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While people across Europe and the US are suffering under a cloak of stifling heat, experts point to even higher temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa, where less-developed infrastructure magnifies the effects.
Europeans have been sweltering this week, with Paris recording an all-time high temperature of 42.6 degrees Celcius.
Many in the Middle East would be delighted to have such relatively temperate weather.
A reading of 42 to 45 degrees is average in the Middle East in July. But that region, too, has been hit by a heatwave, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees in many areas. Mitrabah, Kuwait reported a high of 54 degrees on July 21, and Iraq’s Basra hit 53.9 on July 11, Claire Nullis, Press Officer of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said in a press conference on Friday.
Extreme temperatures are characterized as a heatwave when they exceed seasonal averages by a large margin for more than three days, Omar Baddour, the WMO’s Chief of Data Management and Applications, explained at the press conference.
The hottest temperature ever recorded was in Furnace Creek, Death Valley, California at 56.7 Celsius on 10 July 1913. “We are approaching the global record,” Baddour said.
India also recorded a record temperature this year, of 51 degrees Celsius. “As you can see, temperatures exceeding records are not unusual anymore, but are becoming more frequent and more frequent,” Baddour said.
The current wave of extreme temperatures has afflicted “large parts of the world,” Nullis said. In the US, 124 million people found themselves under special “heat advisories” on July 22, the peak of the heatwave there, she said. Unusually, the temperatures weren’t dropping significantly at night. “That’s where you get the severe health risk,” she said.
Widespread heatwaves hit the eastern and central United States, where temperatures in the range of 35-38 Celsius were recorded. Some areas reached 46 degrees Celsius, the WMO noted, referring to figures from the US National Weather Service.
Heatwaves have become more frequent in the past 50 years, Nullis said, and new science enables researchers to investigate their causes. The research shows that over the past 10 years, heatwaves were 10 times more likely as a result of climate change, she said.
The first six months of this year were the hottest six-month period on record, and the year is also on track to set the record, Nullis said.