At the port of Antwerp, Belgium, two alleged drug dealers called police for help after they got stuck inside a sweltering shipping container filled with cocaine.
On Monday, scientists officially pronounced July 2019 the warmest month the world has experienced since record-keeping began more than a century ago.
How hot was it?
Wildfires raged across millions of acres in the Arctic. A massive ice melt in Greenland sent 197 billion tons of water pouring into the Atlantic Ocean, raising sea levels. And temperature records evaporated, one after another: 101.7 degrees Fahrenheit in Cambridge, England, and 108.7 in Paris. The same in Lingen, Germany.
“We have always lived through hot summers. But this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfather’s summer,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told reporters as July gave way to August.
The Copernicus Climate Change Service, a program of the European Union, calculated that last month narrowly edged out July 2016 for the ominous distinction of hottest month on record. The month beat July 2016 by about 0.07 degrees (0.04 Celsius).
Scientists found that the planet is headed for one of its hottest years, and the period from 2015 to 2019 is likely to go down as the warmest five-year period on record.
“July has rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at [the] local, national and global level,” Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said in announcing the month’s historic implications. “This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now, and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action."
The Copernicus ranking was generated by taking millions of readings from weather balloons, satellites, buoys and other sources on an hourly basis and feeding them into a computer model.
The results still must be checked against data from thousands of temperature-measuring sites around the world. Those readings ultimately will be reported by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies in the coming weeks. While their rankings could vary, the final results are not likely to differ significantly, according to scientists.
Notably, July’s monthly temperature record comes without the added influence of a strong “El Niño” in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which adds heat to the oceans and atmosphere and helps boost planetary temperatures. The 2016 record, for example, occurred during a year with an extremely strong El Niño.
“While we don’t expect every year to set a new record, the fact that it’s happening every few years is a clear sign of a warming climate,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist with Berkeley Earth.
From scorching heat in Europe to gargantuan wildfires in Siberia and Alaska, the record heat of July 2019 left its mark on people and the ecosystems they depend on.
The monthly temperature spike was driven largely by record warmth in Western Europe, including the searing heat wave that made its way to the Arctic and culminated in one of the most significant melt events ever recorded in Greenland. The Greenland ice sheet poured 197 billion tons of water into the North Atlantic in July alone — enough to raise global sea levels by 0.5 millimeters, or 0.02 inches.
Alaska also saw its warmest month on record. There and elsewhere across the Arctic, simultaneous and massive wildfires erupted, consuming millions of acres and emitting startling amounts of greenhouse gases. Arctic sea ice was at a record low for the month.
In Canada, a military installation in Alert, Nunavut — the northernmost permanently inhabited place on Earth — recorded 69.8 degrees on July 14, breaking a record set in 1956. The average July high for the outpost, some 600 miles from the North Pole, is 44.6 degrees.
In Belgium, one zoo fed its tigers with chickens frozen in blocks of ice. In Paris, local officials set up impromptu “cooling rooms” in each neighborhood where people could find air conditioning and cold water.
In parts of Germany, authorities were forced to lower autobahn speed limits over concerns that the high-speed motorways might suffer heat damage. Undeterred, one motor scooter rider took to the roads of eastern Germany but was stopped after officers spotted him wearing nothing aside from a helmet.
Residents took matters into their own hands in the German capital of Berlin, circulating maps on social media that showed the locations of air-conditioned public spaces. Portable air conditioners and fans quickly sold out, and one company that installs air conditioners suspended its phone service. A recorded voice message cited a flood of calls that it was no longer able to handle.
Damodhar Ughade, a cotton farmer in the village of Seeras in western India’s Vidarbha region, felt like he was reliving a nightmare in July after a devastating heat wave the month before.
While droughts due to delayed monsoons are not infrequent, this year was the worst since 1972, when scores of people left their arid villages and migrated to cities. As temperatures soared to 102 degrees, Ughade’s fields lay parched, his livestock starved, and the village ran out of drinking water.
“There were two-foot cracks in my field. It was impossible to even walk on it,” he said by phone. The lack of reliable water led women to walk two hours to other villages, carrying earthen pots on their heads in search of water. Men rented small vehicles and carried tankers to nearby cities to buy water.
The scarcity was so severe that there was not enough water to share with the oxen. About 15 died in the village, he said.
In England, 22-year-old Andrea D’Aleo had the unenviable job of shuttling passengers down the River Cam — the main river that flows through Cambridge, a scenic university town about 60 miles north of London. He was standing at the back of a long, flat-bottomed boat, digging a long pole against the river bed. Normally, he said, umbrellas are used to fend off rain showers, but on Thursday, tourists used them as parasols.
“It was challenging,” D’Aleo said of working as a tour guide in the intense heat. “I was talking to a bunch of umbrellas while dying in the sun.”
Four years ago in Paris, world leaders committed to doing all they could to prevent the globe from warming more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (two degrees Celsius), with the goal of keeping warming to no more than 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 Celsius), compared with preindustrial levels.
But the commitments that countries made in Paris are far too modest to meet those targets. Last week, as the head of the United Nations recognized the likelihood that the world had just experienced its hottest month on record, he pleaded with national leaders to summon the will to take the kind of aggressive action that could put the globe on a more sustainable trajectory.
“This year alone, we have seen temperature records shattered from New Delhi to Anchorage, from Paris to Santiago, from Adelaide and to the Arctic Circle,” Guterres said. “If we do not take action on climate change now, these extreme weather events are just the tip of the iceberg. And, indeed, the iceberg is also rapidly melting.”
Amanda Coletta in Toronto, Michael Birnbaum in Prague, Niha Masih in New Delhi, Karla Adam in London, Rick Noack in Berlin and James McAuley in Paris contributed to this report.