Record heat is forecast around the world from the United States, where tens of millions are battling dangerously high temperatures, to Europe and Japan, in the latest example of the rising threat from global warming.
Italy faces weekend predictions of historic highs with the health ministry issuing a red alert for 16 cities including Rome, Bologna and Florence.
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The meteo centre warned Italians to prepare for “the most intense heatwave of the summer and also one of the most intense of all time”.
The thermometer is likely to hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Rome by Monday and even 43C (109F) on Tuesday, smashing the record 40.5C (104.9F) set in August 2007.
The islands of Sicily and Sardinia could wilt under temperatures as high as 48C (118F), the European Space Agency warned – “potentially the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe”.
Acropolis closed for second day
“Parts of the country could see highs as much as 44C [111F] on Saturday,” according to the national weather service EMY. The central city of Thebes sweated under 44.2C (111.6F) on Friday.
The Acropolis, Athens’s top tourist attraction, closed for a second day straight Saturday during the hottest hours with 41C (106F) expected, as did several parks in the capital.
Regions of France, Germany, Spain and Poland are also baking in searing temperatures.
Parts of eastern Japan are also expected to reach 38 to 39C (100 to 102F) on Sunday and Monday, with the meteorological agency warning temperatures could hit previous records.
Meanwhile, the northern city of Akita saw more rain in half a day than is typical for the whole month of July, Japan’s national broadcaster NHK reported. The downpours also triggered at least one landslide, forcing 9,000 people to evacuate their homes.
Torrential rains described by the meteorological agency as the “heaviest rain ever experienced” have also hit southern Japan in recent weeks, leaving at least 11 people dead.
Relentless monsoon rains have reportedly killed at least 90 people in northern India, after burning heat.
The Yamuna River running through the capital New Delhi has reached a record high of 208.66 metres (685 feet), more than a metre over the flood top set in 1978, threatening low-lying neighbourhoods in the megacity of more than 20 million people.
Major flooding and landslides are common during India’s monsoons, but experts have said climate change is increasing their frequency and severity.
Americans are watching as a powerful heatwave stretches from California to Texas, with its peak expected this weekend.
In Arizona, one of the hardest-hit states, residents face a daily endurance marathon against the sun.
State capital Phoenix was to record its 15th straight day above 43C (109F) on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Hannah Safford, White House climate policy adviser, told Al Jazeera that low-income communities were hardest hit by heatwaves.
“People have been experiencing record-breaking heat for weeks now. It’s not just a geographic region where we’re seeing communities being disproportionately affected,” Safford said.
“We know that the lowest income, the most vulnerable Americans who have historically borne the brunt of climate change are also bearing the impacts of heat. These are people who have to work outside, who don’t necessarily have coolings in their homes, so we’re paying special attention to those communities.”
Authorities have been sounding the alarm, advising people to avoid outdoor activities in the daytime and to be wary of dehydration.
The Las Vegas weather service warned that assuming high temperatures naturally come with the area’s desert climate was “a DANGEROUS mindset! This heatwave is NOT typical desert heat”.
“Now the most intense period is beginning,” it added, as the weekend arrived with record highs threatening on Sunday.
California’s Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth, is also likely to register new peaks Sunday, with the mercury possibly rising to 54C (130F).
Southern California is fighting numerous wildfires, including one in Riverside County that has burned more than 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) and prompted evacuation orders.
Morocco may be used to hot weather, but it was slated for above-average temperatures this weekend with highs of 47C (117F) in some provinces – more typical of August than July – sparking concerns for water shortages, the meteorological service said.
In the Middle East, water-scarce Jordan was forced to dump 214 tonnes of water on a wildfire that broke out in the Ajloun forest in the north amid a heatwave, the army said.
In Iraq, where scorching summers are common, along with power cuts, Wissam Abed told AFP he cools off from Baghdad’s brutal summer by swimming in the Tigris River.
But as Iraqi rivers dry up, so does the age-old pastime.
With temperatures near 50C (122F) and wind whipping through the city like a hair dryer, Abed stood in the middle of the river, but the water only comes up to his waist.
“I live here … like my grandfather did before me. Year after year, the water situation gets worse,” said the 37-year-old.
While it can be difficult to attribute a particular weather event to climate change, scientists insist global warming – linked to dependence on fossil fuels – is behind the multiplication and intensification of heatwaves in the world.
The heatwaves come after the EU’s climate monitoring service said the world saw its hottest June on record last month.
Richard Allan, professor of climate science at the University of Reading told Al Jazeera “weather patterns are more severe than they usually would be, because of the greenhouse gases we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere due to human activity.”
“This extra heat is kind of supercharging these weather extremes … We need to treat the cause, which is the increases in greenhouse gases that are heating our planet up and making heat waves hotter but also making intense rain and flooding more severe.”