Europe Braces for Record Heat as Wildfires Hit Greece

The extreme heat blanketing the Mediterranean is set to peak in parts of Italy on Tuesday, triggering fresh warnings as temperatures approach Europe’s all-time high and wildfires hit Greece.

(Bloomberg) — The extreme heat blanketing the Mediterranean is set to peak in parts of Italy on Tuesday, triggering fresh warnings as temperatures approach Europe’s all-time high and wildfires hit Greece. 

The mercury is forecast to reach 45C (113F) in parts of Sicily, compared with the European record of 48.8C, set in Syracuse on the Italian island in 2021. The region’s highest temperature this year of 45.7C was reported on Monday in Sardinia. Italy’s ministry of health warned of emergency heat wave conditions in 20 major cities, including Rome and Florence. 

“It is possible that this record may be broken in the coming days as the heatwave intensifies,” according to a statement on Monday from the World Meteorological Organization, which verifies extreme temperatures. 

The heat that’s stifling southern Europe is being repeated across the Northern Hemisphere, as global warming triggers extreme weather events from the US to China. That risks becoming the “new normal,” underlining the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the WMO has said.

A fire outside Athens that destroyed homes is still burning on Tuesday, while the smoke from blazes in Canada risks the health of vulnerable people in New York and Washington. 

The blaze in Loutraki — an area west of the Greek capital that’s popular with Athenians who want a second home close to the beach — has flared up again. In response, the European Union will send four firefighting planes from France and Italy to assist Greece.

Other fires in areas southeast of Athens have been quelled by firefighters using jets and helicopters. Residents and children from summer camps were evacuated to the nearest beaches on Monday.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned on Tuesday of the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves, after 400,000 people died over the past decade from extreme climate and weather-related disasters.

“Heatwaves are an invisible killer,” Panu Saaristo, IFRC Emergency Health Unit team leader, said at a briefing in Geneva. “Infants, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions are at particular risk.”

Italy’s civil protection has set up 28 “heat help points” in Rome, including at the Colosseum, where temperatures are expected to reach 42C on Tuesday. About 80 volunteers are offering people water and empty bottles to be filled from the city’s fountains. 

Other Impacts of Heatwave in Italy:

  • In Rome, rock band Muse postponed the beginning of its concert to avoid people queuing in the heat.
  • In Naples, admissions to the emergency room of Caldarelli hospital are up 30%, with mainly older people suffering from dehydration and other heat-related symptoms, according to Corriere della Sera.
  • Union leader Maurizio Landini asks government to amend labor rules and working hours to take account of extreme weather conditions.

The heatwave is also disrupting power and transport systems across the region. In Italy, power consumption is expected reach a peak for this year on Tuesday.

In France, the operations of the country’s nuclear fleet could be curbed as warming rivers mean water can’t be used to cool some reactors without threatening fish and other wildlife. The heatwave alert for seven regions in the southeast of France has been extended into Wednesday by the nation’s meteorological agency. 

A weather station in Darnius recorded 45C on Tuesday, the highest temperature ever recorded in Spain’s Catalonia region, agency Meteocat said on Tuesday. The sea around the Iberian Peninsula is currently about 2C higher than the average, with parts of the Mediterranean reaching 28C, according to Spain’s national weather forecaster.

There’s a very different outlook for northern Europe, where temperatures remain below seasonal averages. The UK and the Nordics will experience cooler weather through the next 10 days, with Stockholm more than 5C below the norm on Thursday, according to forecaster Maxar Technologies Inc. 

–With assistance from Sotiris Nikas, John Ainger, Flavia Rotondi, Alessandro Speciale and Laura Millan.

(Updates with EU sending firefighting assistance to Greece in sixth paragraph, IFRC comment in eighth, impact of heat in Italy after 10th, Spain in last)

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