An extreme heatwave that has been affecting large parts of Europe this month continues to intensify, as exceptionally hot air is drawn up from North Africa.
On Wednesday 26th June, Germany, Poland and Czech Republic all recorded their highest June temperatures (since records began) of 38.6 ᴼC, 38.2 ᴼC and 38.9 ᴼC, respectively, and on Thursday, Spain, France and Switzerland saw temperatures exceed 40 ᴼC – with France recording its highest-ever temperature for June, 42 ᴼC. Temperatures will continue to rise so over the coming days, potentially reaching temperatures in the mid-40 ᴼCs on Friday and Saturday.
So far in the UK, June has been rather wet and cool, but temperatures are expected to climb into the 30 ᴼC's on Saturday. Whilst this is very hot weather for the UK, it is not technically a heatwave. According to the UK Met Office a UK heatwave threshold is met when a location records a period of “at least three consecutive days with daily maximum temperatures meeting or exceeding the heatwave temperature threshold”. (This threshold varies by UK county – view the UK temperature threshold map here)
There are very real risks to life during such heatwave events. The 2003 European heatwave killed more than 35,000 people during a two week period (many of these occurred in France). It is therefore important for everyone to understand how to cope during a heatwave, but especially vulnerable people; most of the deaths caused by such heatwaves are among the elderly, but it is noteworthy that more than 1,000 of the deaths during the 2003 heatwave were among people aged 35–64. Find out more about heat stress in our article >>
In May, Public Health England published a Heatwave Plan to raise awareness of the potential dangers to health from severe hot weather.
Wildfires are a devastating consequence of such hot, dry conditions. Spain is suffering the largest wildfires in 20 years. More than 500 firefighters and soldiers are struggling control a huge forest fire burning a large area in the Catalan province of Tarragon, with roads cut off and evacuations taking place.
Blaming a single heatwave event on global warming is complicated, however it is possible to say that such extreme events are likely to happen more often, are hotter and are lasting longer due to human-induced climate change. Indeed, the five hottest European summers since 1500 have all occurred this century, and last year, a Met Office study concluded that heatwaves in the UK are lasting twice as long as they did 50 years ago. France’s national weather agency has also said that the number of heatwaves in France has doubled in the past 34 years and this is expected to double again by 2050, while their intensity has also increased.