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WEATHER

Europe swelters under record-breaking heatwave

Forest fires are raging, animals are suffering and humans are sweating as Europe grapples with one of the most intense heatwaves ever recorded.

Beachgoers shelter under the shade of an umbrella in southern France.
Beachgoers shelter under the shade of an umbrella in southern France. (Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP)

France and other western European nations on Saturday sweltered under a blistering June heatwave that has sparked forest fires and concerns that such early summer blasts of hot weather will now become the norm.

The weather on Saturday was the peak of a June heatwave that is in line with scientists’ predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.

The French southwestern town of Biarritz, one of the country’s most sought-after seaside resorts, saw its highest all time temperature Saturday of 41 degrees, state forecaster Meteo France said.

Queues of hundreds of people and traffic jams formed outside aquatic leisure parks in France, with people seeing water as the only refuge from the devastating heat.

With the River Seine off limits to bathing, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city’s fountains.   

Temperatures in France could reach as high as 42C in some areas on Saturday, Meteo France said, adding that June records had already been beaten in 11 areas on Friday.

“This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France” since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France.

With “many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in several regions,” he called the weather a “marker of climate change”.

Forest fires rage

In a major incident in France, a fire triggered by the firing of an artillery shell in military training in the Var region of southern France was burning some 200 hectares (495 acres) of vegetation, local authorities said.

“There is no threat to anyone except 2,500 sheep who are being evacuated and taken to safety,” said local fire brigade chief Olivier Pecot.

The fire came from the Canjeurs military camp, the biggest such training site in Western Europe. Fire services’ work was impeded by the presence of non-exploded munitions in the deserted area but four Canadair plans have been deployed to water bomb the fires.

Farmers in the country are having to adapt.

Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from “daybreak until 11.30am” and in the evening, as temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a sizzling 55 degrees C.

Forest fires in Spain on Saturday had burned nearly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land in the north-west Sierra de la Culebra region.

The flames forced several hundred people from their homes, and 14 villages were evacuated.

Some residents were able to return on Saturday morning, but regional authorities warned the fire “remains active”.

Firefighters were still battling blazes in several other regions, including woodlands in Catalonia.

Temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) were forecast in parts of the country on Saturday — with highs of 43 degrees C expected in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza.

There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures topped 40C on Saturday. A blaze in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over about 60 hectares by Friday evening.

Foretaste of future

Dutch authorities said they expect Saturday to be the hottest day of the year so far.

The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday, with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.

“I think at the moment people are just enjoying it being hot but if it gets any hotter than this, which I think it is meant to, then that’s a concern,” said Claire Moran, an editor in London.

Several towns in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens harvests.

Italy’s dairy cows were putting out 10 percent less milk, the main agricultural association, Coldiretti, said Saturday.

With temperatures far above the cows’ “ideal climate” of 22-24C, animals were drinking up to 140 litres of water per day, double their normal intake, and producing less due to stress, it said.

Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels, she added.

Member comments

  1. Climate change is impacting Europe now but both Africa and Asia experience worse conditions.

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HEATWAVE

Will summer 2022 be Italy’s hottest ever?

As the country prepares for yet another heatwave, we look into whether summer 2022 might go down as the hottest summer in Italian history.

Will summer 2022 be Italy's hottest ever?

August is here and, alas, the heat is back on. 

After enduring months of exceptionally hot weather, Italy’s residents are bracing for yet another heatwave as meteorologists say temperatures this month might be 10 degrees higher than seasonal averages.

At this point many might be wondering whether the summer we’re living through (or surviving, you decide) might be one of, if not the hottest in Italian history. 

The short answer is: it might be but it’s far too soon to tell since, from a meteorological standpoint, summers consist of June, July and August and the latter month has only just started. 

But we can already start drawing a comparison between the current summer and the hottest summer in Italian history, the sweltering estate 2003.

For those who might not have been around then, summer 2003 brought four months of far-above-average temperatures without so much as a let-up to ‘break’ the heat. As a result, summer 2003 literally smashed each and every one of the previous records and earned the title of hottest Italian summer ever.

READ ALSO: Heatwave: What temperatures can we expect in Italy in August?

Tourists cooling off in Rome, Italy

Italy’s mean temperature in August is expected to sway between 2 and 3°C above season average. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

So far summer 2022 appears on track to give its infamous 2003 counterpart a run for its money.

Granted, in June 2022, the national mean temperature was 2.88​​°C above average, whereas the same value was 3.44°C above average in June 2003. 

But, while the country’s mean temperature was 1.59°C above average in July 2003, July 2022 registered an impressive +2.26°C in the same category.

So, all in all, it seems like the contest is bound to go right down to the wire, with temperatures in August set to determine whether summer 2022 will eventually be crowned as the hottest summer ever. 

Michele Brunetti, Chief Researcher at the Italian Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC), tells The Local: “August 2003 registered a significant anomaly – the national mean temperature was 2.71°C above average. We’ll have to wait and see whether this month’s temperatures will exceed those recorded in August.

“It would surely be quite extraordinary [if they did].”

Difficult as it may be, forecasts project that the country’s mean temperature will sway between 2 and 3°C above average in the coming weeks, so there might be just enough margin for summer 2022 to become the hottest ever (not that we hope it does, obviously).

The dried-up banks of the Po river in Italy

Thus far, 2022 has been the driest year in Italian history. Above are the dried-up banks of Italy’s longest river, the Po. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Meanwhile, 2022 may also be able to break another undesirable record and go down in history as the driest year ever – or, at least, since 1800, when records started.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Po Valley rations water amid worst drought in 70 years

So far this year, up until the end of July, rainfall across the country has been below average by as much as 46 percent (-52 percent in the north and -42 percent in the centre and south), making the first seven months of 2022 the driest in Italian history.

The amount of rainfall in the coming months will determine whether 2022 as a whole will beat out the current record holder, 2017 – something Brunetti says is likely to happen.

It would be no surprise given that the country is currently experiencing its worst drought in 70 years.

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