Lucifer effect: hellish heat is the most lethal weather disaster

The threat to human health from weather is rising, as heatwaves increase across Europe

People sun themselves  in Belgrade, Serbia: southern Europe and the Balkans are experiencing a heatwave with temperatures reaching more than 40 degrees. Photograph:  Pedja Milosavljevic/AFP/Getty Images

People sun themselves in Belgrade, Serbia: southern Europe and the Balkans are experiencing a heatwave with temperatures reaching more than 40 degrees. Photograph: Pedja Milosavljevic/AFP/Getty Images

 

If you are going to name an extreme heatwave you couldn’t beat Lucifer as a moniker. Which is what the Italians came up with to describe the recent weather system that encircled much of Europe.

There were several deaths in Italy linked to temperatures in excess of 42 degrees Celsius while the country reported a 15 per cent spike in hospital admissions in response to the sky high temperatures. Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Croatia also endured the high-pressure system, which a European weather centre labelled a code red for 10 countries.

It’s the region’s most sustained heatwave since 2003, which resulted in more than 20,000 heat-related deaths, mainly of old and vulnerable people. In France, where some 15,000 people died, temporary mortuaries were set up in refrigerated lorries.

Such spells of extreme heat in Europe could be a foretaste of things to come. French researchers last month predicted summer conditions in some of the continent’s popular tourist destinations could become even more challenging.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the scientists said if a similar “mega-heatwave” to that of 2003 were to occur at the end of the century, when average temperatures are widely expected to be noticeably higher after decades of global warming, temperatures could pass 50 degrees. The researchers noted that climate models suggest “human influence is expected to significantly increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in Europe”.

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