29/06/2019 3:39 PM IST

This Is Why Europe Is Melting In A 'Saharan Bubble' Right Now

Countries across the continent are taking unprecedented measures to cope with record heat.

If you check your weather app at some point this weekend, chances are you’ll be greeted with the beaming sun icon you’ve been longing for over the past few chilly weeks – along with scorching temperatures to boot.

While forecasters are poised for highs of 34C, there is a chance the current UK June record of 35.6C could be exceeded on Saturday.

It comes as people across Europe have been hit by a record-setting heatwave caused by what has been dubbed a “Saharan Bubble” – a burst of high temperatures emerging from North Africa.

The extreme weather has caused chaos across the continent, including deaths caused by heatstroke, drowning, and cold water shock. Spain witnessed a major wildfire after a pile of chicken dung spontaneously combusted, while in France, the mercury hit a record 45.8C on Friday.

The French national weather service activated its highest level alert for the first time, putting four regions around Marseille and Montpellier in the south of the country under special watch.


Meanwhile, about 4,000 schools closed because they could not ensure safe conditions, and local authorities cancelled many end-of-school-year carnivals.

In Italy, 16 cities were put under alerts for high temperatures, and civil security services distributed water to tourists.

In Berlin, a police unit turned water cannons — usually used against rioters — on city trees to cool them down.

If you’re in the UK and planning to take advantage of the unseasonable heat, forecasters are warning the obvious, but necessary – drink plenty of water, keep your property as cool as you can manage, and make sure you can get some quality rest at night to boost your energy.

And if you’re at Glastonbury, take advantage of the free sunscreen and water stations – temperatures could top 31C as the weekend gets underway.

What Is Causing The Heatwave – And Is Climate Change Involved?

High temperatures sweeping across north Africa have moved into Europe, with high pressure leading to the burst of heat, Met Office forecaster Grahame Madge told HuffPost UK

The severity of the heat is made worse by background global warming which we are already experiencing, “adding a peak to any natural events that you would get,” Madge said.

He added: “We’ve always had heatwaves, but there is increasing evidence of the fingerprint of climate change within them and they are becoming more intense as a result.”

Josh Emden, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, stressed: “Many in the climate community have been warning since the mid-2000s that if we reach a certain amount of warming and a certain amount of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, even before we reach the kind of global warming we are trying to avoid, we’ll start to experience a greater likelihood of extreme weather events, like this heatwave.

“Climate change certainly increases the likelihood of all these events happening, so it looks very likely that this is tied to global warming that is already taking place.”

What Conditions Can We Expect This Weekend?

While much of the UK has been basking in comfortably hot weather this week, temperatures are set to peak on at around 34C on Saturday. This is most likely to be felt around Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and potentially Nottinghamshire, Madge said.

In contrast, parts of eastern England, such as Hull, have enjoyed slightly cooler temperatures thanks to the “cooling influence” of the North Sea.

However that will be disrupted as high temperatures will eventually work their way over to the east.

Madge said: “We’re saying 34C as a possibility, there is a chance that the 35.6 June temperature record could be challenged, it’s by no means guaranteed that that will be exceeded. That’s not beyond the realms of possibility but we’re not necessarily forecasting for that.”

There is a chance that the 35.6 June temperature record could be challengedGrahame Madge, Met Office

The peak will wind down by Saturday night as a cold front moves in, bringing fresher conditions to “all parts of the UK  by Sunday”, unlike the rest of the continent, where the heat is expected to continue.

Will It Impact My Health?

Excessive temperatures can worsen certain medical conditions.

The Met Office is advising people to stay hydrated, stay indoors “if appropriate”, get plenty of sleep at night and making sure that indoor temperatures are as cool as can be managed.

Amid the deaths of three elderly people across beaches in the south of France from cold water shock, the RNLI is highlighting the dangers of cold water in the extreme heat.

Its ‘Respect The Water’ campaign, launched in May, is advising people who find themselves in cold water unexpectedly, to float to offset the potential shock.

Could We See This Type Of Heatwave Again This Summer?

It is early to tell, and conditions are expected to return to normal next week with the potential for rain on Wednesday and Thursday in the UK.

Madge said: “We’re not necessarily anticipating another heatwave imminently. But we could get further warm spells during July, but nothing particularly definitive at the moment.”

Studies which came out following last year’s heatwave show that, with the levels of CO2 far above pre-industrial levels, a heatwave of that magnitude is now 30 times more likely than in 1750.

Some will recall moorland fires, hosepipe bans and drought, with the mercury hitting 35.5C in Faversham, Kent, at the end of July last year.

Madge explained: “There is less evidence to say that climate change is throwing more heatwaves our way. I think the way to look at this is to recognise that we have natural variation in our weather, and occasionally that will throw a warm spell our way, but with those individual warm spells, the fingerprints of climate change are on them and they’re actually intensifying the peak so  you’re getting temperatures above what you would have done normally with that extreme event. 

“The chances of [each heatwave] them becoming more extreme is there because of the background level of warming that we’re enduring. The planet at the moment is 1 degree on average above the temperatures in the pre-industrial period.

“There’s obviously every indication that that will continue to increase until greenhouse gas emissions are curbed.”