An intense, prolonged heatwave is sweeping across Europe, with potential record-breaking temperatures of up to 48°C (118.4°F). This follows global temperature records and coincides with the onset of El Niño. Last year’s heatwaves caused over 60,000 deaths in Europe, and this summer’s conditions could be even more severe.
Temperatures are soaring across Europe this week due to an intense, extended heatwave. Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland are all experiencing this major heatwave, with temperatures anticipated to reach a scorching 48°C (118.4°F) on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia – potentially setting a new European record.
An anticyclone, a region of high atmospheric pressure, named “Cerberus” (named after the monster from Dante’s Inferno) coming from the south is expected to push temperatures over 40°C (104°F) across a significant portion of Italy. This high heat follows a spring and early summer rife with storms and floods.
The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was 48.8°C (119.84°F), recorded on August 11, 2021, in Floridia, a town in Sicily’s Syracuse province. That record may be surpassed in the forthcoming days.
The below animation uses data from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission’s radiometer instrument and illustrates land surface temperatures across Italy between July 9 and 10. As the image clearly reveals, the land surface in cities like Rome, Naples, Taranto, and Foggia exceeded 45°C (113°F). On the eastern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, temperatures above 50°C (122°F) were recorded.
Given that the Copernicus Sentinel-3 collected these data in the late morning (11:30 CEST), the temperature likely continued to rise throughout the afternoon.
This satellite instrument measures the actual energy radiating from Earth and reflects the temperature of the land surface, which is typically hotter than air temperatures. Hence, the map displays the true temperature of the land’s surface.
Scientists use land surface temperature data to better understand and forecast weather and climate patterns, monitor fires, optimize crop irrigation, and improve urban heat mitigation strategies.
This heatwave also affects other European cities, with air temperatures projected to hit 44°C (111.2°F) in parts of Spain later this week. Other areas hit hard include Rome, Italy, and Madrid and Seville in Spain, with land surface temperatures reaching 46°C (114.8°F) and 47°C (116.6°F) respectively.
“Climate warming amplified this year by El Niño severely affects food production, water availability as well as our health. To properly adapt to these changes we need timely information at actionable resolution which the Copernicus programme is providing with Sentinel-3 and soon with the Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring mission at 50 m resolution,” commented Benjamin Koetz, Mission Scientist of the Land Surface Temperature Monitoring mission.
These extreme temperatures in Europe mirror the record-breaking global temperatures reported earlier this week by the World Meteorological Organization. These came after the hottest June on record, marked by unprecedented sea surface temperatures and a record low in Antarctic sea ice extent. The Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that June 2023 was just over 0.5°C (0.9°F) above the 1991-2020 average.
The current heat aligns with the onset of El Niño, a natural phenomenon warming the Pacific Ocean. It’s expected that the global temperature will rise further and more weather records will be broken.
A study recently published in Nature Medicine disclosed that over 60,000 people perished due to last year’s summer heatwaves across Europe, with the highest mortality rates in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. This summer could potentially be worse. Consequently, the Red Cross has called on locals and tourists to exercise extreme caution and pay attention to those most vulnerable to the high temperatures.