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Brutal heat dome moves east, with Central Europe sweltering

Firefighters in France, Spain, Greece and the U.K. battled to contain wildfires on July 19, while Portugal reported more than 1,000 heat-related deaths. (Video: Reuters)

A heat wave that brought record temperatures to Britain and parts of France swelled over Central Europe on Wednesday, with scientists warning of “very high levels” of ozone pollution on the continent.

The toll from a heat dome that originated from a sprawling area of high pressure over Western Europe is rising, and Portugal alone has reported more than 1,000 deaths linked to the extreme weather. The Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere on Wednesday issued an “orange” hot-weather warning, the maximum level.

Germany’s weather service forecast that the focus of the heat would shift eastward, after it recorded the hottest day of the year so far on Tuesday, with temperatures reaching 103.1 degrees (39.5 Celsius) in the country’s west.

Dozens of locations in Germany then set all-time highs on Wednesday, including Hamburg, which soared to 104 degrees (40.1 Celsius), the farthest-north location to top 40 Celsius on record in the country, according to Kachelmannwetter, a German weather website.

Record-setting heat also spread into Denmark on Wednesday. Abed, in the country’s east, rose to 96.6 degrees (35.9 Celsius), a national record for July and the second-highest in any month.

Europe confronted spreading wildfires and rising death tolls amid extreme heat on July 18. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard, Rick Noack/The Washington Post)

On Tuesday, cities in Belgium and the Netherlands also logged temperatures above 100 degrees (38 Celsius), just shy of records set in a July 2019 heat wave, according to weather historian Maximiliano Herrera.

Meanwhile, firefighters in France, Spain, Greece and Britain battled wildfires exacerbated by the soaring temperatures. Authorities ordered a hospital in the Athens area to evacuate.

These maps show how excessively hot it is in Europe and the U.S.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan told public broadcaster BBC that Tuesday was the city fire service’s busiest day since World War II. An estimated 2,600 calls were made to the London Fire Brigade — compared with the average 350 calls a day, Khan said.

“HELLFIRE,” read the front page of the Sun tabloid on Wednesday, as a major cleanup operation in ravaged communities began. The words “London’s burning” trended on Twitter as some shared videos and photos of flames licking motorways and wiping out cars and houses across the city.

On Wednesday, temperatures in Britain dipped significantly, bringing a cool breeze and some rain — although the weather service warned of thunderstorms and possible flooding.

Tinder-dry conditions and extreme heat have sharply increased the chances of wildfires spreading, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate monitoring service. A sizable part of Western Europe was in “extreme fire danger,” it said Tuesday.

Along with increased carbon emissions from the wildfires, “very high levels” of ozone pollution caused by the heat wave could affect Northern and Western Europe in the coming days, Copernicus scientists warn.

At low altitudes, ozone is one of the main elements of urban smog, the scientists said.

“The potential impacts of very high ozone pollution on human health can be considerable both in terms of respiratory and cardio-vascular illness,” Mark Parrington, a senior Copernicus scientist, said in a statement.

How to stay safe in extreme heat

As some experts pointed to the role of human-influenced climate change in the record-shattering temperatures, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres convened a “moment for nature” on Tuesday.

“Our ways of life — based on producing, consuming, discarding and polluting — have brought us to this dire state of affairs,” Guterres said in a video message.

“But since human activities are at the root of this planetary emergency, that means we also hold the key to the solutions. Now is the time to transform our relationship with nature and chart a new path,” he added.

On Thursday, the heat is forecast to ease some in Germany and to the west but spike in Poland and southern Scandinavia to record-threatening levels. From Friday into early next week, the heat will shift and become more concentrated in Southern Europe before reducing somewhat toward the middle of next week.

Pannett reported from Sydney, Hassan from London and Samenow from Washington.