This Proof Of Global warming?
05 August 2003
If it isn't proof of global warming at
last, it certainly looks like it. As much of Europe burns like a furnace
and rivers run dry across the continent, Britain is bracing itself for
its own record temperature.
in southern England or the Midlands, the mercury in the thermometer
may pass 37.1C, which became the national record when registered in
Cheltenham on 3 August 1990. That centigrade peak translates as 98.8
Fahrenheit, so the remarkable figure for Britain of 99 or even 100F-
is on the cards.
there's a 20 per cent chance it will happen, but in any case it's going
to get very very close," said Andy Yeatman of the Met Office.
A record would be
hugely significant - a three-figure Fahrenheit temperature for the UK
would be breaking psychological as well as new meteorological ground
as it would give many people for the first time the perception that
global warning is a real, not a theoretical phenomenon - and that it
is happening to them.
If we do see a record,
and possibly 100F, meteorological scientists will not directly attribute
it to climate change - natural climate variability is too great for
a single heat episode to be put down to global warming. But they will
certainly say it is in line with what global warming is predicted to
produce by complex mathematical models of the Earth's climate run on
And even if the
record is not quite breached, Britain's weather services are agreed
that tomorrow temperatures will be in the upper 30s Centigrade (or the
high 90s Fahrenheit), certainly hitting 35-36C (95-97F). These are temperatures
that, in the past, have been reached only a few times per century, and
in anticipation, temporary speed restrictions were imposed yesterday
on some of Britain's busiest rail routes for fear of rails buckling
in the heat. Long-distance Virgin routes from London to the Midlands
and the North will be most affected, with a 60mph limit imposed by Network
Rail along the west coast main line from Euston to Crewe and the cross-country
be equally careful. Don't plan anything strenuous, put suncream on the
children and keep your bottled water handy. Britain will bake.
It has been coming
for weeks. Across Europe, an unending episode of unprecedented heat
has this summer reduced major rivers to a trickle in Italy, turned southern
France into an inferno of forest fires and sent people in Germany to
their deaths from heatstroke. Only the Atlantic westerly winds have
kept the burning air from Britain - and now the winds are blowing from
the south-east, and blowing the heat our way.
But what a contrast,
in central and Eastern Europe, with just a year ago. Then the problems
were not heat and drought - they were torrential downpours and flooding.
As two depressions
came together last August and dumped a deluge of biblical proportions
over southern Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, the
region's great rivers burst their banks and drowned more than 100 people
amid millions of pounds worth of damage. The two jewel cities of Mitteleuropa,
Dresden and Prague, were inundated as the Elbe and the Vltava overflowed,
and only its high flood defence walls saved Budapest as the Danube rose
nearly 10 metres. (This year it is, in places, only a metre deep).
record soaking summer of 2002 and its record baking summer of 2003 do
not cancel each other out in terms of indicating global warming - just
Both are in line
with one of the key features predicted for climate change, if levels
of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide (CO2),
keep going up - more extreme weather occurs.
"They are both
consistent with what the computer models of the climate are saying will
become more frequent, if CO2 levels continue to rise," said Simon
Brown, who is in charge of researching extreme events at the Met Office's
Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.
mean the air could hold more moisture, Dr Brown said, so even in a dry
summer, when rain falls, it could be much heavier.
Five weeks ago,
in an unprecedented announcement, the World Meteorological Organisation
signalled weather extremes were being recorded all across the world,
from Switzerland's hottest-ever June to a record month for tornadoes
in the US - and linked them to global warming directly.
No one can prove
it. But as you swelter in the heat today, you should realise the evidence
is stacking up.
a state of national disaster yesterday after the worst spate of forest
fires in more than two decades killed nine people, torched thousands
of hectares of tinder-dry forest and destroyed scores of homes, writes
The emergency declaration
allowed more than €100m (£70m) in aid to be released. The
funds will go to people who have lost their jobs and homes, farmers
who have lost crops and livestock, and to local councils so that they
can begin rebuilding infrastructure.
in Lisbon said the fires, which came after weeks without rain, had hit
15 of the country's 18 regions. Almost 3,000 firefighters, 380 troops,
781 fire engines, 23 helicopters and 12 water-carrying planes were deployed
to fight the blazes, which were fanned by strong winds.
The wildfires were
raging mostly in the central region near Castelo Branco, about 120 miles
north-east of Lisbon, where the hills are covered with pine forests.
Rescue workers said
nine people had died in the past week, including a fireman who was killed
when a fire engine crashed. So far this year there have been about 1,700
wild fires in the country, destroying more than 26,000 hectares of scrub
As the temperature
rose to more than 40C, rail services were halted and roads were cut
off in some regions.
evacuated hundreds of residents from villages and farmhouses in central
and south-west Spain yesterday, writes Tim Gaynor, as high winds and
record temperatures fanned summer fires into roaring blazes that scorched
thousands of hectares of woodland.
Hundreds of firefighters
and volunteers battled blazes in the province of Avila, north-west of
Madrid, after a separate fire in the region of Extremadura bordering
Portugal, which destroyed 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of woodland and
led to the evacuation of 750 people, was brought under control.
in Avila said the blaze was raging along a front 80 kilometres wide
across 5,000 hectares of woodland.
Further fires, whipped
up by strong winds and record temperatures above 40C (104F) in much
of the country, also burned over the weekend in the western Andalusian
province of Huelva and in Ciudad Real in the central La Mancha plains.
The temperatures in many towns and cities are the highest since records
and ozone levels hit new peaks in France yesterday, the happiest beasts
were 27 polar bears slurping mackerel-flavoured iced lollies at a zoo
near Paris, writes Alex Duval Smith. The worst off, after police enforced
reduced speed limits to cut pollution, were holidaymakers stuck in their
Meteo France said
the coolest thing for humans to do, at least until Thursday, would be
to carry out important business at daybreak when temperatures could
fall as low as 20C. Yesterday, Clermont-Ferrand in the south recorded
43C at midday.
The weather forecasting
centre said the combination of high temperatures and heavy traffic last
weekend had compounded the pollution. Ozone counts reached peak levels,
including in traditionally temperate cities such as Le Havre and Reims.
In Provence, sulphur dioxide levels reached their highest rates this
While the bears
at Thoiry Zoo near Versailles were cooling themselves with mackerel
frozen into ice, efforts at France's nuclear power stations to keep
temperatures down met with controversy.
The Green Party
said Fessenheim nuclear power station in Alsace - where a temperature
of 48C was recorded outside the reactor last week - should be immediately
shut. The party denounced what it called the "irresponsible attitude"'
of Electricité de France in using a giant water cannon to cool
the outer shell of the plant. The Greens also warned that the falling
level of the Loire had increased the radioactivity of cooling water
pumped into the river from the Villerest reactor.
After a weekend
of record holiday traffic, police in Paris and Bouches-du-Rhône
reduced the motorway speed limit to 100kph (60mph).
In Italy the priests
have asked their congregations to pray for rain, writes Hugh MacLeod.
With the river Po
in the north nearly eight metres (24ft) below its normal levels and
still dropping, and the national grid issuing a warning of possible
blackouts, officials are on the point of declaring a state of emergency
in the north.
Plans are being
drawn up to pump water from Alpine lakes and dams into the river Po,
which is at its lowest level for 100 years.
Rome have been hitting 35C for weeks, forcing tourists to cool off in
the Trevi fountain - and pay a fine for doing so.
say farmers have lost about €5bn worth of crops, and the price
of some fruit and vegetables has gone up as a result of the drought.
In southern Italy,
where lack of water has become a serious problem, large areas of scrubland
were destroyed by fires raging in Calabria and Salento in the region
Fire broke out on
Mount Vesuvius but it was reported to have been extinguished at the
grid, GRTN, said there may be power blackouts today due to high demand
and problems with the supply of electricity. Italy has suffered power
cuts in recent weeks as temperatures have soared.
A GRTN official
said the grid estimated 2,000 megawatts of demand more than had been
expected, and reduced capacity at some power plants may make it necessary
to cut power.
This time last year
the weather in Germany was the opposite of what it is now. August 2002
brought the worst floods to hit the country in more than 100 years,
writes Ruth Elkins.
A year on, Germany's
media is remembering the tragedy, which cost 11 lives and caused €9.1bn
in damage. Now Germany swelters in up to 40C and 95 per cent humidity.
They are the highest temperatures in Germany since 1976, the German
weather service says.
station, famously pictured under water at the height of the floods last
year, is now a tangle of train lines on parched grass. Temperatures
in Berlin soared to over 35C at the weekend and the city's lakeside
beaches were packed with people trying to cool off.
But Germany's heat
wave has also brought its own disasters. "Berlin cooks", screamed
the city's tabloid BZ's front page on yesterday. The newspaper reported
the deaths of four Berliners due to the extreme heat, including two
pensioners who died driving.
The paper also told
of Berlin caretaker Bernd K who died after chasing two teenagers he
suspected of trying to break into a flat. "The heat wave, the excitement,
it was too much for the 49-year-old," the paper wrote.
Many Germans may
hope for a Hitzefrei, or "heatwave off", a rule that allows
workers and schoolchildren to go home if temperatures rise too high
and it becomes too uncomfortably, or dangerously, hot to stay at their
REST OF EUROPE
Even Sweden hasn't
escaped the blazes which have been sweeping Europe for the past week,
reporting a series of bush fires along its north-eastern coast, writes
Across the continent,
gusting winds are fanning the flames through tinder-dry forests and
In Greece, dozens
of holidaymakers and residents were evacuated early last week from properties
near the Corinth canal as flames threatened the area, while the worst
fires in 15 years burned outside the Croatian city of Dubrovnik.
Slovenia, about 500 firefighters were fighting the biggest fire in a
decade near the Italian border.
Many parts of Switzerland
have banned open fires completely while the levels of the Danube fell
to their lowest in more than a century in Serbia and Montenegro, making
the river unnavigable for barges.