To escape the heatwave in Portugal, residents and visitors had few options and one was to climb to the top of the Portuguese equivalent of Carrauntoohil.
Mount Foia sits just below Ireland’s highest peak at 900 metres. It is also one of only three areas in Portugal that has avoided temperatures exceeding 30C in recent days.
The other two were high, exposed peninsulas on the west and southwest coasts.
Every other district in the country reached 30C or more. In fact, 88 percent of the districts reached 35 °C or more, 40 percent reached 40 °C and 15 percent reached 42 °C or more.
In one district it rose to 44.6 °C.
No wonder the country has declared an eight-day state of alert, even as staying alert in these unrelenting temperatures – which rarely drop below 20C at night – is a challenge in itself.
Neighboring Spain is facing similar problems, with 44-47C forecast in places in the coming days.
France and Italy are also hot, and the story hardly changes the further you venture into Central Europe.
Wildfires, water shortages, heat stroke and poorly functioning utilities make it even more difficult to cope with the heat wave.
Air quality has also made a leap. Copernicus, the EU’s atmospheric monitoring service, shows surface ozone concentrations above safe levels in many areas.
Forget the protective layer in the atmosphere that shields us from the sun, surface ozone is different, creating a dirty smog of exhaust fumes and other pollutants that hang in the air at the perfect height to inhale.
But you don’t even have to drive to these vacation hotspots to experience extreme temperatures.
Across the water, the UK Met Office has issued a “Danger to Life” warning that is due to run in England and Wales until next Tuesday.
“Population-wide adverse health effects are likely to occur, not limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat, which can result in potentially serious illness or death,” it said.
Temperatures could soar to 40C in London next Monday, which would break the UK record of 38.7C from a perch claimed as recently as 2019.
Ireland is also set for warmer-than-average weather, with temperatures expected to range between the mid and high 20s on Sunday and Monday, and “potentially exceed 30C on Sunday”.
That’s benign compared to most of the rest of Europe, but in a country melting in temperatures above 20C it brings its own set of challenges.
What’s happening across Europe and why Ireland is escaping the worst, explains Paul Downes, Met Éireann meteorologist.
The main problem is the behavior of the “Azores High,” a major high-pressure area that sits year-round in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to Europe than the US.
In winter it can block the rain that normally comes with the jet stream from the west, making mainland Europe drier while pushing that rain up towards us.
In the summer it can have a similar blocking effect, especially if it’s behaving unusually, which it is at the moment.
Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published a study a few weeks ago that shows that things have become more changeable in recent decades.
Currently, it has expanded and shifted north, disrupting the jet stream and slowing everything down.
“High pressure is still building over Europe,” Mr Downes said.
“Add to that the fact that it’s heating up land that’s parched land at this point, so it’s heating up very quickly.
“The fact that the continent is such a large landmass will also help generate these high pressures.”
As the land warms and that heat becomes trapped in a steady-state weather system, temperatures intensify, creating a heat plume that makes conditions even more brutal.
To complicate matters further, the Azores High is expected to move back towards mainland Europe in the coming days, interacting with a low pressure system that is repelling Portugal and pushing that very warm air up over Ireland.
“The jet stream generally flows from west to east. As a result we are more influenced by Atlantic conditions and generally have a rather mild maritime climate,” said Mr Downes.
“But when it’s overturning and air is flowing from the southeast and east, we generally get those extreme temperature situations, whether it’s warm in the summer or cold in the winter.”
By extreme he means extreme Irish style so temperatures are unlikely to climb far into the 30s but this weekend will bring warmer weather than we’re generally comfortable with.
“We all like the heat, but when you get into your upper 20s and lower 30s without air conditioning, it’s not that easy to cope.”
Forecast for Tuesday/Wednesday and beyond are thunderstorms and a return to more normal summer temperatures.
But for a broader understanding of what is happening, hindsight rather than forecast is the most instructive.
Scientists have been warning for years that climate change would bring higher and persistently high temperatures, and their modeling is proving correct.
While Spain and Portugal often had very warm periods, this May parts of Spain had temperatures in the 40s – much earlier than usual and far too early to feel comfortable.
The broader heat wave began in June and there has been little relief since.
According to Met Éireann: “While extremely hot weather occurs within natural climate variability, the types of temperature extremes we see in Europe are directly affected by climate change.
“June 2022 was the second warmest in Europe on record and the warmest in the US. The eight hottest Junes on record all occurred in the last eight years.”
Keith Lambkin, Met Éireann climatologist, said: “Due to climate change, we expect heat waves to become longer, more frequent and more intense than in the past. This increase in heat increases the likelihood of temperature records being broken.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/explainer-why-europe-is-melting-under-extreme-heat-and-why-ireland-is-escaping-the-worst-of-it-41838659.html Explainer: Why Europe is melting under extreme heat and why Ireland is escaping the worst