Deadly heat wave, nicknamed ‘Lucifer,’ engulfs Europe

The heat wave, which stretches from Romania to Spain, has already killed six people.

Girls shelter with an umbrella as they pass by a dried out tree at the Expo entrance in Rho, near Milan, Italy, Thursday, Aug.  6, 2015.  (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Girls shelter with an umbrella as they pass by a dried out tree at the Expo entrance in Rho, near Milan, Italy, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

A summer of record-breaking heat continues around the world, as Europe sweats under a heatwave so intense locals have dubbed it “Lucifer.”

The heat wave, which stretches from Eastern Europe to parts of France, Italy, and Spain, has already caused at least six deaths, slowed traffic, and sparked wildfires. Over the weekend, temperatures in southern Spain reached high as 111°F, while the south of France saw temperatures near 104°F.

Italy — where temperatures topped 100°F for several days — is already in the midst of a months-long drought, creating the dry, hot conditions suitable for wildfires. According to the New York Times, the combination of drought and fire throughout the country have contributed to more than $1 billion in lost crop revenue. In Rome, the lack of water has prompted authorities to consider mandatory water-rationing.

Wildfires raged across Southern Europe, killing at least one person in Macedonia and two people in Italy. And France has sent at least 70 firefighters to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, to fight wildfires that have been burning there since Wednesday. In Corsica, nighttime temperatures have remained unusually high, hovering in the high 80s, according to the New York Times.

The European heat wave comes as a new study in the Lancet Planetary Health Journal warns of the connection between climate change and deadly heat in Europe. According to the study, without substantial cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, extreme weather could kill as many as 152,000 people annually in Europe by the end of the century. The overwhelming majority of those deaths would be heat-related.

The study assumed that without reductions in carbon emissions, the world would warm 3°C (or 5.4°F) by the end of the century — nearly twice the inspirational goal of 1.5°C set by the Paris climate agreement. (That number might not be as outlandish as it seems, however — a study published last week in Nature Climate Change argued that the world currently only has a 5 percent chance of remaining below 2°C, and merely a 1 percent chance of remaining below 1.5°C.)

Regions around the world have seen record-breaking temperatures this summer, with the Pacific Northwest of the United States most recently sweltering under unusually high temperatures. In Seattle, which usually only sees around three days above 90°F each summer, temperatures last week soared near triple-digits. The region also had to contend with thick smoke from more than 100 wildfires burning hundreds of miles to the north in British Columbia.

Earlier this summer, temperatures in the Southwest shattered records, with Las Vegas reaching 117°F and Needles, California, seeing temperatures as high as 125°F. In Phoenix, temperatures were so high that American Airlines cancelled nearly 40 flights out of Phoenix.

And in southwestern Pakistan in June, temperatures climbed as high as 129.2°F — potentially the hottest temperature ever recorded in Asia, according to the New York Times.

Since the 1980s, the occurrence of unusually hot temperatures has been rising across the globe. According to a New York Times analysis of global temperature data collected by former NASA scientist James Hansen, between 1951 and 1980, summer temperature fell rather neatly into three categories: roughly a third of temperatures were considered cold, a third normal, and a third hot. Between 2005 and 2015, however, temperatures have seen a drastic shift, with two-thirds of temperatures now considered “hot” and 15 percent of temperatures considered “extremely hot.”

Extreme heat is one of the signature characteristics of global climate change, according to more than 20 studies that have looked at the connection between global warming and unusual events like extreme heat waves. That’s because as global temperature increases, both the potential for extreme heat and the intensity of extreme heat also increases; the hotter the world is, on average, the greater chance that a heat wave will bring some really extreme temperatures.

And, without swift action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the dangers of climate change-fueled heat waves will only increase around the world. A study earlier this year from the University of Hawaii found that if carbon emissions are not dramatically reduced, almost half of the world’s population could be exposed to deadly heat for 20 or more days a year by the end of the century.