ROME (Reuters) – Large swaths of southern and eastern Europe were placed on red alert for a heatwave on Tuesday, and the World Meteorological Organization warned of an increased risk of deaths as extreme weather ravaged the continent, Asia and the United States.
The Mediterranean island of Sardinia could see highs of more than 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit), and meteorologists said temperatures could reach 40 degrees in many Italian cities, including 42-43 degrees in the Lazio region that includes Rome.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that high temperatures hit Europe during the peak summer tourism season, and a heat wave is expected to intensify in the northern hemisphere. An estimated 61,000 people may have died in heat waves last year in Europe alone.
The European Union’s Emergency Response Coordination Center has issued red alerts for high temperatures for most of Italy, northeastern Spain, Croatia, Serbia, southern Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
This summer’s heatwaves, with temperatures soaring to 53 degrees in California’s Death Valley and more than 52 degrees in northwestern China, coincided with wildfires from Greece to the Swiss Alps and deadly floods in India and South Korea.
They added new urgency to talks this week between the United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
US climate envoy John Kerry met Chinese officials in Beijing and expressed hope that climate cooperation could redefine the troubled relations between the two powers.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed Beijing’s commitment to carbon neutrality and that a carbon peak is certain, but that it will not be affected by others.
“Temperatures in North America, Asia, across North Africa and the Mediterranean will be above 40C for an extended number of days this week as the heat wave intensifies,” the World Meteorological Organization said.
The World Meteorological Organization said overnight minimum temperatures are also expected to reach new highs, creating a risk of increased cases of heart attacks and deaths.
“While most attention is focused on extreme temperatures during the day, it is the temperatures during the night that pose the greatest health risks, especially for vulnerable groups of the population,” she added.
Tourism organizations have predicted that the heat in Europe will lead to a permanent shift in tourist habits, as more people choose cooler destinations or travel in the spring or fall.
In Spain, in the final stretch of campaigning before Sunday’s vote, politicians have adapted to the sweltering heat by changing the locations and timing of their rallies or limiting outdoor campaigning and turning to online events.
Hottest summer on record
Scientists have long warned that climate change, caused mainly by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, will make heatwaves more frequent, intense and deadly. They say governments need to take drastic action to reduce emissions.
The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service says that 2022 and 2021 were the continent’s hottest summers. The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was recorded at 48.8°C in Sicily two years ago.
In Italy, tourists tried to keep their cool by splashing in Rome’s fountains and standing under giant fans set up outside the Colosseum. Some had to queue for taxis for more than an hour in the heat outside Rome’s central railway station because of a chronic shortage of taxis in the capital.
The Health Ministry issued weather red alerts in 20 of the country’s 27 major cities on Tuesday, and the number is expected to rise to 23 on Wednesday.
“It is not excluded that we will exceed 47 degrees, and there may be some places in Sulcis and Campidano (in southern Sardinia) that could make us record a higher value,” said Carlo Spano, of the Italian Air Force Meteorological Service. .
“Our historical record (in Sardinia) is 47.7 degrees. Nothing prevents us from exceeding or equalizing it,” he said.
The heat has prompted some travelers to go home early. Anita Elshwe and her husband returned to Norway from their vacation spot in Fasanello, a village north of Rome, a week earlier than planned.
“I got severe pain in the head and legs, my fingers swelled, and I became more and more dizzy,” Al-Shuwai said of her heat-related symptoms.
Areas in northeastern Spain such as Catalonia, Aragon and the Mediterranean island of Mallorca were on alert for temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius on Tuesday. The Catalan weather service said the mercury reached 45 degrees Celsius in the Boadilla reservoir near the village of Darneus, the highest temperature ever recorded in the region.
The national weather agency AEMET said the temperature on Monday night did not fall below 25 degrees Celsius in many parts of the Mediterranean coast and inside the Iberian Peninsula.
“I struggled a bit, but I have a ceiling fan and that helped me,” said Mercedes, 60, a secretary in Madrid. “I was able to sleep but it was hard.”
In Greece, authorities told citizens close to a forest fire in Dervinochoria, north of Athens, to close doors and windows as smoke approached.
Standing in his burning house in Ano Lagonissi, his home of 32 years, Giorgos Nikolaou, 89, described how he escaped the fire in only his swimsuit and swimming shirt.
“I don’t have anything else, I don’t even have another shoe. Nothing. I’m done,” he said.
In China, trees fell on vehicles, a whale washed ashore and a refrigerator full of ice cream floated in floods as Typhoon Telem made its way through southern provinces on Tuesday, making its first landfall in the country this year.
(Reporting by Angelo Amanti, Emma Farge, Giselda Fagnone, Crispian Palmer, Angeliki Cotanto and Emma Pinedo Gabriel Tetro-Farber; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Janet Lawrence)