A heatwave has sent temperatures soaring across western Europe over the weekend, with records broken in the UK, Spain, and Italy. Relief is soon to arrive but weather agencies are warning over more and longer heatwaves, a direct consequence of a warmer world.
Cities across Western Europe saw high temperatures anywhere from 10 to 15ºC (50 to 59 Fahrenheit) degrees above normal. The phenomenon was linked to areas of high pressure in northern Africa and led to tourists and locals swarming to the beaches across Europe, making it difficult to maintain physical distancing.
The temperature in San Sebastian on northern Spain reached 42ºC (107 Fahrenheit), which was the hottest weather there since records began in 1955. Meanwhile, the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca saw a record temperature of 40.6ºC (105 Fahrenheit).
The Spanish weather agency, Aemet, said tropical nights, when temperatures don’t fall below 20ºC (68 degrees Fahrenheit), were frequent in many parts of Spain in July and that the annual number of days in heatwave conditions doubled since the 1980s, which is linked to climate change.
Up north, United Kingdom residents also experienced record temperatures, with the national weather agency reporting a reading of 37.8ºC (100 Fahrenheit) at Heathrow Airport near London on Friday. This made it the hottest day of the year so far and the third-hottest on record.
People packed beaches around the British coast, not always obeying the social distancing norms. The city of Brighton on England’s south coast asked visitors to say away, concerned over the number of people in the city.
“Large numbers make it impossible to maintain physical distancing,” the city council said.
In Italy, more than a dozen cities were put on alert as temperatures peaked around 40ºC (104 Fahrenheit) on Friday and Saturday. In Rome, tourists and residents try to escape from the extreme heat by cooling down in public fountains and staying in the shade. The heat made it more difficult to wear face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus, people said.
“Your breath gets very warm — your glasses, there are lots of problems,” Ana Gonzalez, a tourist in Rome, told Reuters. “But you put it all aside when you think that it’s protection and there’s no choice about wearing it.”
There’s no single accepted definition of a heatwave across the globe due to variations in climate conditions in different world regions. Nevertheless, they are usually defined by an unseasonably hot period, usually 5ºC or more above the average daily maximum, that lasts at least three days.
Heatwaves usually happen in Europe when high atmospheric pressure draws up hot air from northern Africa, Portugal, and Spain, rising temperatures and increasing humidity. They are not uncommon, but they are being amplified by a rise in global temperatures and are likely to become more frequent.