As record heat and fires hit many countries bordering the Mediterranean, concerns are rising about the risk of the mercury going above 50 ° C in Europe before the middle of the century. This prospect calls for strong and clearly defined adaptation and crisis management measures.
Since the beginning of the month, intense heat has affected North Africa and spread to southern Europe, passing through the Mediterranean. Many heat records have been broken, including the 48.8 ° C recorded in Syracuse, south-eastern Sicily on August 11. If this measurement were to be formalized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), it would place itself as the highest temperature ever observed in continental Europe. The previous record retained by the organization was in fact 48 ° C in Athens (Greece) on July 10, 1977.
Further south, the 50 ° C bar was locally crossed with, for example, 50.3 ° C reported in Kairouan (Tunisia) on Wednesday. Never has such a high value been measured in the country. In addition to the temperatures, sometimes deadly fires affect many states bordering the Mediterranean. Over the next few hours, the hottest temperatures will move towards the west of the continent. Also, new temperature extremes are expected, especially between the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco.
Will the 50 ° C threshold soon be crossed in Europe?
In a context where record heat events are multiplying and gaining in intensity, Peter A. Stott, expert on the phenomenon at the Met Office, says Europe must be prepared to face temperatures above 50 ° C. “We can’t say exactly when this is likely to happen, but Europe needs to prepare for new records to be broken with temperatures likely above 50 ° C in the future, most likely near the Mediterranean where the influence of warm air from North Africa is strongest, ”he says.
While global warming increases the likelihood of such episodes occurring, a favorable meteorological context is also needed. Indeed, the presence of a high pressure zone is necessary. The downward movement in the high pressure not only warms the air by compression, but also through strong sunlight and calm wind at the surface. Over time, the mass of air accumulates heat, which in turn reinforces the upper pressure circulation. If the situation persists over time, a veritable dome of scorching air can form.
“Adverse effects on human health are likely, especially for people exposed to extreme heat for prolonged periods or belonging to vulnerable population groups,” adds Chris Almond, meteorologist at the Met Office. “This is combined with poor air quality in some places due to forest fires and smoke.”
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