Jul 14, 2022 - Science

Europe faces deadly, record-breaking heat wave

A man cools off in the central fountain in the Plaza de España in Seville.

A man cools off in the central fountain in the Plaza de España in Seville, Spain, on July 14. Photo: Daniel Gonzalez Acuna/picture alliance via Getty Images

Europe's ongoing heat wave could last a total of several weeks and is expected to break a number of all-time records across the continent.

Why it matters: Severe heat waves are of particular concern in Europe as they can often prove extremely deadly due to air conditioning being less ubiquitous than in the U.S.

The big picture: The onset of the heat wave last week has fueled dozens of massive wildfires in Portugal, France, Spain and Croatia and is poised to break numerous monthly and all-time records across the continent.

  • The U.K. Met Office warned Thursday that the scorching temperatures are expected to last into next week, peaking on either Monday or Tuesday. "As well as extremely hot conditions during the days, it will remain oppressively warm overnight, especially in towns and cities."
  • There is a chance the U.K. will break its previous record for the hottest day on record, the Washington Post reported.
  • According to Météo-France, July 18 could prove to be one of the hottest days recorded across France, with the heat being especially intense in the south.
  • Forty regions across France are currently under some form of heat alert, per the Post.

By the numbers: Areas of southern, central and eastern England will see temperatures rise past 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with some parts possibly exceeding 104 degrees, according to a statement from the U.K. Met Office.

  • The city of Lousã, Portugal, reached an all-time record on Wednesday, spiking to 115.34 degrees, according to weather historian Maximiliano Herrera.
  • Santarem, Portugal, on Wednesday recorded 115.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The Portuguese cities of Torres Vedras, Lisboa Tapada da Ajuda and Rio Maior established new July records, climbing to 109.9 degrees, 106.5 degrees, and 108.5 degrees, respectively.
  • Two cities in Spain broke all-time records on Wednesday, with the city of Soria reaching 101.7 Fahrenheit and Zamora coming in at 106 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Herrera.
  • The same day, Almonte, Spain, hit 114.1 degrees Fahrenheit while the city of Olivenza recorded 113.7 degrees Fahrenheit and Badajoz peaked at 113.4 Fahrenheit.
  • Ourense, Spain, reached a new all-time record on Tuesday at 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit, as did the airport in León, Spain, which climbed to 98.1 degrees, per Météo-France.
  • Seville, Spain, has recorded temperatures of at least 105 degrees seven days in a row, and reached 111 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, the Post reported.

Worth noting: Studies show that as the climate warms, the frequency of heat waves dramatically increase — as does the severity and longevity of such events, per Axios' Andrew Freedman.

  • Many countries in Europe have temperature data going back to the 18th century. Based on the records set so far, and the forecast severity and longevity of the heat, including records likely to be broken, it is possible this will be the worst heat wave in more than two centuries for some areas.

What they're saying: The question of whether the U.K. reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) next week or in subsequent summers is "irrelevant," Friederike Otto, a climate researcher at Imperial College London, tweeted Thursday.

  • "Fact is, 40C is what we now need to be prepared for, thanks to burning fossil fuels. We're not prepared yet & many people will die, whether it'll be 40 or 37C," she wrote.

Our thought bubble, from Freedman: A heat wave of this magnitude and duration presents a serious health risk, particularly for the elderly, those with preexisting conditions and anyone without access to sustained heat relief, such as air conditioning.

  • Studies show that heat waves in Europe and elsewhere are becoming more frequent, severe and long-lasting due to human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

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