Extreme heat sets records, brings health warnings in Europe, US

Red alerts are issued for parts of Europe as the UN weather agency says heatwave in northern hemisphere is set to intensify.

A boy pours water over his head to cool off at the fountain in Piazza del Popolo in Rome, Italy [Tiziana Fabi/AFP]

Large swathes of southern and eastern Europe have been placed on a heatwave red alert and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned of an increased risk of deaths as extreme weather grips the continent, Asia and the United States.

The Italian island of Sardinia could see highs of more than 47 Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, and forecasters said temperatures could hit 40C (104F) in several Italian cities, including 42C-43C (107F-109F) in the Lazio region that includes Rome.

With baking temperatures hitting Europe during the peak summer tourist season, the heatwave in the northern hemisphere is set to intensify, said WMO, the weather agency of the United Nations.

An estimated 61,000 people may have died in heatwaves last year in Europe alone.

The European Union’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre issued red alerts for high temperatures for most of Italy, northeastern Spain, Croatia, Serbia, southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

In Italy, civil protection workers monitored crowds for people in distress from the heat in central Rome, while Red Cross teams in Portugal took to social media to warn people not to leave pets or children in parked cars. In Greece, volunteers handed out drinking water, and in Spain they reminded people to protect themselves from breathing in smoke from fires.

Some countries are taking additional steps to protect the public’s health during the sweltering summer of 2023.

Authorities in Greece last week introduced changes in working hours and ordered afternoon closures of the Acropolis and other ancient sites to allow workers to cope with the high heat.

‘Prolonged’ heatwaves

Heat records are being shattered all over the world, and scientists say there is a good chance that 2023 will go down as the hottest year on record, with measurements going back to the middle of the 19th century.

Heatwaves this summer – which saw temperatures climb to 53C (127F) in Death Valley in California in the US and over 52C (125F) in China’s northwest – have coincided with wildfires from Greece to the Swiss Alps and deadly flooding in India and South Korea.

They have added fresh urgency to talks this week between the US and China, the world’s top greenhouse gas polluters.

US climate envoy John Kerry met Chinese officials in Beijing and expressed hope that climate cooperation could redefine troubled ties between the two powers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed Beijing’s commitment to carbon neutrality and said a carbon peak was certain but that it would not be influenced by others.

“Temperatures in North America, Asia, and across North Africa and the Mediterranean will be above 40C (104F) for a prolonged number of days this week as the heatwave intensifies,” the WMO warned.

Overnight minimum temperatures were also expected to reach new highs, the WMO said, creating the risk of increased cases of heart attacks and deaths.

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from Nevada in the US, said that while high temperatures are typical in the desert, what’s unusual is that it has been “so prolonged”.

“It’s been going on for such a long time here and throughout the southwestern United States,” Saloomey said.

“We’ve seen many cities break daily records and records for extended periods of time in Pheonix, Arizona,” she added.

“The National Weather Service is telling people here: ‘You may think you’re used to living in the desert, but this is not typical desert weather.’”

High temperatures ‘commonplace’

Scientists have long warned that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions mainly from burning fossil fuels, will make heatwaves more frequent, severe and deadly. They say governments need to take drastic action to reduce emissions.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service says 2022 and 2021 were the continent’s hottest summers on record. Europe’s highest recorded temperature of 48.8C (119.8F) was registered in Sicily two years ago.

Interactive_Heat stroke_preventions

In Italy, the health ministry issued red weather alerts for 20 of the country’s 27 main cities on Tuesday, with the number expected to rise to 23 on Wednesday.

Areas of the northeastern Spanish regions of Catalonia and Aragon, and the Mediterranean island of Mallorca were on alert for temperatures over 40C (104F) on Tuesday. The Catalonian Weather Service said the mercury reached 45C (113F) at the Boadella Reservoir near the village of Darnius, the highest temperature ever recorded in the region.

Monday night’s temperature did not fall below 25C (77F) in many parts of the Mediterranean coast and the interior of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain’s weather agency AEMET said.

In Greece, authorities told citizens close to a forest fire in Dervenochoria, north of Athens, to shut doors and windows as smoke approached.

And in parts of Asia, record temperatures have triggered torrential rain.

Nearly 260,000 people were evacuated in southern China and Vietnam before a typhoon made landfall late Monday, bringing fierce winds and rain, but weakening to a tropical storm by Tuesday.

China reported a new mid-July high of 52.2C (126F) in the northwestern Xinjiang region’s village of Sanbao, breaking the previous high of 50.6C (123.1F) set six years ago.

Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said the “severe heatwave” in China’s north will last for another 10 days, according to authorities.

“Temperatures above 40C (104F) used to be rare, and now it’s become commonplace,” Yu said.

Along with agricultural output that has become affected, the wellbeing of animals and livestock has also raised concerns, she added.

In Japan, heatstroke alerts were issued in 32 of 47 prefectures, mainly in the central and southwestern regions, with at least 60 people treated for heatstroke, the media reported.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies