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Dozens perish as Europeans smolder in unprecedented heat

Wednesday, July 24th 2019 - 23:51 UTC
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Hannover's airport was temporarily closed due to cracks in the tarmac. Hannover's airport was temporarily closed due to cracks in the tarmac.

Record high temperatures were reported in Belgium and Netherlands Wednesday amid a heatwave that hit all Europe and brought 40 degrees Celsius to places like Siberia and leaving over people dead by the dozen in Greece. It has also been reported to be Sweden's hottest July since 1756.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the first half of the summer in the northern hemisphere is marked by extreme temperatures that can exceed 40 degrees, droughts and catastrophic rainfall that affect health, agriculture, ecosystems and infrastructure is due, mainly, to the concentration of greenhouse gases.

The high temperatures that are turning this European summer into a literal hell are believed to be the consequence of the African heatwave named Charon, in honour of the mythological character who led the souls of the dead into Hades (hell).

Unprecedented heat peaks were recorded especially in the Scandinavian peninsula and in the rest of northern Europe. Sweden suffers forest fires, drought and the hottest July in over 250 years when Stockholm reached temperatures of 41 degrees Celsius, which leads to 1756 records if anything remotely close is to be found.

In the Russian-European Siberia, temperatures reached an unprecedented 40 degrees Celsius mark.

Finnish cities like Vaasa, Kevo and Rovaniemi withstood temperatures between 32 and 33 degrees just like many Russian places on the Barents Sea and the White Sea shores, where temperatures rose above 30 degrees, that is 14 degrees higher than the usual average at this time of year.

In France, it is expected for Friday that the temperatures on the Île-de-France range between 34 and 37 degrees in addition to to a smog alert. Paris municipal authorities have developed a cell phone app to measure the coolest areas available in town to keep them open round the clock for people to seek shelter.

The British meteorological office - the Met Office - warned of rising temperatures in London and other locations such as Essex, Kent, East Anglia and Lincolnshire, where there is a 20% chance that the UK heat record will be exceeded, which was 38.5 degrees in Kent in 2003.

Germany lives through a hell of its own: 34 degrees were unusual in Hamburg and the Hannover airport temporarily closed due to cracks in the tarmac.

“We will have a hot and dry summer but, considering that the planet is now a degree warmer than 100 years ago, the heat and drought are worse,” said Bjørn Samset, of the Norwegian Climate Research Center, CICERO.

The explanation for this hell on earth seems to stem from a static atmospheric pattern in Europe since the characteristic cold currents of the North Pole are blowing from southwest to northeast starting from the central Atlantic. This imposes the increase of tropical hot air, coming from Egypt and Libya over the eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe to the Arctic Circle. The problem is that these warm currents, which have already reached Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Baltic countries and Russia, tend to persist. In the Arctic Circle, the temperature has already reached 30 degrees.

Among the first scientists to blow the whistle was physicist and climatologist Robert Rohde, who at the Cape Morris Jesup weather station, on the northern tip of Greenland, already announced in February that the temperatures at the North Pole exceeded those of London or Zurich and several Italian locations as well.

“The anomaly this year has been the persistence and the amount of heat in the Arctic,” says Roth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute. At least since the late '50s, there has not been such high temperatures.

According to NASA, Arctic sea ice decreases by 13.2% every ten years, weakening the polar vertex and releasing more and more available water at high temperatures.

According to the European Commission, 2017 has been one of the worst years of fires in Europe, where 800,000 calcined hectares were registered in Portugal, Spain and Italy. And, a European study, PESETA II, has estimated that surfaces exposed to possible fires in southern Europe could increase from 50 to 100 per cent during this century if the intensity of global warming persists.

On the other hand, more than three-quarters of the European population lives in cities and, by the middle of this century, the figure could reach 82 per cent. With this premise, a team of English climatologists, under the direction of Dr Selma Guerreiro of the University of Newcastle, studied the impact of climate changes in cities and determined that there will be an increase in drought in cities such as Madrid, Athens and Lisbon; of floods in Dublin, Helsinki and Riga and waves of intense heat like the current one in Rome, Stockholm and Prague.

Categories: Environment, International.

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