Italy, Croatia, Serbia: Europeans struggle to cope as heatwaves strike

Europe is the fastest-warming continent on Earth, with temperatures rising at roughly twice the global average.

Weather alerts, forest fires, melting pavement in cities: A deadly heatwave has sent temperatures in parts of central and southern Europe soaring toward 40 degrees Celsius.

From Italy to Romania, authorities warned people to be cautious, drink plenty of water and avoid going outside during the hottest hours of the day.

Italian authorities declared a red weather alert in seven cities on Thursday, mostly in the central parts of the country but also the capital Rome and Trieste in the northeast. The heat conditions are aggravated by humidity and could affect healthy people as well as those with health conditions, authorities warned.

With summer heatwaves starting ever earlier and 13 months in a row of record-breaking temperatures, some experts have asked whether this could be Europe's hottest summer ever.

Similar warnings were issued in neighbouring Croatia and further east and south. Croatia's main tourism resort, the southern Adriatic Sea town of Dubrovnik, recorded 28 degrees Celsius at dawn, signalling there won't be relief when the sun goes down.

Forest fires have been reported this week in Albania, near the border with Greece, as well as in Bosnia and Italy. Several blazes raged Thursday in Greece's southern Corinth area and on the eastern Aegean Sea island of Lesbos.

Warnings were issued for the region surrounding the capital Athens and other parts of central Greece Thursday, with a similar warning for the northeast of the country Friday.

Greek authorities have said that the country faces its highest wildfire risk in two decades this summer, following a mild, largely rainless winter and spring that have left vegetation tinder-dry.

This is off the back of 2023 being one of Greece's worst summers ever for wildfires when thousands had to leave their homes with untold damage to wildlife and biodiversity.

Meteorologists said temperatures were even higher than officially reported in big cities where sizzling concrete radiates the heat upwards and the asphalt softens under one's feet.

“It was impossible to breathe yesterday," said Antonela Spičanović, from the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, where temperatures reached 39C on Wednesday. The city seemed deserted with many of its residents staying indoors or heading for the Adriatic Sea coast or the mountains.

“I spend my days in the apartment, under the air conditioning," said Đorđe Stanišić, an electrical engineer also from Podgorica. “It’s hell outside.”

Mendim Rugova, a meteorologist from neighboring Kosovo, said temperatures in the country have risen on average by 2.5 degrees since the 1980s. He said the current heat wave could last until the end of July.

“In the region we could see temperatures above 40C, in parts of Albania, Northern Macedonia, in Greece and also in parts of Serbia,” he predicted.

In Czechia’s capital of Prague, where temperatures reached 34C Wednesday before dropping slightly Thursday, the city zoo use ten tons of ice to provide much-needed relief for the animals.

The ice was strategically placed around the zoo yesterday, creating cool spots where animals could find refuge from unusually high temperatures.

In the Romanian capital Bucharest, street thermometres showed 42C on Tuesday and Wednesday though the official measurements were a few degrees lower.

Neighbouring Serbia reported record temperatures so far this summer, with thermostats at 35C Thursday morning in the north of the country.

In the capital Belgrade, doctors reported treating people who collapsed, felt dizzy or complained of headaches due to the heat.

The World Meteorologicasl Organization and EU's Copernicus has previously warned that Europe is the fastest-warming continent, which comes with devastating health impacts, with temperatures rising at roughly twice the global average.

Serbian authorities have said that the use of air conditioning led to huge power consumption similar to levels normally seen in winter, when many in the Balkan country use electricity for heating.

During a previous heatwave last month, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and Albania faced a major power outage amid the overload and a collapse of a regional distribution line. Earlier this month, a powerful storm swept the region after days of heat and killed two people, damaged houses while pulling out trees and flooding streets.

Experts say human-induced climate change has brought wild weather swings, increasingly unpredictable storms and heatwaves.


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