Punishing heat waves gripped three continents on Tuesday, breaking records in cities around the Northern Hemisphere less than two weeks after Earth recorded what scientists said were likely its hottest days in modern history.
Firefighters in Greece struggled to put out fires as dry conditions raised the risk of more blazes across Europe. Beijing recorded another day of 95-degree heat, and people in Hangzhou, another Chinese city, compared the sweltering conditions to a sauna. From the Middle East to the American Southwest, delivery drivers, airport workers and construction crews labored under blistering skies. Those who could stay indoors did.
The temperatures that are afflicting so much of the world at once have been a fading reminder that climate change is a global crisis, driven by man-made forces: the emissions of heat-trapping gases, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate change, has been trying to coordinate some of the global responses with the Chinese premier in Beijing, as heat has gripped a huge swath of China.
“The world is really looking to us for that leadership, especially on the climate issue,” Mr. Kerry told Chinese officials. “Climate, as you know, is a global issue, not a bilateral issue. It is a threat to all of humanity.”
The planet has warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century and will continue to warm until humans basically stop burning coal, oil and gas, scientists say. The warmer temperatures contribute to extreme weather events and help make periods of extreme heat more frequent, longer and more intense.
Also influencing this year’s conditions is the return of El Niño, a cyclical weather pattern that, depending on the sea surface temperature and the pressure of the air above it, can originate in the Pacific and have far-reaching effects on weather around the world.
For hundreds of millions of people on Tuesday, the heat was hard to escape. In the United States, Phoenix broke a nearly half-century record on Tuesday, with the city’s 19th consecutive day of temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius). Elsewhere around the country, hot and humid conditions were expected to worsen along the Gulf Coast and throughout the Southeast.
Wildfires have raged for another week in Canada, burning 25 million acres so far this year, an area roughly the size of Kentucky. With more than a month of peak fire season to go, 2023 has already eclipsed Canada’s 1989 annual record.
Fires also forced evacuations in villages south, west and north of Athens, burning an estimated 7,400 acres of forest in Greece despite aerial bombardments to control the blazes.
“We have had fires, we have them now and we will have them in the future, and this is one of the consequences of the climate crisis that we are living with ever greater intensity,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement. .
Mr Mitsotakis cut short a trip to meet European leaders in Brussels to oversee the firefighting. The Greek authorities, who have opened air-conditioned sites in Athens to offer some relief, also expect to limit access to the Acropolis to colder morning and afternoon hours, as they did last weekend after a tourist collapsed.
In many European cities, officials have introduced cooling stations. And mindful of the danger — more than 61,000 people died in Europe’s last summer heat wave, according to a recent study — they urged visitors and residents to stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day.
In Rome, where temperatures topped 100 Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius) on Tuesday, officials mobilized. task force handing out water and helping people suffering from heat stress at places like the Coliseum and outdoor markets.
The Japanese authorities, similarly, rushed to help people suffering from the heat: On Monday at a festival in Kyoto, nine people, ranging in age from 8 to more than 80 years old, were taken to hospital when temperatures approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the city of Toyota in Aichi Prefecture, where the temperature hit more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, the regional board of education urged 415 elementary and middle schools to cancel gym classes and outdoor activities.
And in China, where a series of heat waves has been scorching the country since the end of June, Beijing and other cities have recorded heat over 90 degrees day after day.
Power plants, in turn, broke records for generating electricity, according to the official China Energy News — burn more coal to meet cooling demand. China uses considerable solar, wind and hydropower, but still depends on coal for three-fifths of its electricity. Some netizens in two provinces, Guangdong and Sichuan, reported scattered blackouts this week; state media, which tends to be slow to acknowledge power problems, has been silent on blackouts.
For millions of people in South and Southeast Asia, the sweltering heat began long before summer. India recorded the hottest February in its history, then endured high temperatures in April, when 11 people died of heatstroke in a single day, and again in May and June. Monsoon rains have cooled temperatures across the country in recent weeks alone.
Even regions where high heat is normal – and where those who can afford to barely venture outside in the summer – have experienced extremes.
At the Persian Gulf International Airport on Iran’s southwest coast, the heat index — which measures how hot it really feels outside based on both temperature and humidity — reached an extraordinary high of 152 degrees Fahrenheit (66.7 Celsius) at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, according to weather data. The combination of 104-degree heat and soaked air, with 65 percent humidity, pushed conditions at the airport beyond what scientists have. said people can normally cope.
In Death Valley National Park in California, the thermometer read just over 128 degrees (53 Celsius) on Sunday.
It was in Death Valley, the 3,000-square-mile stretch of the Mojave Desert along the California-Nevada border, where the highest temperature has ever been recorded on earth, according to the World Meteorological Organization. In 1913 in Furnace Creek, California, the temperature reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit, or 56.6 Celsius.
In recent years, thermometers there have come close, hitting 130 degrees Fahrenheit in 2020 and 2021, and forecasters warned it could approach the mark again this summer. But this week at least, the National Weather Service predicted that temperatures in the national park should drop, relatively speaking, to 122 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Vivian Yee, Shawn Hubler, Raymond Zhong, Stanley Reed, Patricia Cohen, Isabella Kwai, Niki Kitsantonis, Jacey Fortin, John Yoon, Vivian Wang, Lisa Friedman, Nadja Popovich, Hisako Ueno, Hikari Hida, Motoko Rich, Erin McCann, Anushka Patil and Chris Stanford contributed reporting.