Tourists are fleeing holiday homes across Europe as ‘turbo charged’ climate changed-induced wildfires ripped through hotspots in Greece, Switzerland and Spain with warnings saying temperatures could soon reach 48C.
Forecasters say the heatwave centred across the Mediterranean is set to soar even higher after a new cyclone called Charon, the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology, hit the region.
The heat has been building as a result of a large area of high pressure, and even hotter conditions will develop as a surge of high temperatures moves in from north Africa.
The Italian island of Sardinia is set to be hit hardest with predictions that temperatures could reach the record of 48.8C set in the Sicilian town of Floridia in August 2021.
Italian meteorological society president Luca Mercalli said: ‘Even if that record is not broken, we are seeing a heatwave the length of which is unprecedented.’
Scientists say heatwaves have been made worse by fossil fuel emissions. ‘We can be in absolutely no doubt that a critical driver behind this warming trend is carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels,’ said Dr Leslie Mabon, a lecturer in environmental systems at the Open University.
‘Until we rapidly reduce emissions from fossil fuels, extremes like the heatwave we are seeing in Europe at the moment are going to become more and more likely.’
The ‘unprecedented’ heat is likely to continue into August in some areas, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said.
‘Extreme heat is killer heat, and multiple-day heatwaves are the biggest threat because people can’t get a break and the body can only sustain it for so long’
The effects of heat on human health magnify, and the body only starts to recover when the temperature drops below 27C, so small temperature rises can result in increased deaths and illness.
‘Extreme heat is killer heat, and multiple-day heatwaves – and early-season ones – are the biggest threat, because people can’t get a break and the body can only sustain it for so long,’ said Brenda Ekwurzel, the director of climate science for the climate and energy programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US.
‘These are not isolated heat events; this is what the turbo-charged climate change world looks like.’
Temperatures reached the mid to high 30Cs last week. A temperature of 44.8C was recorded in Almería, Spain, on Wednesday. By Saturday, temperatures were reaching 41C in Greece, 44C in Turkey and 39C in southern Germany.
Professor Randall Cerveny, WMO Weather and Climate Extremes Rapporteur said: ‘Climate change and temperature increase has spurred a surge in reports of record weather and climate extremes, especially for heat.’
The sweltering conditions have sparked wildfires that have ripped through holiday homes across Greece, Switzerland, Spain and Turkey, forcing thousands to evacuate from tourist resorts.
In the canton of Valais, Switzerland, more than 200 firefighters worked throughout Monday (July 17) night to extinguish a wildfire but the flames destroyed villas in mountain villages.
Greece, which recorded 44C heat on Monday, started mass evacuations yesterday afternoon after a blaze which broke out in the village of Kouvaras forced hundreds of holidaymakers to flee.
The wildfire, which started just 30 miles from the Greek capital of Athens, spread south towards the seaside resorts of Lagonisi, Anavyssos and Saronida and authorities told residents to leave the area earlier on Tuesday.
British tourists have been forced to evacuate from their holiday villas as wildfires erupted through Saranida, near Athens, Greece, on Monday
The extreme temperatures forced authorities to close the Acropolis in Athens during the hottest part of the day to protect tourists.
On the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canaries 4,000 people had to be evacuated as a forest fire burned out of control.
Across the world 37 people died after days of heavy rain led to severe flooding and landslides in central South Korea on Friday and Saturday.
Heavy rain swept away cars and submerged roads and a landslide caused the derailment of a train in North Chungcheong province. Flood water trapped people in a tunnel near the city of Cheongju, resulting in nine deaths.
Dr Mabon added: ‘The differences that we are seeing in the extent of warming both globally and between regions of Europe are also a stark reminder that the Earth’s climate is a complex system. As we get to higher degrees of warming, the danger of feedback loops or unexpected events occurring becomes greater.’