In 2003, Europe was consumed by a heat wave that killed roughly 35,000 people. Four years later, there have been reminders of this strange climatic event as temperatures in some parts of Europe over the past week have reached up to 46 degrees.
Though the death toll in Europe is nowhere near that of 2003, it is still raising eyebrows. Forty-two people have died in Italy and the Balkans, 23 deaths were reported in Romania, two in Bulgaria and Cyprus, nine in France, two in Spain and seven heat-related deaths in Greece. Many of those who died due to heat-related complications were elderly people, dying of breathing or heart problems.
In parts of Italy, temperatures reached 46, and 42 in Athens and Argos in southern Greece. Conditions began to cool down in Romania, but government officials still advised citizens, especially the elderly and children, to remain indoors, and have requested that local authorities provide bread and water. Paris and Berlin registered 39.
El Semanal, a weekly Spanish newspaper had the headline "Europa achicharrada," which means "Europe burned to a crisp." In contrast, England has also been experiencing unusual weather, with severe flooding caused by torrential rain. Along with a reported three deaths due to the flooding, hundreds of people have been forced from their homes.
"In England, this week, there was a very deep cyclone," said Tzahy Vaksman, a meteorologist with Metro-Tech Ltd., a privately owned company engaged in aviation, meteorological and air-quality services in Israel. "This caused very heavy showers, due to a combination of the cold air coming from North Pole with warm air that was there before. This results in creating a massive cloud, causing thunder storms and large amounts of rain."
Looking toward the Middle East, some meteorological models have claimed that by the end of the century, the average temperature in Israel, for example, will be up to four degrees higher, according to Dr. Ilan Sepper, deputy director for climate reserves, development and applications at the Israel Meteorological Service.
"We will experience a lot of heat waves," he said. "The demand of water will be higher. The region will be hotter and more arid, with less rain and more evaporation, resulting in the amount of water intake per capita increasing."
Are these extreme conditions due to global warming? Maybe, say the experts.
Vaksman, for instance, said we'd know for sure only through research 20 years from now. But, he noted, "global warming is known to cause an extreme climatic difference in some areas, resulting in extreme weather. The extreme, in England for example, is specifically the amount of rain, an amount so high it causes flooding."
According to Sepper, there is clearly a "general warming" and "we are meeting more extreme events than usual. This heat wave in Europe and Israel is a signal of such warming."
But to determine if global warming is truly the culprit, he said, measurement on a year to year basis is inadequate; better to look at 10-year increments. "Scientists cannot really prove it at present, but we are more than 70 percent confident the reason is global warming," Sepper said.
A draft analysis presented by the European Commission said unless there is advanced planning, countries in Europe will have to face "increasingly frequent crises and disasters which will prove much more costly and also threaten Europe's social and economic systems and its security." With such evidence glaring at them, European governments recently agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 20% by 2020.