PARTS of Europe are suffering from heat wave so severe that it is called Lucifer, the fallen angel. Unusually high temperatures are being recorded across an area spanning much of Spain and Portugal, Southern France, Italy, the Balkans and Hungary. Scorching temperatures has risen to as high as 44 degrees centigrade in the south of Spain. That’s hotter than the highest temperature in the Philippines which is 42.2 °C recorded on April 12, 1912 in Tuguegarao, Cagayan.
To date, the “Lucifer” heatwave has killed least five people in Italy and Romania. Hospital admissions have spiked 15 to 20 per cent in Italy, where at least three people have died. Farmers are have reportedly lost about $1 billion in revenue due to drought and singed fields. The heat has forced the closure of summer skiing on an Italian glacier for the first time in 90 years. Reports say that even packs of gum are melting in their wrappers.
This is not the first time that Europe was hit by heatwave. In 2003, a heatwave killed approximately 70,000 people. That period of extreme heat is thought to be the warmest for up to 500 years, and many European countries experienced their highest temperatures on record. Much of the heat was concentrated in France, where nearly 15,000 people died. In Portugal, the temperatures reached as high as 47 °C (117 °F) in the south.
Heatwaves are detrimental to health and the environment. They can cause heat-strokes, dehydration and sunburn. They may also lead to air pollution, affect water supplies, agriculture and even transport as some railways track buckle in heat. Power plants that rely on water for cooling are also forced to close down. Forest fires may also be more frequent.
The sad news is that the worst is yet to come. A recently published study by the Joint Research Centre, the European Union’s science and research lab, is saying that Super-heatwaves of 55°C will emerge if global warming continues. Heatwaves amplified by high humidity can reach above 40°C and may occur as often as every two years, leading to serious risks for human health. If global temperatures rise with 4°C, a new super heatwave of 55°C can hit regularly many parts of the world, including Europe.
Warm air combined with high humidity can be very dangerous as it prevents the human body from cooling down through sweating, leading to hyperthermia. The human body can only function within a narrow range of core body temperatures around 37°C. Heatwaves pose a considerable risk to human life because hot weather, aggravated with high humidity, can raise body temperature, leading to life threatening conditions. As a result, if global warming trends continue, many more people are expected to suffer sun strokes, especially in densely populated areas of India, China and the United States.
Another study published in Nature Climate Change said that seventy-four percent of the world’s population will be exposed to deadly heatwaves by 2100 if carbon gas emissions continue to rise at current rates. Even if emissions are aggressively reduced, the percent of the world’s human population affected is expected to reach 48 percent.
This early, we should already think of adaptation. Infrastructures, health care system, emergency preparedness system and food supplies should be planned according to extreme weather conditions.