Unprecedented Heatwave Sweeps Europe: A Scorching Summer

by Liam O'Connor
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Europe is currently in the grip of an intense and prolonged heatwave, with the potential to break temperature records, reaching up to 48°C (118.4°F). This extreme weather phenomenon coincides with the onset of El Niño and follows a year marked by global temperature records. Last summer’s heatwaves led to over 60,000 deaths in Europe, and this year’s conditions could be even more severe.

Across Europe, temperatures are skyrocketing as an intense and prolonged heatwave takes hold. Countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland are all experiencing this significant heatwave, with temperatures expected to reach scorching levels of 48°C (118.4°F) on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, potentially setting a new European record.

A high-pressure system known as “Cerberus,” named after the mythical creature from Dante’s Inferno, is causing temperatures to soar above 40°C (104°F) across a significant portion of Italy. This intense heat follows a spring and early summer characterized by storms and floods.

Europe’s highest recorded temperature to date was 48.8°C (119.84°F) in Floridia, a town in Sicily’s Syracuse province, on August 11, 2021. However, this record may be surpassed in the coming days.

An animation based on data from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission’s radiometer instrument reveals the land surface temperatures across Italy from July 9 to 10. The animation clearly shows that cities like Rome, Naples, Taranto, and Foggia experienced land surface temperatures exceeding 45°C (113°F). In Sicily, on the eastern slopes of Mount Etna, temperatures soared above 50°C (122°F).

It’s important to distinguish between air temperature and land surface temperature. Air temperature, as provided in daily weather forecasts, indicates the heat in the air above the ground, while land surface temperature measures how hot the actual surface would feel to the touch.

The Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite instrument collects data that reflect the temperature of the land surface, which tends to be hotter than the air temperature. Therefore, the map accurately displays the true temperature of the land’s surface.

Land surface temperature data is crucial for scientists to gain insights into weather and climate patterns, predict future conditions, monitor wildfires, optimize crop irrigation, and enhance urban heat management strategies.

The heatwave is not limited to Italy alone but affects other European cities as well. Air temperatures are projected to reach 44°C (111.2°F) in parts of Spain later this week. Rome, Italy, and Madrid and Seville in Spain are among the hardest-hit areas, with land surface temperatures soaring to 46°C (114.8°F) and 47°C (116.6°F) respectively.

Benjamin Koetz, the Mission Scientist of the Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring mission, emphasized the importance of timely information and adaptation to climate changes. He highlighted the Copernicus program’s role in providing actionable resolution data through missions like Sentinel-3 and the upcoming Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring mission, which will offer 50-meter resolution.

Europe’s extreme temperatures align with the global temperature records recently reported by the World Meteorological Organization. Following the hottest June on record, characterized by unprecedented sea surface temperatures and a record low in Antarctic sea ice extent, June 2023 was reported to be over 0.5°C (0.9°F) above the 1991-2020 average by the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The current heatwave coincides with the emergence of El Niño, a natural phenomenon that warms the Pacific Ocean. Global temperatures are expected to rise further, resulting in more weather records being broken.

A study published in Nature Medicine revealed that over 60,000 people lost their lives due to last year’s summer heatwaves in Europe, with the highest mortality rates recorded in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. This summer’s heatwave has the potential to be even more devastating. The Red Cross has therefore issued a warning, urging both residents and tourists to exercise extreme caution and prioritize the well-being of those most vulnerable to high temperatures.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about heatwave

Q: What is the current situation in Europe regarding the heatwave?

A: Europe is currently experiencing an intense and prolonged heatwave with scorching temperatures reaching potential record-breaking highs. This extreme weather phenomenon is affecting countries like Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland, and poses significant risks to health and agriculture.

Q: How hot are the temperatures expected to get?

A: Temperatures in Europe are expected to reach up to 48°C (118.4°F), potentially setting new temperature records. Certain regions, such as Sicily and Sardinia, are particularly prone to extreme heat, with temperatures projected to soar to unprecedented levels.

Q: What is the relationship between the heatwave and El Niño?

A: The onset of El Niño, a natural phenomenon that warms the Pacific Ocean, coincides with the current heatwave in Europe. This can further contribute to global temperature rise and the breaking of weather records.

Q: How are land surface temperatures measured and why are they important?

A: Land surface temperatures are measured using instruments like the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission’s radiometer. These measurements provide valuable insights into weather and climate patterns, help monitor wildfires, optimize crop irrigation, and improve urban heat management strategies.

Q: Are there any health risks associated with the heatwave?

A: Yes, extreme heat poses significant health risks. Last year’s heatwaves in Europe resulted in over 60,000 deaths. This summer’s conditions could potentially be worse. It is crucial for individuals to exercise extreme caution and prioritize the well-being of vulnerable individuals during such high temperatures.

Q: How does this heatwave relate to climate change?

A: The heatwave in Europe is consistent with the global temperature records reported by the World Meteorological Organization. Climate change contributes to rising temperatures, and events like heatwaves are becoming more frequent and severe as a result.

Q: What precautions can be taken to mitigate the impact of the heatwave?

A: It is important to stay hydrated, avoid direct exposure to the sun during peak hours, and seek shelter in cool places. The Red Cross has urged people to exercise extreme caution and pay attention to the needs of vulnerable individuals during this heatwave.

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