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Temperatures soar to 115 in Europe as heat wave expands

Amber heat warnings have been posted in England, which could near its highest temperature on record: 101.7 degrees.

Temperature anomalies over western Europe on Monday, in degrees Celsius. (WeatherBell) (WeatherBell)
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The United Kingdom is bracing for sweltering temperatures late this weekend into early next week, with widespread highs between 90 and 95 degrees (32 to 35 Celsius) and a few spots potentially nicking 100 (38 Celsius). The U.K. Met Office has issued extreme heat alerts — or amber warnings — for much of England and parts of Wales, where temperatures could approach all-time highs.

Extreme heat has already spread over Portugal, Spain and France, where highs have reached record-setting highs around 115 degrees (46 Celsius). Red warnings are in effect for much of Portugal as hot conditions bolster the risk of wildfires. More than 20 blazes have erupted in Portugal, western Spain and southwest France, according to Reuters.

The amber warning in the U.K. includes London, which is bracing for highs above 90 degrees (32 Celsius) by Monday. While that may not sound hot by U.S. standards, Craig Snell, a forecaster at the Met Office, said that’s about 18 degrees (10 Celsius) higher than London’s average mid-July high temperature. The average high this time of year is about 74 degrees.

“We have a big pool of warm air across Spain and Portugal at the moment. As we go into Sunday, a door will open and it will shoot its way to the U.K., giving the already warm U.K. a boost,” Snell said.

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The highest recorded temperature for the U.K. is 101.7 degrees (38.7 Celsius), which was set in Cambridge in 2019. Snell said there was a 30 percent chance that this record could be broken.

This is the second instance of excessive heat blasting Western Europe in recent weeks as human-caused climate change fuels higher temperatures. It comes on the heels of Europe’s second hottest June on record.

How hot it’s already been

The heat is ongoing over the Iberian Peninsula, which includes Spain, France and Portugal. Numerous records have been shattered.

In Spain:

  • Almonte, Spain, hit 114.1 degrees (45.6 Celsius) on Wednesday, with 113.7 degrees (45.4 Celsius) at Olivenza and 113.4 (45.2 Celsius) in Badajoz. That’s according to Maximiliano Herrera, a climate historian.
  • Soria, Spain, reached 101.7, an all-time record (38.7 Celsius) on Wednesday.
  • Zomora, Spain, also claimed an all-time record at 106 degrees (41.1 Celsius) on Wednesday.
  • Ourense, Spain, set an all-time record Tuesday at 109.9 degrees (43.3 Celsius). The previous record was 108.7 degrees (42.6 Celsius) on July 20, 1990.
  • The airport in León, Spain, set an all-time record Tuesday, spiking to 98.1 degrees (36.7 Celsius). The previous record was 97.7 degrees (35.5 Celsius) set on July 29, 1942.
  • Seville has hit at least 105 degrees (40.6 Celsius) for 7 days in a row; it was 111 degrees (43.9 Celsius) on Thursday.

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In Portugal:

  • Lousã, Portugal, reached 115.3 degrees (46.3 Celsius) on Wednesday, an all-time record, on Wednesday. It wasn’t far from the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country: 117.3 degrees in Amareleja on Aug. 1, 2003.
  • Santarem climbed to 115.2 degrees (46.2 Celsius), just 0.1 degrees Celsius away from an all-time record, on Wednesday.
  • Torres Vedras nabbed a July record at 109.9 degrees (43.3 Celsius) on Wednesday.
  • Lisboa Tapada da Ajuda also established a July record, climbing to 106.5 degrees (41.4 Celsius) on Wednesday.
  • Rio Maior surged to 108.5 degrees (42.5 Celsius), also claiming a new July record on Wednesday.

In France:

  • The island of Yeu (part of the administrative region of Vendée) recorded a temperature of 95.4 degrees (35.2 Celsius) on Monday. That obliterates the previous July record of 94.6 degrees (34.8 Celsius) set on July 17, 2006.

How hot it could get

France

In France, the worst of the heat is still to come. Forty departments across the nation are under some form of heat alerts, and the government is reactivating a phone helpline for residents with questions or concerns about the heat.

Météo-France, the country’s equivalent to the U.S. National Weather Service, tweeted that Monday has the potential to be one of the hottest ever recorded across France. The record would be surpassed if the national average temperature — a countrywide calculation that involves averaging the high and low temperatures for a day throughout the country — makes it above 84.9 degrees (29.4 Celsius).

In a bulletin published Thursday morning, Météo-France noted that the “high heat ... [is] characterized in particular by its duration and intensity.” The most intense heat there will last until Tuesday, although above average temperatures may linger long after that.

In the Rhone Valley, temperatures over the next several days could reach 104 degrees (40 Celsius). In Paris, Weather.com forecasts a high of 101 degrees (38.3 Celsius) on Monday and 103 degrees Tuesday (39.4 Celsius). The average high is closer to 77 (25 Celsius).

Spain

In Spain, an “extreme risk” of heat has warranted a red alert to be issued in 8 eight provinces, with forecast highs up to 111 degrees (44 Celsius). Spain has 50 provinces; the remaining are mostly under orange “important” heat alerts and lesser yellow alerts.

In Madrid, the high is forecast to hover near record levels or around 105 degrees (41 Celsius) through the weekend.

Much of Spain and the Iberian Peninsula are also suffering from drought. Copernicus, a climate monitoring service of the European Union, warned of “very extreme fire danger” predicted in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

United Kingdom

It will take until late in the weekend or early next week for the heat to reach the U.K.

“From Sunday, but more likely Monday and Tuesday, peak maximum temperatures are likely be in excess of 35°C [95 Fahrenheit], especially across central, southern and eastern England, with a chance of some locations being even hotter,” said Met Office deputy chief meteorologist Tony Wardle in a news release. “Elsewhere, maxima will generally range from high 20s to low 30s of Celsius [upper 80s to lower 90s Fahrenheit]. This, coupled with overnight minima not falling below 20°C [60 Fahrenheit] in many locations, has considerable potential to cause widespread societal impacts, which is behind the issue of an Amber Extreme heat warning.”

Weather.com calls for London to hit 96 on Monday and 98 on Tuesday.

Some places, including downtown London, won’t see lows dipping below 70 degrees (21 Celsius) at night. Coming off a day in the 90s, that translates to homes that may struggle to fall below 75 or 80 degrees (24 or 27 Celsius), particularly since very few U.K. households have air conditioning.

“Population-wide adverse health effects are likely to be experienced, not limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat, leading to potential serious illness or danger to life,” the Met Office wrote in its warning.

A few computer models have simulated temperatures as high as 104 degrees (40 Celsius) in the U.K., which would shatter its all-time record, but the Met Office notes that potential has waned some.

“Some models had been producing maximum temperatures in excess of 40°C [104 Fahrenheit] in parts of the UK over the coming weekend and beyond,” said Wardle. “These have highlighted the potential which exists in the developing weather situation, but it’s as yet uncertain if these values will materialise. Mid, to possibly locally high, 30s Celsius [upper 90s to near 100 Fahrenheit] remains the most likely scenario.”

The heat will ease somewhat over the U.K. and France by the middle of next week but spread into Central Europe, scorching Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic on Wednesday and Thursday.

What’s causing the heat?

Instigating the heat is something called a “cutoff low,” or a low-pressure system that has become pinched off from the jet stream. It’s analogous to paddling a boat through a pond and watching a whirlpool shed off the oar and continue spinning aimlessly. In this case, the low is a self-sustaining swirl of counterclockwise-spinning winds wrapped about a lobe of high-altitude cold that’s whirring around a few hundred miles southwest of Portugal over the open northeast Atlantic.

Because it’s no longer nestled within a dip in the jet stream and subsequently shuttled west to east, there’s nothing to really scoot it along. As a result, the cutoff low will spend days sitting in place and spinning, with southerly winds on the eastern side of the system pumping African heat northward toward Western Europe and the U.K.

While the heat will gradually ease from west to east in Europe next week, it marks the latest in several European heat events that have been exacerbated by human-induced climate change. While human influence is not the cause of the hot weather, it tips the scales toward more frequent, intense and prolonged heat waves.

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It has been just over three years since an unprecedented heat wave baked Europe, sending temperatures skyrocketing. Paris hit an all-time high of 109 degrees (42.8 Celsius). Last month, a heat wave set hundreds of records throughout Europe.

Snell said the Met Office tracks how many years the U.K. has reached 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on a single day. Since the 1970s, this has happened nine times — four of which were in the past decade. “It shows how the frequency of hot weather in U.K. is increasing,” he said. “The frequency of these hot spells across Western Europe will increase as climate change continues.”

Karla Adam reported from London.

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