But why are heatwaves happening? And is climate change to blame? Let’s take a closer look
What is a heatwave?
Experts define heatwave as an extended period of hot weather where temperatures are above the historical average in an area for two or more days, as per Today Online.
It is a weather phenomenon that occurs when high pressure in the atmosphere moves in and pushes warm air downwards. That air warms up further as it is compressed and people begin to feel a lot hotter, as per the report.
How dangerous is heat exhaustion? Who is vulnerable?
Heat exhaustion, which can include dizziness, headaches, shaking and thirst is not usually serious, providing the person cools down within 30 minutes.
The more serious version is heatstroke, when the body’s core temperature goes above 40.6 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit). It is a medical emergency and can lead to long-term organ damage and death. Symptoms include rapid breathing, confusion or seizures, and nausea.
Some people are more vulnerable, including young babies and older people, as well as people who have to stay active or are more exposed, such as homeless people.
What’s causing this heat wave?
Partly to blame for the abnormally high temperatures in Europe this year is a high pressure system called the Azores High, which usually sits off the coast of Spain, as per Today Online.
However, it has grown larger and pushed farther north this summer, bringing higher temperatures to France, the Iberian peninsula that includes Spain and Portugal, and the UK.
A low-pressure zone heen steadily drawing air from North Africa toward it and into Europe. “It’s pumping hot air northward,” said Kai Kornhuber, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, told The New York Times.
What’s causing heatwaves in general?
As per The New York Times, temperatures are on average about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) higher than they were in the late 19th Century, before emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases became widespread.
So extreme heat takes off from a higher starting point.
“The chances of seeing 40C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” Nikos Christidis, a climate attribution scientist at the UK Met Office, told Politico.
Mariam Zachariah, climate scientist at Imperial College London, told Politico climate change drives heat waves – by trapping more heat in the global system and by changing weather patterns.
And it’s only going to get worse, experts warn.
Experts told The New York Times that such heat waves in Europe are increasing in frequency and intensity at a faster rate than almost any other part of the planet including the Western United States.
Red alert in UK
The high temperatures have triggered an unprecedented red alert for extreme heat in much of England, where some rail lines were closed as a precaution and schools shuttered in some areas.
All trains were cancelled from London’s usually busy Kings Cross station, leaving many travellers stranded.
“It’s a little frustrating,” said American tourist Deborah Byrne, trying to reach Scotland.
But with road surfaces and runways melting and rails buckling, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps conceded much of Britain’s infrastructure “is just not built for this temperature”.
Tim Wainwright, chief executive of the charity WaterAid, said the situation should be “the wake-up call the world needs to stop climate change from claiming any more lives”.
In France, towns and cities in the country’s west registered their highest-ever temperatures Monday, the national weather office said.
The western region of Brittany — normally cool and often wet in summer — set new record highs Monday above 40C.
Despite cooler air from the Atlantic offering some respite there Tuesday, dozens of departments remained on orange alert, with temperatures still expected to top 40C in the east and south and violent thunderstorms forecast locally.
Firefighters in France’s southwest were still struggling to contain two massive fires that have caused widespread destruction and forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.
Nearly 1,700 firefighters from all over the country, supported by significant air resources, are battling the two blazes that have so far burned more than 19,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of forest.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Patrick Davet, mayor of La Teste-de-Buch, the site of one inferno which has prompted mass evacuations.
“Economically, it’s going to be very difficult for them and very difficult for the town because we are a tourist town, and we need the (tourist) season.”
In Brittany’s Finistere region, hundreds of firefighters, specialised vehicles and waterbombing aircraft were tackling blazes
In Spain — nearly 10 days into the latest heatwave — more than a dozen fires continued to rage Tuesday, including in the northwest province of Zamora, which already experienced a huge fire last month.
Known as one of the largest wolf reserves in Europe, it saw nearly 30,000 hectares of land reduced to ashes during the June blaze.
Nearly 6,000 people had to be evacuated from there this week after flames destroyed several thousand hectares of meadows and forests, regional authorities said.
Rail traffic between Madrid and Galicia, in the northwest, remained suspended after fires on either side of the tracks.
Several people have died in recent days due to the blazes while separately, an office worker in his 50s died from heatstroke in Madrid.
In Portugal, more than 1,400 firefighters were fighting fires in the centre and north of the country, despite a clear drop in temperatures in recent days.
A couple in their 70s died Monday after they ran off the road while trying to escape the flames in their car.
Almost the entire country has been on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, which last Thursday hit 47C — a record for July.
The fires have already killed two other people, injured around 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land there.
Elsewhere, temperatures could locally exceed 40C in Belgium near the French border, prompting the Royal Meteorological Institute to issue its highest alert level.
Big state-run museums, primarily in Brussels, took the unusual step of offering free access Tuesday to over-65s to help them stay cool.
In Germany, temperatures were expected to reach up to 40C in the west.
On Monday, two firefighters were injured while beating back a forest fire in a mountainous area in Saxony state.
The hot summer so far has raised fears of drought, with the German Farmers’ Association president warning of “major losses” in food production.
Henning Christ, who grows wheat and other crops in Brandenburg state, told AFP his farm was 20 percent below its average annual yield.
“We’ve had almost no rain for months, coupled with high temperatures,” he said.
“We have become used to drought and dry periods to some extent, but this year has been very unusual.”
With inputs from agencies
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