March 5, 2024

Second heatwave in as many weeks hits Mediterranean as fires hit Spain, Switzerland and Greece

MILAN (AP) – Officials warned residents and tourists packing Mediterranean destinations Tuesday to stay indoors as second heat wave in as many weeks the region hit and Greece, Spain and Switzerland battled wildfires.

In Italy, Red Cross teams checked on elderly people by phone and in Portugal they took to social media to warn people not to leave pets or children in parked cars. In Greece, volunteers handed out drinking water, and in Spain they reminded people to protect themselves from breathing smoke from fires.

Several countries in southern Europe are sweating through a new heat wave, exacerbated by climate change, which is expected to last for days. The UN weather agency said temperatures in Europe could equal the 48.8-degree Celsius (119.8 degrees Fahrenheit) record set in Sicily two years ago, as concerns grew that the heat triggering a spike in deaths.

“Heat waves are really an invisible killer,” Panu Saaristo, head of the emergency health unit team for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told a briefing in Geneva. “We have warmer and warmer temperatures for longer periods every summer here in Europe.”

Heat records are being broken all over the worldand scientists say there is a good chance that 2023 will go down as the hottest year on record, with measurements going back to the mid-19th century.

June was the hottest average global temperature, according to Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization predicted several heat records were set to fall this summer. The global organization said unprecedented sea surface temperatures and low Arctic sea ice levels were largely to blame.

The world is warming due to man-made climate change due to the burning of coal, oil and natural gas and is being exacerbated by the naturally occurring El Nino weather phenomenon. But the current El Nino started only a few months ago and is still relatively weak and is not expected to hit until winter.

Temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) are predicted not only in the Mediterranean, but across North America, Asia and North Africa.

In Italy, health officials warned of extreme temperatures in 20 cities, rising to 23 on Wednesday, from Bolzano in the north to Palermo in the south.

In Greece, where the second heat wave is expected to hit on Thursday, three big ones wildfires burned outside Athens for the second day. Thousands of people evacuated from coastal areas south of the capital returned to their homes on Tuesday after the fire subsided after spending the night at beaches, hotels and public facilities.

But wildfires continued to burn out of control to the north and west of Athens.

Authorities introduced changes last week to working hours and ordered the Acropolis and other ancient sites to close in the evening to allow workers to cope with the high heat. Temperatures as high as 44 C (111 F) are expected in parts of central and southern Greece by the end of the week.

Most of Spain is on alert for high and extreme heat with forecasts calling for a peak temperature of 43 C (109 F) in places along the Ebro River in the north-east and on the island of Mallorca. Spain is also dealing with a prolonged drought that has increased concerns about the risk of wildfires.

Around 400 firefighters assisted by nine water-dumping aircraft helped extinguish a wildfire for the fourth day in a row on La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands. Authorities said a perimeter has been established around the fire but it is still active.

In Switzerland, around 150 firefighters, police, troops and other emergency teams supported by helicopters went out on Tuesday to fight a wildfire engulfing mountains in the southwestern region of Wallis, evacuating residents of four villages and hamlets in the area.

In a report on Monday, the UN weather agency said that a committee of experts verified the accuracy of the record of 48.8 degrees Celsius set on August 11, 2021, in Sicily. A full report has not yet been published.

The previous verified record of 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was set in Athens on July 10, 1977.

“This is not your typical weather system of the past. They have come in as a result of climate change,” said John Nairn, senior adviser on extreme heat to WMO. “This is global warming, and it will continue for some time to come.”

Nairn noted a six-fold increase in simultaneous heat waves since the 1980s, “and the trend is not changing.”

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Keaten reported from Geneva. Associated Press writers Dana Beltaji in London, Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed.

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