Climate Change

Europe burns: National Emergency declared in UK; wildfires in France, Spain, Portugal

Many parts of the continent including Spain, Greece and France experienced wildfires July 17, 2022, after an unusually dry, hot spring

By Arya Rohini
Published: Monday 18 July 2022

A screengrab of the UK released by the Met OfficeA screengrab of the UK released by the Met Office

A national emergency has been declared in the United Kingdom after a red extreme heat warning was issued for the first time in the country by its Met Office, according to media reports. The UK is one of several European countries that are witnessing a severe heatwave this week besides France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Britain's weather forecaster, the Met Office, has announced its first-ever severe weather emergency warning for July 18 and 19, 2022, with temperatures tipped to hit 41 degrees Celsius (°C), its highest temperature on record.

Also read: Western Europe bakes; United Kingdom, France, Italy and Iberian Peninsula on edge

“The Red Extreme heat national severe weather warning will cover Monday and Tuesday (July 18 and 19) for parts of central, northern, eastern and southeastern England,” the Met Office said.

An Amber Extreme heat warning had been in place for much of England and Wales for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (July 17-19) since earlier this week.

“We have not seen anything like it. We can’t compare this looming heat emergency to summer 1976,” Scott Duncan, a meteorologist from Scotland, tweeted July 18.

“A warmer world, thanks to human-induced climate change, makes it almost effortless to break extreme heat thresholds. We continue to see this across the planet — not just in Europe,” he added.

More than 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the nearly week-long heatwave in Portugal and Spain so far, according to Reuters.

Firefighters in Spain fought to protect the town of Monsagro in Salamanca (a province in Spain) as fires erupted in the Monfragüe national park, home to rare species of birds, reported BBC News

Helicopters were deployed for dropping water in the affected regions. Temperature above 40°C and mountainous terrain made the job difficult for firefighters, reported Reuters.

The Portuguese health ministry said July 16 night that more than 650 people had died because of the heat in the last week, with most deaths occurring among the elderly.

What happens to the human body during a heatwave

France has evacuated more than 16,000 people threatened by wildfires in the southwest. France’s Gironde, a popular tourist region, has evacuated guards from campsites. The tourists had left earlier this week. Following the events, France issued red alerts, the highest possible, for several regions.

French lawmaker Melanie Vogel tweeted soil surface temperature was measured at 59°C in Spain and 48°C in the south of France. “This is not just summer,” she wrote. “It is just hell and will pretty soon become just the end of human life if we continue with our climate inaction.”

Italy is reeling under another wave of intense heat, driven by an anticyclone carrying hot air currents from north Africa, according to media reports. The latest heatwave has been christened Apocalisse4800 by the Italian weather forecast website

The Italian cabinet had earlier approved a state of emergency in five regions until December 31, owing to severe drought.

Hotter and hotter

The ongoing heatwave in Europe is only the latest in a series of extreme weather incidents around the globe in the past few years. China too is witnessing above-average temperatures just like Europe.

The Yangtze Basin in China has been experiencing an unusual heatwave since the past one week, with mega cities in its basin ranging from Chongqing to Shanghai affected, according to media reports. 

Read Warming China: Shanghai, other cities in Yangtze Basin issue red alerts

At this time last year, the Pacific coast of North America had been sizzling due to unusually high temperatures. Canada’s British Columbia and the US Pacific Northwest’s Oregon and Washington experienced a once-in-a-millennium event, according to experts.

The city of Lytton in British Columbia, some 250 kilometres north-east of Vancouver, recorded a temperature of 46.6°C in June 27, breaking an 84-year-old record, according to Canadian media.

According to meteorologists, the high temperatures were the result of a so-called ‘heat dome’. This, they said, was a ‘ridge of high pressure’. It ‘acted like a lid or oven on the atmosphere’. Hot air rose but the high pressure pushed it back to the surface where it heated up even more.


In 2020, Siberia was the location of wildfires due to extremely high temperatures. Verkhoyansk, a town in Siberia, recorded the highest temperature in the Arctic circle in the last 140 years at 38°C. This was around 18°C higher than the normal temperature for this time of the year for the place.

Read Boiling Siberia shows temperature swings may be increasing: Experts

In 2019, Down To Earth reported how the northernmost town in the world was also the fastest-warming place on the planet. Longyearbyen, the de facto capital of the Svalbard archipelago located between Norway and the North Pole, saw temperature srise by 4°C since 1971.

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, appealed to residents to take full precautions this week, given the heatwave.

“Over the next two days we’re going to see temperatures never experienced before. Please only use public transport for essential journeys. If you need to travel use public transport, carry water and be prepared for delays due to speed restrictions for safety,” he tweeted July 18.

The World Meteorological Organization has said scorching heatwaves and wildfires raging in Portugal, Spain and France are forecast to worsen and spread to other parts of Europe in the coming days.

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