Environment

Europe braces for unprecedented heatwave

Temperatures may soon cross 40°C mark in several countries in the continent

 
By Akshit Sangomla
Last Updated: Thursday 27 June 2019
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Continental Europe is bracing for a deadly heatwave this week as temperatures soared in parts of France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Belgium on June 24, 2019.

In France temperatures in many places crossed 35 degrees Celsius on June 24 and 25. It is expected to climb up to 40°C mark in a week and 45°C after that.

In Germany, temperatures may rise above 40°C on June 26 breaking the country’s previous June record of 38.2°C in Frankfurt in 1947. Also, Spain’s weather agency has warned residents of the mainland and the Balearics of a sudden spike in temperatures of up to 10°C.

Meteo France, the French weather agency, has declared an orange alert for more than half of the country. This is the second-highest level of categorisation in the four-stage alert system that France put in place after the record breaking heatwave of August 2003 that killed 15,000 people.

Many meteorologists are afraid that the current heatwave might be the most severe ever. Normally, Europe experiences such temperatures in late July and August. Such an early heatwave could even be deadly.

The heatwave has travelled from the Sahara desert across the Mediterranean Sea to impact the European continent.

“Heat waves are traditionally understood to be caused by blocking high pressure systems. When these systems move in and stay over a region for a while the circulation increases local temperatures, and can also dry the land surface which can further enhance any warming,” said Jane Baldwin, an expert on heatwaves at Princeton University.

Such systems are also known as anti-cyclones because of the downward spiral of air opposite a cyclonic circulation in which the air moves in a generally upward direction. When anticyclones are in place they do not allow the regular weather systems to progress. So, the formation of localised low-pressure systems or convections which can bring down the heat become less likely.

High pressure blocking systems are formed because of disruption in the high-level perennial wind systems known as jet streams in the upper layers of the atmosphere.

One of the possible reasons for such a disruption is global warming especially in the Arctic region which disrupts the major jet stream over Earth’s North Pole. If this system gets disturbed, it impacts all other jet streams in lower latitudes which then form high pressure systems, according to a research paper published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports in December, 2018.

“Monthly heat records all over the globe occur five times as often today as they would in a stable climate,” Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told the Associated Press.

“This increase in heat extremes is just as predicted by climate science as a consequence of global warming caused by the increasing greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas,” he added.

This year, heat waves have already affected other regions of the world including India where an unusually long heatwave swept through 23 states between March 7 and June 21, killing more than 300 people. Many places in the country, like the capital Delhi (48°C), have experienced record-breaking temperatures.

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