Southeast Europe heatwave set to be among worst in decades

Balkan countries warn against unnecessary work as temperatures soar

Photo: AP A woman takes a shower at a beach of Lagonissi village, a few miles southwest of Athens, on Thursday, July 29, 2021.

A heatwave is scorching southeast Europe, intensifying wildfires and sending residents flocking to the coast, public fountains and air-conditioned locations to find some relief.

On Thursday alone temperatures rose above 40 C (104 F) in parts of Greece and across much of the region. Weather experts in Athens said they expected the heatwave to extend into next week, making it one of the most severe recorded in the country since the mid-1980s.

"We are constantly recording maximum record temperatures all these years, which means that climate change is here," said Stavros Solomos, researcher at the Centre for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology of the Academy of Athens.

"We are expecting to have more frequent, more intense heatwaves," he said, as well as "tropical nights" - where temperatures do not fall below 25 to 30 degrees.

Therefore, Greek authorities warned the public against unnecessary work and travel as temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 °F) in Athens on Frday. The ancient Acropolis, its most visited monument, was also briefly forced to close to protect tourists from the heat. In the meantime, cooling shelters were set up in the Greek capital, but access to the air-conditioned public spaces was limited by pandemic restrictions.

Temperatures have been high in much of the country in recent days and are expected to reach 44 degrees on Monday and Tuesday, the National Meteorological Service said, warning of a high risk of wildfires during a "dangerous" heatwave.

Firefighters have already tackled more than 40 wildfires in the last 24 hours, the fire brigade said, fanned by winds and high temperatures. A raging blaze north of Athens on Tuesday burned at least a dozen homes before being brought under control.

Neighbouring Turkey has also been hit by wildfires in which four people have been killed this week and dozens of people were hospitalised.

Because of the extreme weather conditions, authorities in Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and other affected countries advised people to avoid exposure to direct sunlight in midday hours. In North Macedonia, for instance, pregnant women and people over age 60 were excused from work until the end of the week, while construction companies were ordered to stop work from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Climate experts warn that such extreme weather like the recent deadly floods in Germany and heatwaves in Canada and the western United States are likely to become more frequent as rising global temperatures create greater instability.

“If we think more globally, we’ve had some very, very severe weather events recently, 49.6 Celsius (121.28 F), an all-time temperature record in Canada, ” Mike Kendon, senior climate scientist at the UN Meteorological Office said.

“When you see observations like that, they are taking us outside our own envelope of experience of what we have seen before. An event like that is simply not possible to explain without the human influence on the climate system.”

According to the UN World Meteorological Organization, 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record globally. It was the warmest year on record for Europe.

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