Heat wave scorches Europe as UK reaches record-breaking temperatures

By Sana Noor Haq, Hafsa Khalil, Angela Dewan, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 7:43 AM ET, Wed July 20, 2022
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6:34 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

Belgium issues "code yellow" weather alert for storms after record-high temperatures 

From CNN’s James Frater

Vehicles burned by fires in the d
Vehicles burned by fires in the d (Shutterstock)

Belgium has issued a national “code yellow” storm alert for “unstable” weather and thunderstorms as temperatures begin to fall, following the country recording its second hottest day on Tuesday. 

In Belgium, a “code yellow” alert encourages citizens to be on alert for damages and disruptions due to storms.  

The Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute (KMI/IRM) advised in a statement that the country should expect thunderstorms and showers between overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning, but warned that in the afternoon and evening, showers will become more active and in some areas a lot of precipitation could fall.  

Belgian authorities have also re-activated the country’s special "1722" emergency hotline for non-life-threatening issues caused by storms and flooding, which includes downed power lines, flooded roads or fallen trees.  

On Tuesday, Belgium recorded its second-highest temperature of 39.1 degrees Celsius (102.38 degrees Fahrenheit) in the town of Kleine-Brogel near the Dutch border, head of forecasting at KMI/IRM, David Dehenauw, said.  

6:01 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

"Unprecedented day" in the history of London Fire Brigade, official says

From CNN's Jorge Engels

Firefighters at the scene of a blaze in the village of Wennington, located in east London, England, on Tuesday, July 19.
Firefighters at the scene of a blaze in the village of Wennington, located in east London, England, on Tuesday, July 19. (Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images)

London’s firefighters faced one of their toughest days ever on Tuesday as several fires and record-breaking temperatures stretched their resources to the limit, Jonathan Smith, the assistant commissioner at the London Fire Brigade, told CNN's Sara Sidner in an interview.

“This has been an unprecedented day in the history of the London Fire Brigade where we’ve been subjected to extremes of heat and temperature that have caused a number of weather-related incidents,” Smith said. 

The fire brigade official said firefighters had brought several significant incidents under control and hoped the British capital was “over the worst of it.”

Smith described how the fires stretched the firefighters’ resources across the city and said they were now focused on planning for the next two days.

Watch the interview with Jonathan Smith here:

4:05 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

These 3 things are making record-high temperatures possible in the UK, according scientists

From CNN's Elise Hammond

A man cools himself in a fountain at Trafalgar Square in London, England, on Tuesday, July 19.
A man cools himself in a fountain at Trafalgar Square in London, England, on Tuesday, July 19. (Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Temperatures in the UK exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time on Tuesday, making it the country's hottest day on record.

Prior to 2019, the UK had only seen a city exceed 37.8 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) one time in August 2003. 

Since then, it has happened four times in four years. So what was before thought of as impossible, or maybe a one-in-100-year heat event, is now happening almost annually. 

Stephen Belcher, the UK Met Office's chief scientist, and Professor Paul Davies, the Met Office's chief meteorologist, said there are three things that are making these conditions possible.

The first is a so-called "wavenumber 5 pattern," Belcher, Davies and the Met Office said in a blog post on Tuesday. The wavenumber 5 pattern describes "the difference in surface temperature from their average values." It shows that there is a wave-like pattern around the Northern Hemisphere with five regions of high-pressure, they explained, adding that these are the places likely to experience heat waves. The wavenumber 5 pattern also explains why it's possible to have concurrent heat waves around the world, Met Office scientists said.

The Met Office says climate change, the second factor, also plays a role. Belcher and Davies wrote in the blog post that temperatures in the UK are "unprecedented in recorded history."

"In a climate unaffected by human influence, climate modelling shows that it is virtually impossible for temperatures in the UK to reach 40°C," the Met Office said in the blog.

Belcher and Davies said climate change is mostly driven by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Hotter conditions are a result of these gases combining with atmospheric circulation patterns — like the wavenumber 5 pattern, according to the Met Office.

The third factor that is contributing to the extreme heat is environmental and soil conditions, Belcher and Davies said.

"It has been a dry year over many parts of England. When the sun shines on the ground, dry soils cannot release energy through evaporation of moisture, which means that more of the sun’s energy goes into heating the air, further amplifying the temperatures in the UK," the blog said, adding that climate scientists call this the soil moisture feedback.

"These three elements have come together in the UK: the global wavenumber 5 pattern driving high temperatures, in the presence of an already warmed climate due to climate change, further enhanced by the soil moisture feedback," the Met Office added.

The consequences: The UK is woefully unprepared for the impacts of the climate crisis. It struggles to manage floods when they occur. In the heat, the nation buckles.

So many fires ignited in London on Tuesday that the city's fire brigade declared a "major incident" and were stretched beyond their capacity. At least four people have drowned as people flocked to beaches, rivers and lakes just to try to get cool. Even a runway at an airport on London's outskirts had to be closed off as it melted in the heat.

CNN's Brandon Miller contributed reporting to this post.

2:33 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

Scotland records new maximum temperature 

From CNN’s Alex Hardie

People escape the heatwave by taking a barbecue in a river near the village of Luss in Argyll and Bute on the west bank of Loch Lomond, Scotland, Monday, July 18.
People escape the heatwave by taking a barbecue in a river near the village of Luss in Argyll and Bute on the west bank of Loch Lomond, Scotland, Monday, July 18. (Andrew Milligan/AP)

Scotland has seen a new provisional record temperature, after 34.8 degrees Celsius (94.6 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in Charterhall in the Scottish Borders on Tuesday, according to the Met Office.

The previous record of 32.9 degrees Celsius (91.2 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in Greycrook, in the Scottish Borders, on August 9, 2003. 

Heat alerts were posted for at least 21 different countries in Europe on Tuesday.

2:31 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

Heat prompts pool extensions in Toronto and a heat emergency declaration in Boston 

From CNN’s Michelle Watson  

Crippling heat is prompting a pool hour extension in Toronto and an emergency heat declaration in Boston. 

Toronto is extending pool hours in at least seven locations until 11:45 p.m. local time the city said in a news release. The hour extensions are an effort to keep residents cool, the city said. 

Just after noon local time, Canada issued a heat warning for Toronto, saying, “hot and humid conditions are expected” Tuesday and Wednesday. Temperatures in Toronto could reach 87 degrees Fahrenheit (30.5 degrees Celsius), the country said.   

The warning also told residents to “seek a cool place such as a tree-shaded area, swimming pool, shower or bath, or air-conditioned spot like a public building.” 

Toronto isn’t the only Northeast city suffering from sweltering temperatures. 

Boston mayor Michelle Wu declared a heat emergency for Tuesday through Thursday. 

���We’re working quickly to make sure all of our Boston residents and families are protected during this week’s extreme weather,” Wu said. 

“It is clear that a changing climate is a risk to our health and communities. I urge everyone to stay cool and safe, and check on your neighbors during the week. I’m thankful for the many city employees who are preparing for this emergency and will be responding to calls for service throughout our neighborhoods,” she added. 

Boston is providing residents with cooling kits to help get by, a release said.  

Those experiencing homelessness can reach out to the city to find a shelter equipped with food, water and "a cool respite from the heat." 

The release also reminded people to stay hydrated, limit outdoor activity, and use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.  

2:27 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

Large wildfire on the outskirts of Athens prompts evacuation of some residents

From CNN’s Chris Liakos

Firefighters evacuate an elderly woman from her house in Penteli, Greece, on Tuesday, July 19.
Firefighters evacuate an elderly woman from her house in Penteli, Greece, on Tuesday, July 19. (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

A large wildfire has broken out on the slopes of Mount Penteli in Greece, near residential areas in the northern outskirts of Athens.

The fire that started after 5 p.m. local time burning through low vegetation expanded quickly and is still not under control and has prompted authorities to order residents of at least four residential areas to evacuate for safety reasons.

Greek Fire Service spokesperson Ioannis Artopoios said that 78 firefighters with 22 fire engines, 11 aircraft and five helicopters are battling the fire.

At least 28 Romanian firefighters are also assisting to take out the fire.

Artopoios told Greek Public Broadcaster ERT that the fire is “difficult” adding that “we are doing our best to contain it.”

2:46 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

As Europe deals with extreme weather, this recent EU decision could pour more money into fossil fuels

From CNN’s Hande Atay Alam

Steam leaves a cooling tower of the Lichterfelde gas-fired power plant in Berlin, Germany, on March 30.
Steam leaves a cooling tower of the Lichterfelde gas-fired power plant in Berlin, Germany, on March 30. (Michael Sohn/AP)

This week’s extreme heat and fires come just weeks after European Union lawmakers voted in favor of calling natural gas a "green" or "sustainable" source of energy — a decision that has spurred criticism from scientists and environmental advocates.

The new rules, if accepted by member states, could unlock billions of dollars of private investment and state subsidies for natural gas and nuclear projects. The European Commission has argued that natural gas — a fossil fuel primarily made of methane, a significant contributor to the climate crisis — plays a key role in transitioning to renewable energy, angering climate activists and some lawmakers.

Natural gas typically emits less carbon dioxide than coal, but critics argue more focus should be place on boosting renewable energy, and that supporting new gas projects will only prolong the life of the fossil fuel.

While the proposal came months before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it gained momentum after the EU responded to the war by banning Russian energy sources such as coal and oil, which European countries have been highly dependent on.

The EU has vowed to cut planet-heating emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 and become a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050.

Net zero is where emissions are dramatically reduced, and any that remain are offset, whether using natural methods like tree planting or technology to "capture" emissions. The effectiveness of such technology is currently limited.

Climate and energy advocates say this month’s decision will instead hinder Europe's green transition.

Read more here.

2:59 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

Fire official: Heat wave-related incidents "probably never seen on this scale" before in London

From CNN’s Alex Hardie and Amy Cassidy 

Smoke from fires were being fought by fire services in Wennington, Greater London, England on July 19.
Smoke from fires were being fought by fire services in Wennington, Greater London, England on July 19. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Record-setting temperatures in the United Kingdom are also creating weather-related incidents probably never before seen on this scale, according to London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Smith.

London has “probably never seen weather related incidents, particularly to do with heat, on this scale before,” he said.

Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Smith said that the service is dealing with “a number of significant and major incidents from grassland fires to significant property fires.”

“The ground is tinder box dry, so any small spark is then going to cause the potential for significant fire,” he continued.

“We do have rehearsed and practiced plans in place to be able to make sure that we’re prioritizing our resources,” Smith added. 

Earlier on Tuesday, London’s Fire Commissioner had called for "an urgent barbecue ban" as firefighters continue to feel the effects of unprecedented heatwave temperatures for a second day.

1:40 p.m. ET, July 19, 2022

French President Macron under pressure from local officials as wildfires spread across country

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu, Amandine Hess and Saskya Vandoorne

Damage at "Les Flots Bleus" camping on Tuesday, July 19, which has been ravaged by a wildfire in Pyla sur Mer in Gironde, located in southwestern France. 
Damage at "Les Flots Bleus" camping on Tuesday, July 19, which has been ravaged by a wildfire in Pyla sur Mer in Gironde, located in southwestern France.  (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

Local officials are putting pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron over his handling of the wildfires as they continue to spread across the country.

“France only has 12 Canadairs [firefighting planes] … We need a more substantial fleet and a better territorial distribution,” Jean-Luc Gleyze and Xavier Fortinos, presidents of the departments of Gironde and neighboring Landes, said in an open letter to Macron published on French newspaper Le Figaro on Tuesday.

Gironde is the epicenter of the current wave of wildfires in France. 

At least 19,300 hectares (more than 47000 acres) of land have been burned by Tuesday afternoon according to the Gironde Prefecture. That’s nearly twice the surface of Paris, which covers 10,540 hectares (more than 26,000 acres) of land according to the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies.

Meanwhile, wildfires continue to pop up across the country as France sees 20 new fires every day, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told the French National Assembly on Tuesday.

“Many of them are extinguished before they reach 5 hectares (more than 12 acres), but some are extremely substantial and are killing biodiversity,” Darmanin said.

There are contently five major wildfires across France, three in the southwest, one in the west and one in the south, Darmanin said.

About 45,000 people have been forced to leave their homes throughout France since the fires first broke out but so far no death has been reported. One person has been arrested as the potential arsonist of the main fire raging in the southwestern Gironde department, according to Darmanin.