Climate Change

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

Experts blame wind and atmospheric circulation and Arctic ice melt for the heatwave

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Wednesday 13 July 2022
A map of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) tweeted by Copernicus July

An intense and unprecedented early heatwave is baking western Europe, with temperatures in many places topping 40 degrees Celsius (°C). The UK, Portugal, Spain, Italy and France have been affected, with little relief in sight, according to media reports.

On July 11, 2022, the UK Met Office issued an Amber Extreme Heat Warning for the country for July 17, due to the rising temperatures in England and Wales. CNN International quoted Agostinho Sousa, head of Extreme Events and Health Protection at the UK Health Security Agency:

Heat health alerts have now been issued to the majority of the country, with temperatures set to remain consistently high throughout the duration of this week.

The UK could also experience logistical delays due to road closures, as well as delays to rail and air travel in the middle of the heatwave.

Some of the worst conditions are further south, on the Iberian Peninsula. At least 14 states across Spain and Portugal have been issued with ‘extreme’ heat alerts, which is the highest level in this regard. 

The Portuguese capital of Lisbon could see temperatures reaching 45°C. Copernicus, The European Union Earth Observation Programme, tweeted an image of the overheated peninsula July 13.

North of Iberia, France will also remain hot throughout the week, reaching temperatures in the mid 30s. Heat alerts have been issued for the southwestern French cities of Toulouse and Bordeaux.

Five northern regions of Italy are under emergency due to extreme drought and water shortage. The recent ice avalanches in the Italian Alps have claimed many lives. Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi blamed the collapse on the “deterioration of the environment and the climatic situation,” according to CNN International.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has recently mobilised its firefighting fleet to help Portugal as 35 wildfires in Portugal have left 29 people injured.

More than 96 per cent of the country is experiencing ‘severe’ to ‘extreme’ drought, according to the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere.

Southwestern Europe recently experienced the fifth-hottest May on record.

Madhavan Rajeevan, former secretary, Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, told Down To Earth:

Normally, heatwaves happen due to large-scale atmospheric circulation related to Rossby waves. This one too could have been triggered by that. We have to check the exact reasons.

He noted that heatwaves were common in Europe now. “It is a part of the global warming process. The worst was the 2003 heatwave when 40,000 people died,” he said.

M Ravichandran, secretary, Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, said the heatwave could be due to the condition of Arctic sea ice. “If the sea ice is present, the vortex or wind circulation will be concentrated around the Arctic. If it is not there, the vortex will become wobbly and come down south to the mid latitudes,” he said.

This means there will be a cold wave in some areas and a heatwave in others. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.