Plumes of scorching air from North Africa will begin to engulf large parts of Europe this weekend – in what is being described as a “catastrophic heatwave” by one meteorologist. The freak weather event is being charged by rare sirocco winds and will carry the sweltering conditions from the Sahara desert over southern Europe.
Italy is expected to experience the first blast of the brutal heat on Sunday before the area of high pressure spreads southeast towards Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Forecasters expect the mercury to smash through 40C (104F) this weekend before climbing up to 45C (113F) and even 50C (122F) by the end of next week.
The highest-ever temperature in Europe was recorded on July 10, 1977, when the mercury hit 48C (118F) in Athens, Greece.
The latest maps show the extreme weather system hurtling towards Europe.
Temperature charts show large areas of southern Europe turning a dark shade of red throughout the next seven days.
Jan Schenk, head of The Weather Channel, Germany, said: “A catastrophic heatwave is heading for southern Europe and, brace yourselves, up to 50C is possible next week, the temperature record of all of Europe could be broken. It is currently at 48C.
“What will happen? The sirocco wind will blow incredibly strong from North Africa to Italy and all the way to Romania and will push this Sahara air to the southeast of Europe.
“And at some point, it will be impossible to distinguish between the different air masses and then it will be as hot in Greece as it is in the Sahara and then we will experience big heat and will see temperatures rise to 43C to 45C and in some areas 50C are possible.”
Sirocco winds are native to North Africa and the Mediterranean.
The Met Office describes the winds of the weather event as “hot and dry and often carries much dust”.
The extreme weather phenomenon also comes with the increased risk of wildfires across the continent.
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“The year 2021 is already a year marked by forest fires, we already have significantly more fires than in recent years. 2.5 times as many. Therefore this is likely to continue.”
Climate change has also caused sea temperatures to rise, with the meteorologist saying the Mediterranean has increased by up to three degrees.
He added: “In addition, the water temperature in the Mediterranean is already very high.
“It is 2.5 to 3 degrees above average and therefore there will likely be a strong Medicane season in autumn, which are hurricane-like storms over the Mediterranean, which can also bring a lot of rain and heavy winds.
“The water in the Mediterranean is already as hot as it is in the Atlantic Ocean, where the hurricanes normally are.
“Therefore we are facing a true catastrophe next week, the heatwave will last for about a week.
“Then it will get a little bit better, but it will remain hot in southeast Europe.”
(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)