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Europe Sizzles as a Heatwave Sweeps the Continent, Pushing Temperatures Close to Record Levels

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  • An anticyclone named Cerberus is expected to send temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius in parts of Spain, France, Greece, Croatia and Turkey in the coming days.
  • In Italy, meanwhile, temperatures could reach as high as 48 degrees Celsius on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.
  • Climate scientists are deeply concerned about a recent spate of global heat records, underscoring the pressing need to slash greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate emergency.

An intense and prolonged period of heat is sweeping across Europe, with meteorologists warning temperatures in Italy could soon surpass 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.84 Fahrenheit) — the highest temperature recorded in European history.

An anticyclone known as Cerberus, named after the three-headed monster that features in Dante's Inferno, is expected to send temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius in parts of Spain, France, Greece, Croatia and Turkey in the coming days.

In Italy, meanwhile, temperatures could soon reach as high as 48 degrees Celsius on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. A red alert warning has been issued for 10 cities nationwide, including Rome, Florence and Bologna.

The hottest temperature thought to have ever been recorded in Europe was 48.8 degrees near the ancient city of Syracuse on the coast of Sicily in August 2021. Scientists at the European Space Agency said that record could be broken again in the coming days.

The Italian Meteorological Society (SMI), meanwhile, told CNBC that it was not yet possible to forecast whether Europe's temperature record would soon be equaled or surpassed.

The SMI did warn, however, that "the wide-scale meteorological configuration is quite similar to the one that brought the exceptional value of 48.8 °C in Sicily on 11 August 2021" and the Cerberus heatwave is expected to intensify in southern Italy in the coming days.

Researchers say global heating is strongly increasing the odds of heatwaves such as the one currently sizzling in countries across Europe.

Several people take shelter from the heat under umbrellas, on 12 July, 2023 in Murcia, Region of Murcia, Spain.
Europa Press News | Europa Press | Getty Images
Several people take shelter from the heat under umbrellas, on 12 July, 2023 in Murcia, Region of Murcia, Spain.

It comes shortly after the planet registered its hottest day since records began for the third time in just four days.

Climate scientists are deeply concerned about a recent spate of global heat records, underscoring the pressing need to slash greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate emergency.

"Heat puts pressure on all of society and has cascading risks," Chloe Brimicombe, a climate researcher at Austria's University of Graz, told CNBC via email.

"This includes energy grids and health service under pressure, trains having to run slower or roads melting in some regions, potential decrease in crop yields, livestock health issues and retail outputs. The most vulnerable in society are those who are most inequitably impacted."

'An alarm bell for policymakers'

Earlier this week, scientists found that more than 61,000 people died in Europe as a result of the heat last year. The summer of 2022 was Europe's hottest on record and was characterized by a punishing series of record-breaking heatwaves.

The research, published Monday in Nature Medicine, said that Italy had the most heat-related deaths between May 30 and Sept. 4 last year, with 18,010, while Spain had 11,324 and Germany 8,173.

The Cerberus heatwave has sparked fears that the current spell of extreme heat could cause many more deaths this summer.

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"The increased frequency of extreme heatwaves and other extreme weather events should be an alarm bell for policymakers in Europe, as in the rest of the world, about the urgency to accelerate climate action," Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow for the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, told CNBC via email.

"Such events can have serious implications for the economy and society. For instance, they can affect the energy system, by putting strong pressure on the electricity grid due to higher electricity demand for conditioning, to supply-side problems such as reduced hydropower output," Tagliapietra added.

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