A “heat dome” nicknamed Lucifer is descending on Europe and is set to cause record-breaking temperatures and more wildfires across the south of the continent.
The hellish weather in southern Europe is being caused by an anticyclone from North Africa. This area of high pressure and extreme heat is also known as a heat dome and has recently been seen in the US as well.
So how does it work? When high pressure lingers for several days, it traps hot air and compresses it. Coupled with the warmth of the sun, it effectively works like a lid on a pot, cooking up blistering temperatures.
“Under high pressure, winds tend to be light, so the heat doesn’t get dispersed as much and this also helps conditions to get hotter and hotter,” Chris Almond, a meteorological expert at the Met Office, told The Telegraph.
That’s been a major factor in the wildfires seen so far in Greece, Turkey and Italy – and will likely lead to more in Spain, Portugal and France.
Blazes thrive on heat and dry land – and right now much of the continent is parched after significantly lower rainfall than usual. This, along with the extreme temperatures, has left forest areas primed and ready for fast-spreading flames.
As a result, blazes have become larger and are spreading towards major urban areas, like the suburbs of Athens and Sicilian tourist resorts.
“With climate change, we are expecting, and are already seeing, more frequent and severe events, and will continue to in the future,” Almond said.
The soaring temperatures show no signs of slowing, according to the Met Office, which predicts “further national records” across Europe within the next week.
“Even higher temperatures are potential in future, possibly even exceeding 50C,” it said.
Spain, which holds a current record of 47.3C set in 2003, is thought to be facing the heat next.
Warm air from a Saharan dust cloud has also contributed to the warmer than usual temperatures.
Although this sort of weather phenomenon “is not particularly unusual”, Almond said, it is the soaring temperatures that are particularly concerning – something experts put down to climate change.
A landmark report published this week by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change said concurrent heat waves and droughts have “increased in frequency over the last century at the global scale due to human influence”.
The report also warned that Earth is warming far more rapidly than previously predicted.
Fires can have a devastating impact on human and ecological wellbeing. A loss of ecosystems damages local wildlife and the quality of rivers, lakes and streams, while particles released into the atmosphere can cause respiratory issues.
And where did the name Lucifer come from? Experts are unsure.
“Maybe they just thought it was hot as hell,” said Sylvie Castonguay of the World Meteorological Organisation.
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