Thursday, December 8, 2022

Brutal heat wave moves from U.K. and France to central Europe



A heat wave that brought record temperatures to Britain and parts of France is forecast to move eastward across Central Europe on Wednesday, with scientists warning of “very high levels” of ozone pollution on the continent.

The toll from a heat dome that originated from a sprawling area of high pressure over Western Europe is rising, and Portugal alone has reported more than 1,000 deaths linked to the extreme weather. The Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere on Wednesday issued an “orange” hot-weather warning, the maximum level.

The German weather service forecast that the focus of the heat would shift eastward, after recording the hottest day of the year so far on Tuesday, with temperatures reaching 103.1 degrees (39.5 Celsius) in the country’s west.

Europe confronted spreading wildfires and rising death tolls amid extreme heat on July 18. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard, Rick Noack/The Washington Post)

Cities in Belgium and the Netherlands also logged temperatures above 100 degrees, just shy of records set in a July 2019 heat wave, according to weather historian Maximiliano Herrera.

Meanwhile, firefighters in France, Spain, Greece and Britain battled wildfires exacerbated by the soaring temperatures. Authorities ordered a hospital in the Athens area to evacuate.

These maps show how excessively hot it is in Europe and the U.S.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan told public broadcaster BBC that Tuesday was the brigade’s busiest day since World War II. An estimated 2,600 calls were made to London’s fire service — far more than the average 350 calls a day, Khan said.

“HELLFIRE,” read Wednesday’s front page of British tabloid the Sun, as a major cleanup operation in ravaged communities began. The words “London’s burning” trended on Twitter as some shared videos and photos of flames licking motorways and wiping out cars and houses across the city.

On Wednesday, temperatures in Britain dipped significantly, bringing a cool breeze and some rain — although the weather service warned of thunderstorms and possible flooding.

Tinder-dry conditions and extreme heat have sharply increased the chances of wildfires spreading, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate monitoring service. A sizable part of Western Europe was in “extreme fire danger,” it said Tuesday.

Along with increased carbon emissions from the wildfires, “very high levels” of ozone pollution caused by the heat wave could affect Northern and Western Europe in the coming days, Copernicus scientists warn.

At low altitudes, ozone is one of the main elements of urban smog, the scientists said.

“The potential impacts of very high ozone pollution on human health can be considerable both in terms of respiratory and cardio-vascular illness,” Mark Parrington, a senior Copernicus scientist, said in a statement.

How to stay safe in extreme heat

As some experts pointed to the role of human-influenced climate change in the record-shattering temperatures, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres convened a “moment for nature” on Tuesday.

“Our ways of life — based on producing, consuming, discarding and polluting — have brought us to this dire state of affairs,” Guterres said in a video message.

“But, since human activities are at the root of this planetary emergency, that means we also hold the key to the solutions. Now is the time to transform our relationship with nature and chart a new path,” he added.

Hassan reported from London.

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