Europe needs to prepare for temperatures of 50C in future

Syracuse, in Sicily, has provisionally exceeded the previous European highest temperature with a record of 48.8°C yesterday. If the record is confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization, this temperature will break the previous record of 48.0°C in Athens in 1977.

It will also raise concerns that even higher temperatures are potential in future, possibly even exceeding 50.0C.

Professor Peter Stott is the Met Office’s lead on climate attribution. He has studied European heatwaves for nearly two decades, including the notable ones in 2003 and 2019.

He said: “Climate change is making heat-related extremes of weather more intense and when we think about those record-breaking temperature the chance of breaking temperature records – or coming close to breaking records – is greatly increased.

“Record-breaking temperatures in June 2019 saw the French temperature record exceed 45.0°C for the first time, and our analysis found that event was at least five times more likely because of climate change. Although we haven’t yet been able to run an in-depth study on the current situation, I think it’s going to be clear that climate change has made this current event more extreme.

“The chances each summer of seeing really extreme temperatures are pretty high now. We can’t say exactly when it is likely to happen, but Europe will need to prepare for the eventuality of further records being broken with temperatures above 50.0°C being possible in Europe in future, most likely close to the Mediterranean where the influence of hot air from North Africa is strongest.”

The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by around 1.1°C since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900), but the average temperature in some regions has increased by a greater amount. The average temperature in North Africa, for example, has increased by around 2.0°C over the same period.

Potentially Syracuse has broken the European temperature record as heat builds further west into Iberia

Chris Almond is a meteorologist working with the Met Office’s Global Guidance Unit. Commenting on the conditions leading up to this event, he said: “There is a large area of high pressure in the upper atmosphere affecting much of the Mediterranean, as well as northern Africa.

“High pressure leads to sinking motion in the atmosphere which compresses the air and heats it up, and this added to the heat from the sun can lead to very high temperatures at this time of year. Also under high pressure, winds tend to be light, so the heat doesn’t get dispersed as much this also helps conditions to get hotter and hotter.

“This weather situation is not particularly unusual, high pressure often sits over these areas in the summer – it’s the temperatures which are more unusual, which are the result of many factors coming together at the same time.

“With climate change, we are expecting, and are already seeing, more frequent and severe events, and will continue to do in the future.”

The exceptional heat in the central Mediterranean is building after extreme conditions in Greece and Turkey last week.

This heat is expected to extend into Iberia and Morocco through the next couple of days. Further national records could be achieved in the coming days, including for Spain, where the current record is 47.3C in Cordoba in 2003.

Chris Almond added: “A high wildfire threat continues, which could result in the rapid spread of new fires and limit containment activities of existing fires. It will be next week before temperatures are expected to slowly decrease across the region.

“Adverse human health impacts are likely, particularly to those exposed to the extreme heat for prolonged periods or are part of vulnerable population groups. This is combined with poor air quality in some places due to ongoing wildfires and smoke.”

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