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Europe suffers under major heatwave, faces drought and wildfires

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP, Reuters
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A man sits in the sun at Carcavelos beach, outside Lisbon, Friday, July 8, 2022.
A man sits in the sun at Carcavelos beach, outside Lisbon, Friday, July 8, 2022.   -   Copyright  Armando Franca/AP

Large parts of Europe are bracing for a major heatwave this week, with temperatures expected to reach up to 40 degrees Celsius across southern and western parts of the continent. 

The scorching heat and exceedingly dry weather have already caused significant problems, including an unprecedented drought in Italy and a string of forest fires in Portugal and Greece.

Concerns are growing that the continued extreme weather might spell one of the toughest summers for citizens and agricultural production alike, with most of the affected countries now on high alert.

Here are some of the latest developments from across the continent:

Spain endures second massive heatwave of the season

Spaniards kept to the shade in parks, headed for the beach or sipped iced drinks this weekend to tackle stifling temperatures as high as 43C, as the country experiences its second heatwave this year.

Warm summer sunshine combined with a hot air front from North Africa have sent temperatures soaring, state meteorological forecasters AEMET said on Sunday, and the heatwave could last until 14 July.

The highest recorded temperature on Sunday was 43C by the Guadalquivir river near Sevilla in southern Spain and in Badajoz, towards the west of the country, forecasters said.

AEMET spokesman Ruben del Campo told Reuters that temperatures could touch 44C in Cordoba or Extremadura in southern Spain.

"They could also reach 42C in parts of (central Spain) like Castille and Leon and Galicia (in central and western Spain) on Tuesday and Wednesday."

Del Campo said there was also a high risk of forest fires during the heatwave.

Emilio Fraile/AP
A firefighter works in front of flames during a wildfire in the Sierra de la Culebra, Zamora, 18 June 2022Emilio Fraile/AP

In La Rioja, northern Spain, 90 firefighters were battling to bring a blaze under control which started on Saturday night, regional authorities said on Sunday.

In El Ronquillo, near Seville, about 100 people had to be evacuated after a fire closed in on their homes, the Andalusian regional authorities said.

In June, Spaniards weathered the earliest heatwave since 1981, according to AEMET, with temperatures surpassing 40F in parts of central and southern Spain.

Portugal on high alert

Portugal raised its alert level to its third-highest of four levels on Monday, with the government saying thousands of firefighters are on standby but it also urged people to prevent blazes.

Under the state of contingency, which is in place until Friday, the government has banned the public from accessing forests deemed to be at risk and prohibited slash-and-burn land clearances.

Multiple wildfires broke out in Portugal in recent days but, according to authorities, the worst is yet to come as temperatures across most of the country were expected to surpass 40C from Tuesday onwards.

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Women carrying drinks walk past a performer in a polar bear costume at Lisbon's Comercio square,, 11 July 2022AP Photo/Armando Franca

Weather agency IPMA said in some areas, including in Alentejo, a southern region known for its plain pastures, temperatures could reach 46-47C. The hottest temperature on record was 47.3C in 2003.

"This is not a very normal situation," IPMA meteorologist Patrícia Gomes told SIC TV. "It is serious in all aspects -- even for our health... it is not usual to see such long periods with such high temperatures."

Most of Portugal is facing a severe or extreme drought due to a shortage of rain over the winter months, meaning there is a significant amount of dry vegetation to burn.

Italy in state of emergency

Italy found itself in the throes of the worst heatwave of the season, according to domestic meteorologists.

Temperatures started to rise over the weekend and are expected to climb all the way to 40C in the northwest and many other inland parts of the country. 

Temperatures in the Po Valley, Tuscany, and Umbria could rise above 38-39°C as early as 15 July and stay at those levels until at least 22 July, ANSA news agency reported.

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
Smoke billows after a fire broke out at a junkyard, in the south eastern side of Rome, 9 July 2022AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

The heatwave, expected to last some 10 days, comes on the back of a string of highly unusual hot and dry periods, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in five regions after a large portion of the country experienced the worst drought in the past 70 years.

The drought is estimated to have affected about one-third of Italy's agricultural product, and the latest, the fifth heatwave, is considered to be particularly problematic, as overnight temperatures are also expected to reach record highs.

The government has issued a number of recommendations for the coming weeks, including avoiding going outdoors between 11 am and 6 pm, wearing light-coloured clothing and sunscreen, and drinking at least two litres of water a day.

French PM mobilises ministers to deal with heatwave

A new heatwave is settling over France, with peaks of 39C possible from Tuesday in the south of the country.

The intensity and duration of the latest wave of extremely hot weather are still difficult to predict, say experts at Météo France, but temperatures were already above 30C on Monday over much of the country and are expected to reach between 36C and 38C on Tuesday in the south-west and the Rhone valley, with possible peaks of 39C.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has asked all ministers to mobilise to deal with the consequences of the weather, her office announced on Tuesday morning.

"The heat has a very rapid impact on the state of health of the population, particularly the most vulnerable. In this context, all the players in the territories must be mobilised," Matignon said in a statement. 

"The government will ensure that the ORSEC heatwave health management system is activated in all the departments on heatwave alert, the statement read.

AP Photo/Daniel Cole
A man sunbathes in Marseille, 17 June 2022AP Photo/Daniel Cole

The measure includes all public services, local authorities, and health institutions. The more vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with disabilities, and people overexposed to the heat, like the homeless are also to be taken into account, Borne's office said.

According to Météo France, the heatwave is expected to last "at least eight to 10 days", with a peak probably between Saturday and Tuesday (19 July).

Britain bakes after being hit by unusually high temperatures

The UK is experiencing a heatwave this week with highs of 33 degrees Celsius on Monday (11 July) afternoon, according to the British Meteorological Office.

Central, southern and eastern England should all experience rising temperatures during the week.

The Met Office and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have issued a level three heat health alert, on a scale of four, from Monday morning until Friday morning in some English regions.

According to the Met Office forecasting models, temperatures could reach up to 40 degrees this weekend.

If that were to happen, it would break the current British temperature record of 38.7 degrees set in Cambridge in 2019.

AP Photo/David Cliff
A street performer wearing a clown costume buys a bottle of water from an ice cream van on Westminster Bridge in hot weather in London, 16 June 2022AP Photo/David Cliff

Local and health authorities are advising people to take precautions, such as staying hydrated and staying indoors and checking on the most vulnerable people.

The Met Office has been forecasting these extreme temperatures for the UK since last week.

The high 20s should be the norm for most regions until the weekend when temperatures are expected to rise again to 31 degrees in cities like London and Oxford. But these temperatures are actually common, according to Met Office meteorologist Aidan McGivern.

"By the weekend temperatures could be exceptional and there's a chance they'll be record-breaking and so that really would make it unusual."

Additional sources • ANSA