The World Meteorological Organization says scorching heat waves and wildfires raging in Portugal, Spain and France are forecast to worsen and spread to other parts of Europe in coming days.
The United Kingdom already is wilting under record high temperatures. The UK weather service has issued an amber extreme heat warning for much of England and Wales. It forecasts exceptionally high temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius Sunday and Monday.
In Portugal, where temperatures have reached highs of 46 degrees Celsius, red heat alerts, which warn people of life-threatening conditions, are in effect. Similar warnings are being issued in Spain and France. More than 20 wildfires have been reported in Portugal, western Spain, and southwest France.
Lorenzo Labrador is a scientific officer in the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Atmosphere Watch Program. He says the journal Nature Geoscience published a recent modeling study of the likely impact of the expansion of a high-pressure system over the Atlantic. He says the system, known as the Azores high, is leading to the driest conditions on the Iberian Peninsula in the last 1,000 years.
“It is worth pointing [out] that the high temperatures is not the only adverse consequence of heat waves. The stable and stagnant atmosphere acts as a lid to trap atmospheric pollutants, including particulate matter, increasing their concentration closer to the surface. These result in a degradation of air quality and adverse health effects, particularly for vulnerable people.”
He notes more heat, abundant sunshine, and concentrations of certain atmospheric pollutants can lead to an increase of ozone near the Earth’s surface. That, he says, has detrimental effects on people and plants.
The World Health Organization reports air pollution is a major cause of premature death and disease and the single largest environmental health risk in Europe. It notes more than 300,000 people die prematurely from air pollution in Europe every year, with that number jumping to seven million premature deaths globally.
Labrador says heat waves are a natural phenomenon. As such, he says it is not easy to attribute any single high-pressure condition and heat wave event directly to climate change. “However, what we know and what we have seen is that heat waves are becoming more frequent, more prevalent, and their temperatures are becoming more extreme as well. So, that kind of link over an extended period of time—years—we can attribute to climate change,” he points out.
Labrador says scientists cannot say the current heat waves are a product of climate change. But, he adds, the evidence points toward scorching, record-busting temperatures becoming more frequent and more devastating in the coming years.