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Cerberus heatwave: Why is it so hot in Europe and how long will it last?

A severe heatwave of unprecedented magnitude swept across several European is known as the Cerberus heatwave

By Ground report
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It is no longer a secret that summers in Europe are, and will continue to be, increasingly drier and hotter. This summer has provided solid evidence of this phenomenon. Furthermore, according to Professor Elfatih Eltahir, a renowned expert in civil and environmental engineering at MIT, the intensity of extreme dryness and heat waves will significantly escalate during the latter half of the 21st century, particularly affecting southern Europe. Professor Elfatih Eltahir made these claims in an interview with Phys.org.

According to Eltahir, climate models predict that the southern region of the continent, as well as the Mediterranean basin - classified as a hot spot - will experience dry summers with the highest impact of droughts caused by climate change.

Based on a study's prediction, it is expected that springs will become increasingly arid, resulting in the escalation of scorching heat during summers. In light of this scenario, heat waves have gained significant prominence, emerging as an extreme phenomenon regularly witnessed across Europe. The renowned MIT professor emphasized that they have recorded the occurrence of these extreme heatwaves not just this summer but also in previous years such as 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, and 2003. Southern Europe, in particular, is grappling with the urgent impact of this phenomenon.

A severe heatwave of unprecedented magnitude swept across several European countries, inflicting significant damage primarily in Greece, Italy, Spain, and parts of Southeast Europe is known as the Cerberus heatwave. The Italian Meteorological Society dubbed the extraordinary weather event "Cerberus", alluding to the legendary three-headed dogs that guard the gates of Hades in Greek mythology.

What is happening, and why?

Europe is currently experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures much higher than usual. This is happening for a few reasons. First of all, there is a high pressure system stuck in the southern Mediterranean, especially in Spain, which is causing hot and dry conditions.

There are dust clouds originating from the Sahara desert, exacerbating the situation further. Additionally, the abnormally high sea surface temperatures act as yet another contributing factor, hindering the entry of cooler air into the Mediterranean.

Finally, scientists believe that climate change is playing a role in these extreme weather events, but we'll discuss that in more detail later.

The role of soil moisture

This zone is located in the transition between the dry subtropics of the Sahara desert and the relatively humid mid-latitudes. Consequently, due to the high summer temperatures, any precipitation that occurs tends to evaporate rapidly. As a result, the availability of soil moisture in this area relies heavily on the consistency of spring rains to sustain throughout the summer.

"A dry spring in Europe (like the one in 2022) causes dry soils in late spring and early summer. This lack of surface water in turn limits surface evaporation during the summer," continues Eltahir.

This has two consequences: on the one hand, since there is no water in the soil to evaporate, solar energy progressively increases the air temperature. On the other, the entry of water into the air layers near the surface decreases, generating drier air and minimizing the probability of precipitation.

"Combined, these two influences increase the probability of heat waves and droughts," adds Elfatih Eltahir.

Spring rains will continue to decrease

Tuel adds, "Scorching summers in this corner of the world will become even more likely in the future due to the expected decrease in spring precipitation." This indicates that climate change will increasingly play an important role.

Regarding floods, Tuel acknowledges that they are a more difficult phenomenon to predict since they influence a wide range of factors and also depend, to a large extent, on atmospheric dynamics.

"What is almost certain is that, with warming, the water content of the atmosphere increases. Therefore, if the dynamics are favourable to precipitation, much of it may fall in a warmer climate. Tuel concludes, "Climate change made unprecedented heavy rains more likely, causing the floods in Germany last year."

Where is the hottest part of Europe?

The weather service expects Spain to have the highest temperatures this week and warns that thermometers could reach 45 °C (113 °F) in the south-east of the country. A town near Granada already experienced this temperature at the beginning of the heat wave.

In Italy, 10 cities, including Bolzano, Bologna, Florence and Rome, have issued high heat alerts for older people.

Inland areas of Sardinia are expected to hit 40C (104F) on Wednesday. Greece is also experiencing rising temperatures, with parts of the country forecast to hit 44°C (111°F) in the coming days.

The authorities have taken precautions such as prohibiting access to nature reserves and forests to reduce the risk of forest fires. Municipalities are also providing air-conditioned areas in public buildings for people to seek refuge from the heat.

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