Heat Wave Scorches Europe

Scientists say climate change is making heat waves hotter, longer and more frequent

A forest fire
A forest fire in Louchats, southwestern France, on July 17, 2022 THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP via Getty Images

A record-breaking heat wave is scorching parts of Europe this week, fueling wildfires and causing heat-related deaths. 

The U.K.’s Meteorological Office issued its first red extreme heat warning for Monday and Tuesday in parts of England as temperatures climbed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Today, the U.K. provisionally recorded temperatures over 40 degrees Celcius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time ever. Firefighters have tackled at least ten fires across London, and the city’s ambulance service said call handlers were receiving around 400 calls an hour, per Sky News

Transportation was also disrupted across England. Flights were delayed at London’s Luton Airport after high temperatures caused a section of runway to lift. Trains were delayed or canceled because of extreme heat, and officials urged people not to use public transportation unless absolutely necessary, reports Mark Landler for the New York Times. Many homes in the country are not equipped with air conditioning, per the Times

“We are not ready for this level of heat in the U.K.,” says heat wave researcher Chloe Brimicombe from the University of Reading in a statement. “We lack cooling measures and tend to underestimate heat as a threat. When we think about heat waves many of us picture sun bathing on the beach rather than hospital beds. These temperatures are a very severe threat to people’s health, especially to the vulnerable.” 

In Spain and Portugal, more than 1,000 people have died from heat-related deaths in recent days, per BBC News’ Paul Kirby. Fires are ripping through parts of both countries as well as England, France, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and Morocco.

“Climate change kills,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday during a visit to the site of three major blazes in Spain, per Al Jazeera. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.” 

Scientists have long warned of extreme temperatures from human-caused climate change. 

"To my great disappointment, we were right,” Michael Wehner, who studies heat extremes at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, writes Andrew Freedman of Axios in an email. “In fact, if anything, those early projections of extreme temperatures were overly conservative.” 

Tunisia and China also endured blistering heat last week. Tunis, Tunisia’s capital, recorded a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit on July 13, breaking a 40-year record, per NASA. Shanghai reported a temperature of 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit last Wednesday, tying its all-time local record, which was set in 2017. 

“Climate change is driving this heat wave, just as it is driving every heat wave now," Friederike Otto, a scientist at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College in London, tells USA Today’s Doyle Rice. "Greenhouse gas emissions, from burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, are making heat waves hotter, longer-lasting and more frequent. Heat waves that used to be rare are now common; heat waves that used to be impossible are now happening and killing people.”