Temperatures to reach record highs in Europe as anticyclone Charon hits

Temperatures could reach almost 50°C in Sardinia by Wednesday, according to forecaster Il Meteo

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A heatwave that could see Southern Europe record its hottest-ever temperature is expected to peak in the coming days, as the dire consequences of global warming continue to take shape.

Temperatures could reach almost 50°C in Sardinia by Wednesday, according to forecaster Il Meteo.

Europe’s all-time high is 48.8°C, which was reached in Sicily two years ago.

This week's soaring temperatures are the result of an area of high air pressure called an anticyclone, which has been named Charon after the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology. The weather event pushed into the region from North Africa at the weekend.

“In many parts of the world, today is predicted to be the hottest day on record,” tweeted Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, on Monday.

“The #ClimateCrisis is not a warning. It’s happening. I urge world leaders to ACT now.”

Spain, Italy and Greece already experienced scorching temperatures for several days last week due to another system originating from the Sahara called Cerberus – named after the three-headed dog that guards the gates to the underworld in Dante's Inferno.

Akshay Deoras, a research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, said global warming is fuelling heatwaves by trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

If it were not for climate change, the heatwaves Europe has recorded over the past week would have been less intense.

“For heatwaves you just need clear weather and high pressure regions,” he told The National.

“We had this one blocking high pressure over the past week which led to this increase in temperature. That has now gone and we are getting another one from the Mediterranean which is now expected to cause further heating.

“It’s supposed to be even worse this time due to the fact temperatures have been building up. It becomes easier for you to break the record.”

Italians were warned to prepare for “the most intense heatwave of the summer and also one of the most intense of all time”, leading the health ministry to sound a red alert for 16 cities, including Rome, Bologna and Florence.

Il Meteo said the effects of Charon will extend from the Mediterranean basin to some stretches of Eastern Europe, encompassing the whole of Italy.

“The heat is already growing over a large part of Italy and in the next few days, especially between Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19, it will reach its peak, bringing truly exceptional temperatures to many locations,” it said.

In Rome, the mercury hit 39°C by mid-afternoon on Monday. Power cuts hit parts of the capital as electric grids suffered under heavier demand from air conditioners as people sought relief.

Temperatures are expected to climb even higher, reaching 42°C to 43°C on Tuesday, smashing the record of 40.5°C in August 2007.

“We're from Texas and it's really hot there – we thought we would escape the heat but it's even hotter here,” Colman Peavy, 30, told AFP as he sipped a cappuccino on an outside terrace in central Rome with his wife Ana at the start of a two-week Italian holiday on Monday.

Italian farm lobby Coldiretti, meanwhile, issued an alarm over the plight of domestic and farm animals, noting that cows are producing about 10 per cent less milk as a result of the heat.

The country's health ministry issued 10 recommendations to protect elderly people, the sick and pets from the heat, urging people to stay indoors during the hottest hours, drink at least 1.5 litres of water a day and refrain from strenuous exercise at peak daylight times.

Local celebrities went on state-run RAI television to read the recommendations aloud, in hopes of spreading the message.

A “slight drop” in pressure is forecast for Italy from Thursday, Il Meteo said.

Greece has also been gripped by a heatwave since last week, with temperatures reaching 44°C in the centre of the country.

A wildfire broke out in Kouvaras, southeast of Athens on Monday, firefighters said, with several seaside resorts ordered evacuated as a precaution.

"It's a difficult fire, the winds are really strong" with gusts reaching up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) per hour," said Yannis Artopios, a firefighters spokesman.

Little reprieve is forecast for Spain, where meteorologists warned of a new heatwave from Monday to Wednesday, taking temperatures above 40°C in the Canary Islands and the southern Andalusia region.

In Cyprus, where temperatures are expected to remain above 40°C through Thursday, a 90-year-old man died as a result of heatstroke and three other seniors were taken to hospital, health officials said.

The heatwave comes as California's Death Valley, often among the hottest places on Earth, reached a near record 52°C at the weekend, and in the UAE, the mercury climbed above 50°C for the first time this year.

Other parts of the world have experienced extreme heat and torrential rain, including South Korea, Japan and India.

The mercury hit 52.2°C in north-west China at the weekend, setting a record for mid-July.

A weather station in the Xinjiang region's Sanbao village “recorded a temperature peak of 52.2°C at 7pm on July 16, breaking the historic heat record for the same period of the year”, the China Meteorological Administration said.

US climate envoy John Kerry arrived in the country on Sunday to restart stalled talks between the world's two biggest emitters of planet-warming gases.

Scientists say global warming – linked to dependence on fossil fuels – is behind the intensification of heatwaves.

Carlo Buontempo, director of the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service, said there was a clear pattern of heatwaves becoming more common as predicted by scientists.

“We are already in uncharted territory, completely. We have never seen anything like this in our living memory, in our history,” he said.

The World Meteorological Organisation has said the extreme weather looks likely to become the “new normal”, underlining the increasing urgency of cutting fossil fuel emissions.

The EU's climate monitoring service said the world saw its hottest June on record last month.

This year’s unparalleled heat trajectory is also being intensified by the first El Nino weather phenomenon in nearly four years.

That will take a rising toll on the economy, ecosystems and health. A recent study showed that more than 60,000 people died in Europe during last summer’s heatwaves.

Updated: July 17, 2023, 2:31 PM