Record highs scorch the globe as Europe prepares for heat wave peak

By AFP   July 18, 2023 | 01:09 am PT
Record highs scorch the globe as Europe prepares for heat wave peak
A runner cools down with water in Skopje, North Macedonia, July 12, 2023. Photo by Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski
Europe braced for new high temperatures on Tuesday under a relentless heat wave and wildfires that have scorched swathes of the Northern Hemisphere, forcing the evacuation of 1,200 children close to a Greek seaside resort.

Health authorities have sounded alarms from North America to Europe and Asia, urging people to stay hydrated and shelter from the burning sun, in a stark reminder of the effects of global warming.

Europe, the world's fastest-warming continent, was bracing for the peak of the current heat wave to hit Italy's islands of Sicily and Sardinia, where a high of 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit) has been forecast by the European Space Agency.

The previous European temperature record was 48.8C recorded on Sicily in 2021, according to the UN weather agency.

Near Athens, emergency services battled wildfires for a second day in several locations around Athens.

"Our main concern is protecting human life," firefighters spokesman Yannis Artopios told the press.

Several homes were burned in the area, according to footage from public broadcaster ERT.

A forest fire flared in strong winds by the popular beach town of Loutraki, where the mayor said 1,200 children had been evacuated from holiday camps.

"The extreme weather ... is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy and water supplies," said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

"This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply as possible."

Historic highs forecast

In Europe, Italians were warned to prepare for "the most intense heat wave of the summer and also one of the most intense of all time" as temperatures hit a near-record 39C in Rome on Monday.

American Colman Peavy could not believe the heat as he sipped a cappuccino at a cafe with his wife Ana at the start of a two-week vacation.

"We're from Texas and it's really hot there, we thought we would escape the heat but it's even hotter here," said the 30-year-old.

It was already the world's hottest June on record, according to the EU weather monitoring service, and July looks set to break records as well.

Spain enjoyed little reprieve, with temperatures of 44.7C reported Monday in the southern town of Jaen.

In Cyprus, where temperatures are expected to remain above 40C through Thursday, a 90-year-old man died as a result of heatstroke and three other seniors were hospitalised, health officials said.

'Global leadership'

Parts of Asia have baked in record temperatures, triggering torrential rain.

China reported a new high for mid-July in the northwest of the country, where temperatures reached 52.2C in the Xinjiang region's village of Sanbao, breaking the previous high of 50.6C set six years ago.

Heatstroke alerts had been issued in 32 of Japan's 47 prefectures, mainly in central and southwestern regions.

At least 60 people were treated for heatstroke, media reported, including 51 taken to hospital in Tokyo.

A quarter million people were evacuated in southern China and Vietnam before a major typhoon roared ashore late Monday, bringing fierce winds and rain and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and trains.

US climate envoy John Kerry held talks with Chinese officials in Beijing, as the world's two largest polluters revive stalled diplomacy on reducing planet-warming emissions.

Speaking at Beijing's Great Hall of the People with China's top diplomat Wang Yi on Tuesday, Kerry underlined the need for "global leadership" on climate issues.

'Oppressive' U.S. heat

In western and southern US states, which are used to high temperatures, more than 80 million people were under advisories as a "widespread and oppressive" heat wave roasted the region.

California's Death Valley, often among the hottest places on Earth, reached a near-record 52C Sunday afternoon.

In Arizona, state capital Phoenix tied its record of 18 consecutive days above 43C (109F), as temperatures hit 45C (113F) early Monday afternoon.

The US National Weather Service predicts similar highs at least through Sunday, while warning of overnight lows remaining dangerously elevated, above 32C (90F).

"We're used to 110, 112 (degrees Fahrenheit)... But not the streaks," Nancy Leonard, a 64-year-old retiree from the nearby suburb of Peoria, told AFP. "You just have to adapt."

In southern California, several wildfires have ignited over the past few days in rural areas east of Los Angeles.

The biggest, named the Rabbit Fire, had burned nearly 8,000 acres and was 35 percent contained on Monday morning, according to authorities.

In neighbouring Canada, 882 wildfires were active on Monday, including 579 considered out of control, authorities said.

Smoke from the fires has descended on the United States again, prompting air quality alerts across much of the northeast.

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