Heat wave bakes southern Europe, sparking warnings to stay inside, drink water and limit exercise

Italian health authorities are intensifying heat warnings as southern Europe enters a brutally hot week

July 17, 2023 09:33 pm | Updated July 18, 2023 05:59 pm IST - ROME

A man takes a picture of a sign that shows the temperature, near the Spanish Steps, during a heat wave across Italy as temperatures are expected to rise further in the coming days, in Rome, Italy July 17, 2023.

A man takes a picture of a sign that shows the temperature, near the Spanish Steps, during a heat wave across Italy as temperatures are expected to rise further in the coming days, in Rome, Italy July 17, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Italian health officials intensified heat warnings on Monday as southern Europe began a brutally hot week with temperatures expected to top 40 degree Celsuis on a continent already sizzling under the sun and overburdened by tourists.

The Health Ministry urged regions to beef up house-call services so older people don't have to go out if they need medical care and to set up dedicated heat stations at hospitals to treat emergency cases.

The Ministry also issued 10 recommendations to protect elderly people, the sick and pets from the heat, urging people to stay indoors during the hottest hours, drink at least 1.5 litres of water a day and refrain from strenuous exercise at peak daylight times. Local celebrities went on state-run RAI television to read the recommendations aloud, in hopes of spreading the message.

The culprit is a high-pressure anticyclone dubbed Cerberus — the multi-headed dog that guards gates to the underworld in Greek mythology. The third heat wave in a month was expected to affect much of the Mediterranean and last until Wednesday.

“The bubble of hot air that has inflated over southern Europe has turned Italy and surrounding countries into a giant pizza oven,” Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist and physical geographer at the University of Reading, said in a statement. “The hot air which pushed in from Africa is now staying put, with settled high pressure conditions meaning that heat in warm sea, land and air continues to build.”

The mercury in Rome hit 39 degrees Celsuis by 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon. Italy's capital was expected to be even hotter on Tuesday, topping 40 degrees Celsuis as were several other cities, in particular in Sardinia and Sicily.

Power outages were hitting parts of Rome as electric grids suffered under heavier demand from air conditioners as people sought relief. Italian farm lobby Coldiretti, meanwhile, issued an alarm about the plight of domestic and farm animals, noting that cows are producing around 10% less milk as a result of the heat.

Elsewhere in Spain, a wildfire that started Saturday on the Canary island of La Palma continued to burn out of control Monday, although authorities say weaker winds and cooler temperatures in the area are helping firefighters combat it. The blaze has burned some 4,600 hectares of mostly woody hill land and some 20 houses and buildings.

More than 4,000 residents were evacuated from their homes Saturday but were allowed to return as of late Sunday.

Spain’s Aemet weather agency said the heat wave this week “will affect a large part of the countries bordering the Mediterranean" with temperatures in some southern areas of Spain exceeding 42 degrees Celsuis.

The agency says it expects temperatures to drop sometime on Wednesday.

Spokesman Rubén del Campo said an anticyclone is pushing a hot mass of air from Africa toward Spain and other Mediterranean countries. The agency predicts that with the heat and very dry air, the risk of wildfires will skyrocket.

Greece got a brief respite from the heat on Monday, with opening hours returning to normal at the ancient Acropolis and other sites. But two wildfires threatened homes in areas outside Athens, where winds of up to 70 kph (45 mph) made the flames difficult to contain.

Most of southern Greece, including greater Athens, was at an elevated level of alert for fire risk, while more extreme temperatures are expected starting Thursday.

The southern Mediterranean wasn't alone in suffering. Authorities in North Macedonia extended a heat alert for the next 10 days with predicted temperatures topping 43 C (109 F), while Kosovo authorities also issued heat warnings.

"Never in my life have I experienced heat like this before in Pristina," said Artan Kelani, a 22-year-old student.

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