A Potentially Record Setting Heat Wave Is About to Scorch Europe

Photo: AP

Last year’s climate change-fueled European heat wave shrunk mountains and and revealed ancient history. So it’s with great trepidation that Europe is bracing for another scorching heat wave to descend this week.

Monthly records could fall in many locations, with the most intense heat centered on France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Belgium according to national weather agencies. Many of the standing records were set in a 2003 heat wave that killed tens of thousands across the continent. Governments have already begun warning citizens of the dangerous conditions in an effort ensure that even if the heat tops 2003 levels, the death toll doesn’t.

The cause for this heat wave lies in a weather pattern known as a rex block. The pattern is characterized by areas of high and low pressure sitting near each other and contorting the river of fast-flowing air from known as the jet stream. In this case, high pressure over Greenland and a strong low pressure system over the North Atlantic will form a race track for the jet stream to cruise through. The jet stream will dip south of the low pressure before taking a sharp turn northward and continuing west. That will cut off Europe from cooler air to the north and allow hot air to climb north from Africa.

That will essentially lock in heat and clear skies over much of Western Europe starting on Monday. The heat will then intensify over the course of the week. High temperatures are expected to skyrocket above above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday for a huge portion of France, including Paris. The forecast for Carpentras, a town of 28,000 about 50 miles north of Marseilles, is even worse. There, temperatures are expected to reach 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday and Saturday. That would easily cap the monthly high temperature record for France of 41.5 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) set in June 2003, according to Reuters.

Temperatures are likely to climb above 40 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Spain and approach that in Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium. Overnight temperatures will stay balmy, which poses particularly acute health risks to children and the elderly. The dangerous heat will also likely make for challenging conditions for the World Cup matches being played this week.

Maps put out by national weather services across the region tell the story of the heat in searing, bold colors. Meteo France has rolled out a forecast map that uses an ominous purple shade to show where the worst heat will hit throughout the week. Meteo Suisse is calling for a heat red alert in various parts of the country, indicating “high danger.”

Many European cities and regions adopted heat preparedness plans after the summer of 2003 heat wave killed up to 70,000 across the continent. Paris, for instance, has four alert levels for dealing with the heat, although the fourth has never been used. This week, it’s keeping pools open longer and setting up “cool rooms” as part of its level three plan.

Climate change is making extreme heat more common around the world, and research has shown that a portion of the deaths from the 2003 heat wave can be attributed to it. In addition to background warming, the weather pattern locking in this type of heat may also be a symptom of global warming. While it’s still an active area of research, some researchers think an increasingly kinky jet stream has to do with rapid Arctic warming, which is reducing the temperature gradient that usually pulls the jet stream taut between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes.

This may be, in part, what locked in a protracted rainy period in the U.S., wreaking havoc for Midwest farmers. Now Europeans will face a different type of equally dangerous weather.


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