Heatwave Cerberus: The Heatwave from Hell

Featured image courtesy of Mike via Unsplash. No changes were made to this image.
Emma Burnett

As wildfires spread across Europe, the European Space Agency warns that the summer season of 2023 would be ‘potentially the hottest temperatures recorded in Europe.’ Southern European nations are facing high temperatures and heat waves this summer, with Italy and Spain a sweltering 49 and 45 degrees respectively. Emma Burnett analyses the events of this European heatwave, the impact it has left on those countries affected, and its consequences. 

July 2023 has seen Europe being ravaged by a deadly heatwave. Dubbed ‘Cerberus’, after the three-headed dog who guards the gates to the Underworld in Greek mythology, the heatwave has engulfed countries such as France, Greece and Italy – with temperatures soaring above 40°C. The highest temperature, however, was recorded on the Italian isle of Sardinia, at 48.0°C – challenging the European record temperature for August 11, 2021, in the Sicilian town Floridia of (48.8°C). This period of extreme heat is no short spell either, with temperatures expected to remain high until at least the end of July.

History seems to be repeating itself for Greece as it is troubled by with major wildfires, just two years after the devastating forest fires of 2021, in which three people died. Firefighters are currently attempting to control 82 blazes across the country, as major operations take place to evacuate the islands of Rhodes and Corfu. Greek authorities report over 19,000 people, predominately tourists, have been evacuated from Rhodes. For Greek civilians, on the other hand, extreme economic loss is at stake. Many have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods, whereas in other high-risk areas, the government has issued a working ban between the hours of 12pm to 5pm. This, in conjunction with a declining rate of tourism, has led to a rapid decrease in economic growth.

Wildfires, drought, and low crop harvest are just some of the consequences of Heatwaves

The heatwave has put a lot at stake for Spain and Italy too. Over 30 wildfires are blazing across southern Spain, and over 4,000 people have been evacuated from La Palma. In Italy, 10 cities have been placed under red weather alerts, and there are reports of a deceased road sign worker near Milan. Additionally, drought is sweeping across Europe, with just under half of the continent (42%) on amber alert. Drought in Spain is causing a severe crop failure, which could impact food security in the UK, potentially having similar effects to the shortage of tomatoes (‘tomato gate’) we faced earlier this year.

The heatwave gripping Europe has occurred as a result of a culmination of factors – one of which is a jet stream stuck in a ‘stationary wavey pattern’ over the south of the continent, causing a heat dome to form. Another major contributor is the so-called anticyclone ‘Charon’. An anticyclone is a weather system in which an area of high pressure is circulated by a mass of wind, causing the air to sink. This represses the formation of rain or clouds, thus provoking the heat across Europe to intensify. Anticyclone Charon, named after Greek mythology’s ‘ferryman of death’, has pushed air from North Africa into Southern Europe, causing the formation of a ‘heat storm’. These events are thought to have been exacerbated further by the return of the El Nino weather pattern: ‘a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean’.

What is integral, however, to understanding the heatwave, is understanding the role of climate change. A scientific study has claimed that the heatwaves currently ravaging three continents on our planet would be ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change. Global warming is driven by the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), subsequently releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And as heatwaves are predicted to increase in frequency by around 12 times by 2040, in comparison with pre-warming levels, extreme weather events such as Cerberus are only going to get worse.

Heatwaves also increases the risks of mosquito-borne diseases

The consequences of heatwaves are multifarious and far-reaching. For example, scientists have raised concerns about the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in Europe. With the increase in frequency and intensity of heatwaves across the continent, conditions are becoming ideal for mosquito outbreaks and invasions. As Europe faces longer, more intense heatwaves, mosquitoes are beginning to migrate and invade areas further afield. The warmer temperatures facilitate quicker development of viruses, such as Dengue and Chikungunya, within mosquitoes, therefore increasing the risk of illness. Cases of the mosquito-borne disease West Nile virus have been on the rise in recent years, with cases recorded in Italy, Greece, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, France, Spain, Slovakia, and Bulgaria in 2022.

We are currently living in the midst of a climate crisis. As a result, our planet is being continuously battered by extreme weather events like heatwaves. This has absolutely devastating consequences for humans, wildlife, and the environment. Every human being on planet Earth is facing the impacts of climate change in one way or another. We can only wonder – what does the future hold for our planet?

Emma Burnett


Featured image courtesy of Mike Newbry via Unsplash. Image license found here: https://unsplash.com/license. No changes were made to this image.

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