Our Burning Planet


Extreme weather blitz – raging fires in Europe and Canada, tennis ball-sized hail in Italy and warm seas

Extreme weather blitz – raging fires in Europe and Canada, tennis ball-sized hail in Italy and warm seas
Greek police officer Pavlos Terzoglou (26) carries a child as he and his colleagues forcibly evacuate a family who refused to leave their farm during a wildfire near the village of Palaiokoundouro in Dervenochoria, northwest of Attica region on 18 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kostas Tsironis)

Teams of firefighters from Poland, Romania, Israel and Slovakia are in Greece to help fight fires near the capital, Athens, while Italy traded one extreme weather event for another.

This week, France and Spain sent two firefighting planes each to help Greece fight the fires, while Israel also sent two firefighting planes from the “Elad” firefighting squadron. They arrived on Thursday.

Fires that had been contained overnight on Wednesday picked up again on Thursday due to strong winds. Fire Service spokesperson Yiannis Artopoios told media on Thursday that Greece had experienced 62 fires over the previous 24 hours and that various areas were being evacuated.

Some of Greece’s most famous historical sites, which always attract crowds of tourists, will be mostly closed over the weekend, with authorities announcing that they will close for the hottest parts of the day. Including the Acropolis, where security guards are on strike, to protest against being forced to work in high temperatures.

Thousands of people were also forced to flee seaside resorts outside Athens. Al Jazeera reports: “The army, police special forces and volunteer rescuers freed retirees from their homes, rescued horses from a stable and helped monks flee a monastery threatened by the flames.” 

wild weather

Firefighters work to contain a wildfire in the coastal city of Nafplio in the Peloponnese region of Greece on 12 July 2023. According to the Hellenic Fire Service, 32 forest fires were registered from 11 to 12 July in the country. ‘Heatwave Cleon’ is forecast to hit the country with temperatures expected to reach up to 45°C in many parts of Greece. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Bougiotis Evangelos)

Greece is expected to record temperatures of 44°C to 45°C this weekend, as the heatwave continues.

Parts of Italy also experienced slightly cooler weather, with temperatures dropping in Rome on Wednesday, but traded one extreme weather event for another on Thursday when a hailstorm hit, during which 110 people were injured. 

The hailstorm in Italy’s northeastern Veneto region prompted the governor of the region, Luca Zaia, to declare a state of emergency. Zaia told an Italian news agency:

“The hail that fell was absolutely out of the ordinary, with stones of ice that in some cases had diameters of over 10cm.”

While Rome experienced some cooler temperatures midweek, the city is bracing for the next heatwave and has set up “heat help points” for people struggling with the high temperatures. In Matera, authorities banned horse-drawn vehicles, to protect the animals from the heat.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service, part of the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation Programme, says:

“Europe is experiencing some of the hottest temperatures of summer 2023 so far, as a ‘heat dome’ expands over the southern half of the continent… If the heat dome isn’t disrupted, it is possible that Europe could face more episodes of extreme heat this summer unless a major shift occurs in the general atmospheric circulation.”

(A heat dome occurs when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air like a lid or cap) 

It also cautions: “While the current heatwave is expected to last until around 26 July, another period of extreme temperatures may follow if the heat dome persists.”

High fire risk

The risk of fire in Spain is also very high, with temperatures reaching 44°C. Authorities say at least one heat-related death has been recorded, after a man collapsed in a street on Wednesday.

Extreme heat is also being experienced in the US, while temperatures are expected to reach 39°C in eastern Japan on Sunday. The area was also hit by torrential rains in recent weeks which left 11 dead. While America is struggling under a heatwave stretching from California to Texas, which is also expected to reach its highest temperatures this weekend.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Canada’s raging wildfires disproportionately affect Indigenous communities

The US National Weather Service forecast is bleak, noting that about 80 million Americans will be affected by the extreme heat, with temperatures of at least 40°C. It also says the heat will continue into next week.

wild weather

But it is not only people and forests that are being hit by extreme temperatures – scientists in Florida are concerned about the effect the heat is having on the ocean. Ocean temperatures in southern Florida in summer usually reach 80F (about 26°C), but have gone into the low 90s this month



Earlier this year, as ocean temperatures started to climb, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s experimental forecast predicted:

“Half of the world’s ocean may experience marine heatwave conditions by September.” 

Wildfires are still raging in Canada, where the death toll has reached three after a pilot died on Wednesday when his helicopter crashed in Alberta province. Last week a 19-year-old firefighter succumbed to her injuries when a tree fell on her and on Saturday a 25-year-old man died while fighting a wildfire near his home. DM

Absa OBP

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