Temperatures in Italy could get close to breaking a European record this week as a fierce heatwave grips much of the continent.
An anticyclone – an area of high pressure – named Cerberus will cause temperatures to exceed 40C (104F) across much of the country by Wednesday, with the islands of Sicily and Sardinia predicted to bear the brunt at 47-48C.
It is the first major heatwave to affect Italy this year and comes after a spring and early summer marked by storms and flooding.
The record for the highest temperature in European history was broken on 11 August 2021, when a high of 48.8C was registered in Floridia, a town in the Sicilian province of Syracuse.
“We know that there will be temperatures above 40C or 45C,” said Prof Luca Mercalli, the president of the Italian Meteorological Society. “We could get close to the record. Either way, the levels will be very high.”
The intense heat is expected to last for about two weeks in central and southern parts of Italy, while slightly subsiding in the north.
Naming the anticyclone after Cerberus, the three-headed monster-dog that in Greek mythology guards the gates to the underworld, was not a coincidence, the meteorologist Stefano Rossi told La Stampa. Cerberus appears in Dante’s Inferno, where it guards the third circle of hell.
“Metaphorically, the three heads indicate the three main climatic zones into which Italy will be divided,” Rossi said, adding that humidity levels would be “skyrocketing” and that nighttime temperatures would not drop below 22C.
A heatwave is also sweeping across France, Germany, Spain and Poland.
In Spain, where the second heatwave of the summer could bring temperatures of up to 44C to some southern parts of the country, the Red Cross has urged people to take extra care and to check on those most vulnerable to the high temperatures, such as children and older people.
It is calling on people to remember to stay hydrated, to avoid caffeine and alcohol, and to watch for signs of heatstroke, which can include vomiting, confusion, hot, dry skin and fainting.
Spain’s state meteorological office, Aemet, said temperatures on Monday could reach 38C across many parts of the Iberian peninsula, rising to 40C in southern areas and 44C in parts of the Guadalquivir valley.
The heatwave, which is forecast to last until Wednesday, could bring temperatures of up to 43C to Mallorca and the Ebro valley on Tuesday.
Searing temperatures were also expected to affect Greece where the Athens National Observatory forecast they would reach an average of between 42C and 43C as of Wednesday. The heatwave, the first this summer, is slated to peak on Friday, although forecasters predicted the extreme weather could trigger forest fires and be prolonged, “insidious and dangerous”.
In a rare step, the country’s health, labour and citizens’ protection ministries issued emergency warnings on Monday calling on employers to ensure staff did not work outdoors between noon and 5pm and advising older and more vulnerable people to remain hydrated, eat lightly and stay indoors.
The City of Athens announced it would open special air-conditioned spaces to host citizens, in operation between 8am and 8pm from Tuesday. The Greek capital’s large stray animal population will also be taken care of, with about 150 watering stations in place around the city. Greek scientists have taken the unprecedented step of naming and ranking heatwaves in a bid to better prepare policymakers and affected populations of the perils posed by the “invisible killers.”
Research has found there were 61,672 heat-related deaths last summer, the hottest ever recorded in Europe. The mortality rate was highest in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
In every week of summer 2022, the study found, average temperatures in Europe “uninterruptedly” exceeded the baseline values of the previous three decades. The most intense heat was between 18 and 24 July, when it killed 11,637 people.
Human-caused climate change is making every heatwave in the world more intense and more likely to happen. According to a report by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, last year’s heatwaves in Europe would have been virtually impossible without global heating.
Source : The Guardian