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Records crumble in Europe, Russia amid scorching heat wave

Moscow has its highest June temperature on record due to one of several heat domes baking the Northern Hemisphere

A look at modeled temperature anomalies, or departures from average, in degrees Celsius. (Climate Reanalyzer)

As temperatures approach 115 degrees in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, a second regime of top-tier heat will scorch Europe amid a record-breaking heat wave. Monthly records have already fallen as highs climb to near 100 degrees in some areas, with temperatures in the Arctic Circle spiking close to 90.

Moscow and St. Petersburg soared to their highest June temperature on record Wednesday, reaching the mid-90s, while Estonia and Belarus established new all-time highs for the month this week. On Thursday, Hungary and Malta also set new June temperature records, hitting 104 degrees and 104.3 degrees.

Highs some 20 degrees or more above average currently wrap across central and Eastern Europe, with the greatest anomalies centered on Scandinavia and parts of western Russia. A second lobe of intense heat is parked over eastern Russia along the shores of the East Siberian Sea.

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Exceptional heat waves, which are becoming disproportionately more significant and frequent due to human-induced climate change, are the leading cause of weather-related fatalities in most of Europe and Asia.

The first signs of warmth began percolating over the weekend in Arctic Russia, as in Tyumyati, located along the Olenyak River at 72 degrees north latitude. It hit 88.3 degrees on Saturday, while Kotelny, an island in the Laptev and East Siberian Seas, managed 64 degrees. According to climate historian Maximiliano Herrera, it’s the first time on record Kotelny measured a reading so warm before the summer solstice.

Simultaneously, the warmth was established in Europe. Sunday marked the fourth-consecutive day that Germany reported a high above 95 degrees. A “tropical night” ensued Sunday evening, with 62 stations in Austria reporting lows above 20 degrees Celsius — 68 degrees Fahrenheit. A morning low of 74.7 degrees was observed in Daugavgriva, Latvia, tying a record for the country’s mildest overnight low.

At least 10 new monthly records were established in Estonia on Sunday, with highs generally between 88 and 92 degrees. Kunda, in northern Estonia on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, snagged a 92.7 degree reading, barely half a degree away from a national record for the month of June that has stood for 116 years. Kunda is located at the same latitude as the southern tip of the Hudson Bay in Canada.

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Kunda later broke the record on Wednesday when highs hit 93.4 degrees. At 94.3 degrees, Narva in Estonia established a record for the country’s hottest June day in recorded history.

Monday was the hottest summer solstice on record in Finland, where a high of 90 degrees was measured in Parikkala Koitsanlahti in the southeastern part of the country. Helsinki broke its June monthly record with a high of 89.1 degrees, with bookkeeping dating back to 1952. It also set a record warm nighttime minimum temperature early Monday, the overnight failing to dip below 72.5 degrees.

The exceptional heat in Finland bears the direct fingerprint of climate change. According to data compiled by Mika Rantanen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finland only eclipsed 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) twice since 1959, yet has done it in each of the past four years. Tampere Harmala, in southwestern Finland, soared to 91.8 degrees, the city’s all-time record for any month.

Lascari in Sicily, Italy, rose to 110.7 degrees on Monday, the hottest temperature measured anywhere in Europe so far in 2021.

Then on Tuesday, Finland rose to 92.5 degrees, missing its all-time June national record by roughly 0.3 degrees. Zhlobin, in southeastern Belarus, managed 96.3 degrees, a June national record. Belarus set a new national June record just a day later, hitting 98.1 degrees in Lelchitsy.

The tongue of warmth also lapped at Russia, giving St. Petersburg two consecutive days with overnight lows above 76.3 degrees. Petrozavodsk, about 200 miles northeast of St. Petersburg, recorded its hottest day ever observed with a high of 93.7 degrees. Both Moscow and St. Petersburg set June records with highs of 94.6 and 96.6 respectively. Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, hit 104.4 degrees, also a new June record.

In Moscow, it’s the second spell of record-breaking heat since mid-May, when temperatures catapulted into the mid-80s, breaking records more than 100 years old. Wednesday’s temperatures were more than 20 degrees above average.

Restaurants shut windows normally open for the fresh summer air to seal in air-conditioning.

“This is hell, plain hell,” Tanya Tretyakova, a Moscow resident, told the Associated Press.

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On Thursday, Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, set a June temperature record for a third straight day hitting 100.9 degrees. Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, also set a June record of 95.9 degrees while Minsk, the capital of Belarus, matched its hottest day ever recorded, reaching 96.4 degrees. Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, registered 101.7 degrees, a June record.

Weather models suggest the core of the record-breaking heat will become centered on western Russia in the days ahead, probably intensifying before reaching a climax on Friday with highs up to 25 degrees above average. The hottest weather will exist in western Russia, northeastern Europe and parts of Scandinavia.

If it seems as if every summer features a litany of monthly records falling in Europe these days, as when Paris hit 108.7 degrees in 2019 during an extreme heat event, you’re not imagining things. The frequency and magnitude of heat extremes is experiencing a dramatic uptick thanks to human-induced climate change, largely stemming from the increased longevity and potency of high-pressure “heat domes.”

In addition to the immediate implications surrounding public health — concerning given the sparsity of air conditioning in parts of Europe and the aging, vulnerable populations — the ongoing heat, particularly in the Arctic, presents myriad feedback cycles and complications that can exacerbate climate change further. Among them are melting ice and permafrost, hastened by anomalous warmth.

Coverage of sea ice in the Laptev Sea, which flows into the Arctic Ocean to the north of Siberia, is currently at its lowest extent on record.

Europe already has the highest heat-induced mortality rates of any region in the world, and with climate change set to continue accelerated warming, events like the current one will become more routine.

Jason Samenow in Washington and Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow contributed to this report.