Millions sweltering under extreme heat worldwide as temperatures soar

Hundreds dead on hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia as temperatures reach 51 degrees

Residents fill their containers with water supplied by a municipal tanker in New Delhi amid a searing heatwave. Photograph: Money Sharma/AFP

Heatwaves were scorching cities on four continents on Thursday as the northern hemisphere marked the first day of astronomical summer, a sign that climate change may again help to fuel record-breaking heat that could surpass last summer as the warmest in 2,000 years.

Record temperatures already reached in recent days are suspected to have caused hundreds if not thousands of deaths across Asia and Europe.

In Saudi Arabia, nearly two million Muslim pilgrims are finishing the hajj at the Grand Mosque in Mecca this week. But hundreds have died during the journey amid temperatures above 51 degrees, according to reports from foreign authorities.

Egyptian medical and security sources said on Thursday that at least 530 Egyptians had died while participating in the hajj. Another 40 were missing.


Countries around the Mediterranean have also endured a week of blistering high temperatures that have contributed to forest fires from Portugal to Greece and along the northern coast of Africa in Algeria, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth observatory.

In Serbia, meteorologists forecast temperatures of about 40 degrees this week as winds from north Africa propelled a hot front across the Balkans. Health authorities declared a red weather alert and advised people not to venture outdoors.

Belgrade’s emergency service said its doctors intervened 109 times overnight to treat people with heart and chronic health conditions.

Europe this year has been contending with a spate of dead and missing tourists in dangerous heat. A 55-year-old American was found dead on the Greek island of Mathraki, police said on Monday – the third such tourist death in a week.

Parts of the US northeast and midwest are also wilting under a heat dome, with more than 86 million people under a heat alert on Thursday, according to the country’s National Weather Service. A heat dome occurs when a strong, high-pressure system traps hot air over a region, preventing cool air from getting in and causing ground temperatures to remain high.

Under its heat emergency plan, New York City said it would open its cooling centres – air-conditioned facilities that offer people relief from the heat – for the first time this year.Meteorological authorities also issued an excessive heat warning for parts of Arizona, including Phoenix, on Thursday, with temperatures expected to reach 45.5 degrees.

India’s summer period lasts from March to May, when monsoons begin slowly sweeping across the country and breaking the heat.But New Delhi on Wednesday registered its warmest night in at least 55 years, with India’s Safdarjung observatory reporting a temperature of 35.2 degrees at 1am.

New Delhi has clocked 38 consecutive days with maximum temperatures at or above 40 degrees since May 14th, according to weather department data.

An official at the Indian health ministry said on Wednesday there were more than 40,000 suspected heatstroke cases and at least 110 confirmed deaths between March 1st and June 18th, when northwest and eastern India recorded twice the usual number of heatwave days in one of the country’s longest such spells.

The heatwaves are occurring against a backdrop of 12 consecutive months that have ranked as the warmest on record in year-on-year comparisons, according to the European Union’s climate change monitoring service.

The World Meteorological Organization says there is an 86 per cent chance that one of the next five years will eclipse 2023 to become the warmest on record. – Reuters

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