Hot as hell! What’s behind Europe’s deadly heat wave?

Experts blame the ‘Azores High’ subtropical pressure system and climate change in general for the sweltering temperatures and ferocious wildfires raging across the continent

Europe was left sweltering as a fierce heat wave fueled fierce wildfires and stretched emergency services.

Britain has recorded a temperature above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time in its history.

After the hottest night on record in the UK, the Met Office said 40.2C had been tentatively recorded at lunchtime at Heathrow airport in west London, taking the country into uncharted territory.

The previous UK temperature record of 38.7C, set in Cambridge in the east of England in 2019, had already been broken earlier on Tuesday.

“For the first time, 40 degrees Celsius has been tentatively exceeded in the UK,” the meteorological agency Met Office said, warning that “temperatures continue to climb 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 large swaths of land.

In France, record temperatures were recorded in 64 different regions across France on Monday as a heat wave peaked in the country, the national meteorological service confirmed on Tuesday.

Most of the highs have been recorded along the western Atlantic coast where temperatures have soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and several wildfires are raging.

The record temperature in mainland France dates back to 2019 when the southern village of Verargues, northeast of Montpellier, recorded 46 degrees Celsius.

But why do heat waves occur? And is climate change to blame? Let’s take a closer look

What is a heat wave?

Experts define a heat wave as an extended period of hot weather where temperatures are above the historical average in an area for two or more days, according to Today Online.

It is a weather phenomenon that occurs when high pressure in the atmosphere moves and pushes warm air downward. This air heats up more as it is compressed and people start to feel much hotter, according to the report.

In southwestern France, the flames have destroyed some 7,700 hectares since Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 11,000 people, including many holidaymakers who have decided to abandon their holidays rather than stay in makeshift shelters implemented by local authorities. The south of France, struggling with temperatures around 40C on Friday, is bracing for more heat next week with 16 departments already in orange, a severe alert. PA

How dangerous is heat exhaustion? Who is vulnerable?

Heat exhaustion, which can include dizziness, headache, tremors, and thirst, is usually not serious, as long as the person cools down within 30 minutes.

The most severe version is heat stroke, when the body’s core temperature exceeds 40.6 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit). This is a medical emergency that 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 the elderly, as well as people who need to stay active or who are at higher risk, such as the homeless.

What is causing this heat wave?

Partly to blame for abnormally high temperatures in Europe this year is a high-pressure system called the Azores High, which is typically found off the coast of Spain, according to Today Online.

However, it has grown and pushed further north this summer, bringing higher temperatures to France, the Iberian Peninsula which includes Spain and Portugal, and the UK.

An area of ​​low pressure regularly draws air from North Africa towards it and towards Europe. “It’s pumping warm air north,” Kai Kornhuber, a researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, told The New York Times.

What causes heat waves in general?

According The New York Times, temperatures are on average about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) higher than they were at the end of the 19th century, before emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases set in generalize.

Thus, extreme heat starts from a higher starting point.

“The chances of seeing 40C days in the UK could be up to 10 times more likely in the current climate than in a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” said award scientist Nikos Christidis. climate at the UK Met Office. Policy.

Hot as hell What's behind Europe's deadly heatwave

Locals and tourists from Spain, Italy and Romania have flocked to the city’s lakes, beaches and fountains to find respite from the extreme heat. PA

Mariam Zachariah, a climatologist at Imperial College London, told Politico that climate change drives heat waves – by trapping more heat in the global system and altering weather patterns.

And it will only get worse, experts warn.

The experts said The New York Times that these 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.

UK red alert

High temperatures have triggered an unprecedented red alert for extreme heat across much of England, where some rail lines have been closed as a precaution and schools closed in some areas.

All trains have been canceled from the usually busy Kings Cross station in London, leaving many travelers stranded.

“It’s a little frustrating,” said American tourist Deborah Byrne, who was trying to reach Scotland.

But with roads and tracks melting and rails buckling, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged that much of Britain’s infrastructure “just isn’t built for this weather”.

Tim Wainwright, chief executive of charity WaterAid, said the situation should be “the wake-up call the world needs to stop climate change claiming more lives”.

Hot as hell What's behind Europe's deadly heatwave

A boy lies in the sun on the beach at Barry Island, Wales. PA

Forest fires

In France, cities in the west of the country recorded their highest temperatures ever recorded on Monday, the national weather office said.

The western region of Brittany – normally cool and often wet in summer – set new records on Monday above 40°C.

Although cooler air from the Atlantic offered respite there on Tuesday, dozens of departments remained on orange alert, with temperatures still expected to exceed 40 ° C in the east and south and violent thunderstorms planned locally.

Firefighters in southwestern France were still battling to contain two massive blazes that caused widespread destruction and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes.

Nearly 1,700 firefighters across the country, supported by substantial air assets, are battling the two fires which 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 a blaze that prompted mass evacuations.

“Economically it’s going to be very difficult for them and very difficult for the city because we are a tourist city, and we need the (tourist) season.”

Hot as hell What's behind Europe's deadly heatwave

People walk on the Moulleau pier in Arcachon, France, under a large cloud of black smoke from a nearby fire. In France, forest fires have spread over 11,000 hectares. PA

In Breton Finistère, hundreds of firefighters, specialized vehicles and water bomber planes were fighting the fires


In Spain, nearly 10 days after the start of the last heat wave, more than a dozen fires continued to rage on Tuesday, notably in the northwestern province of Zamora, which has already seen a huge fire last month.

Known as one of Europe’s largest wolf reserves, it saw nearly 30,000 hectares of land burnt to ashes in the June fire.

Nearly 6,000 people had to be evacuated this week after the 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 fires while separately an office worker in his 50s died of heat stroke in Madrid.

In Portugal, more than 1,400 firefighters were fighting fires in the center and north of the country, despite a sharp drop in temperatures in recent days.

A 70-year-old couple died on Monday after running off the road as they tried to escape the flames in their car.

Almost the whole country is on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, which hit 47C last Thursday – a record high for July.

Hot as hell What's behind Europe's deadly heatwave

A man sprays water on the ground after a forest fire near a village in northern Spain. The country has reported more than 360 deaths as a result of the heatwave. AFP

The fires have already killed two other people, injured around 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land.


Elsewhere, temperatures could locally exceed 40C in Belgium near the French border, prompting the Royal Meteorological Institute to issue its highest level of alert.

Major public museums, mainly in Brussels, took the unusual step of offering free admission to over-65s on Tuesday to help them stay cool.

In Germany, temperatures are expected to reach up to 40°C in the west.

On Monday, two firefighters were injured while fending off a forest fire in a mountainous region in the state of Saxony.

The hot summer so far has raised fears of a drought, with the president of the German Farmers’ Association warning of “significant losses” in food production.

Henning Christ, who grows wheat and other crops in the state of Brandenburg, told AFP his farm was 20% below its average annual yield.

“We’ve had almost no rain for months, coupled with high temperatures,” he said.

“We have gotten used to drought and dry spells to some degree, but this year has been very unusual.”

With contributions from agencies

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