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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Summer inferno: Europe suffers heat wave, wildfires and drought

It's becoming the new normal in Europe – a summer of wildfires, drought and extreme heat. For the first time, the United Kingdom issued a "red" warning because of a scorching heat wave.

(CN) — Wildfires, drought and extreme heat are combining to turn many parts of Europe into a summer inferno.

A slow-moving high-pressure wave is transporting heat from North Africa over western and parts of central Europe, leaving Portugal, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom sweltering.

Firefighters in Spain, France, Greece and Portugal also have been battling large wildfires that have forced thousands of residents and vacationers to evacuate. Hundreds of heat-related deaths have been reported.

The heat wave was expected to extend into the Benelux countries and western Germany, Switzerland and northern Italy, according to European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

In advance of the heat wave, the U.K.'s Met Office issued its first ever "red" warning for extreme heat on Friday and warned that parts of southern England could even exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) this week. The British record high temperature is 38.7 Celsius (101.6 Fahrenheit) set in 2019.

On Monday, heat records were broken in Brest, a port city in Brittany in northwestern France, and in Wales, where the temperature reached 35.3 Celsius (95.5 Fahrenheit) in Gogerddan, near Aberystwyth, exceeding the previous record high in Wales of 35.2 Celsius (95.3 Fahrenheit).

In France, wildfires covering about 11,000 hectares (about 27,200 acres) of woodland have been raging in the southwestern Gironde region since Tuesday. The famous Bordeaux wine region is in Gironde. France was scrambling to send more firefighters and equipment to quell the flames.

In Spain, wildfires in Castilla y Leon, Extremadura, Catalonia, Galicia and Andalusia have destroyed about 25,000 hectares (61,800 acres) and claimed two lives, according to EFE, a Spanish news agency.

Last week, wildfires broke out in Portugal, where temperatures reached as high as 47 Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) on Thursday. By Monday, the fires in Portugal were coming under control, according to news reports.

Greek fire crews were battling numerous blazes with the worst fires reported on the island of Crete.

The scorching heat wave comes on top of dry conditions. On Monday, the European Commission warned that about half of the bloc's territory is facing a risk of drought because of the lack of rain.

Earlier this month, Italy declared a state of emergency in drought-stricken northern regions fed by the Po River, Italy's largest water reservoir. The Po valley, which provides Italy with much of its agricultural production, is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years.

Coldiretti, Italy's largest agricultural union, warned that the drought threatens more than 30% of national agricultural production and half of the farms in the Po valley.

Europe suffered through similar conditions last summer with devastating wildfires spreading over large areas of Greece, Italy and Turkey.

In April, scientists with the Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that the summer of 2021 was the hottest on record for Europe, coming in at about 1 Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) above the 1991-2020 average. Last summer saw Sicily mark a new record high in Europe when the temperature hit 48.8 Celsius (119.8 Fahrenheit) in Syracuse.

The EU scientists also said last year as a whole was much cooler than recent years.

Scientists say human-caused global warming has already driven temperatures up globally by about 1 Celsius and made heat waves and drought more likely.

Political tensions in Europe are heating up too as the EU's large-scale efforts to tackle global warming through a massive European Green Deal are being upended by the war in Ukraine, which has forced Europe to delay plans to close some coal-fired plants and to seek new sources of natural gas and oil after it imposed sanctions on Russia.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Environment, International

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