This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.
As a second “heat storm” bears down on Southern Europe, millions of people across the continent are bracing another week of record-setting temperatures.
“The bubble of hot air that has inflated over Southern Europe has turned Italy and surrounding countries into a giant pizza oven,” said Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in England. “We haven’t even seen the highest temperatures yet.”
Wide swaths of Europe are expected to see the mercury climb above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with the Italian weather news service Meteo.it forecasting temperatures as high as 46 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit). The swelter comes as places across the globe are also being hit by extreme heat, flooding, and other climate-driven disasters.
“This is not normal,” a sunbather in Italy told Reuters. “I don’t remember such intense heat, especially at this time of year.”
The searing conditions are the result of back-to-back high-pressure systems, known as anticyclones, which have moved across the Mediterranean from Northern Africa. The first was popularly, though unofficially, called Cerberus, after the three-headed dog from Greek mythology that guards the underworld. The latest is named for the ferryman to the Greek underworld: Charon.
“These heat waves are exactly in line with expectations under human-caused climate change,” said Ilan Kelman, a professor of disaster and death at University College London. Europe also experienced a stretch of record-setting heat earlier this year. ”As the rising temperatures drive worsening heat waves, including terrible humidity, we expect to see substantial increases in related deaths.”
A recent study published in Nature Medicine found that last year’s European heat waves led to 61,000 deaths. While the toll from this year’s blistering conditions remains unknown, at least one heat-related death has been reported: a 44-year old road worker who collapsed and died outside Milan.
As of Monday, the Italian health ministry had put more than a dozen cities under a red-alert heat advisory — the country’s highest level. Greek authorities have been keeping the Acropolis during peak heat hours and have similarly banned risky work during the afternoon.
There is also a fear that the increasingly dry conditions could exacerbate wildfires, which are already burning “out of control” in Spain. Greece, which experienced devastating fires in 2021, lists multiple areas as at very high risk for wildfires.
The brutal temperatures come just days after the hottest week in Earth’s recorded history, which saw unprecedented temperatures and heat indices in the American Southwest, India, and elsewhere. Other spots on the globe, such as the Northeast United States and South Korea, endured extreme rainfall and flooding. Cloke says this confluence of devastating events is becoming a new normal.
“Sea-level rise, melting ice, extreme heat waves, intense rainfall, wildfires, drought, and floods are cropping up in many parts of the world at the same time,” she said. “Today’s extremes of weather are increasingly throwing everything everywhere all at once.”