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WHO warns about ‘new reality’ of killer heat waves as scorching temperatures continue around the world

Heat records are being shattered all over the world, and scientists say there is a good chance 2023 will go down as the hottest year on record, besting measurements going back to the middle of the 19th century.

WHO says intensifying heat waves signal urgent need for action on climate change

A man sits on a bench with a small fan hanging around his neck with a bag resting beside him.

Heat records are being shattered all over the world, and scientists say there's a good chance 2023 will go down as the hottest year on record, besting measurements going back to the middle of the 19th century.

As heat waves intensified across southern and eastern Europe, Asia and much of the United States on Tuesday, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned of an increased risk of deaths due to the extreme weather.

"Temperatures in North America, Asia, and across North Africa and the Mediterranean will be above 40 C for a prolonged number of days this week as the heat wave intensifies," the WMO said.

Overnight minimum temperatures were also expected to reach new highs, the organization said, increasing the risk of heart attacks and deaths.

While most of the focus is on daytime maximum temperatures, the WMO says "it is the overnight temperatures which have the biggest health risks, especially for vulnerable populations."

Adapting to a 'new reality'

Human-caused climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is making the world hotter and is being amplified by the naturally occurring El Niño weather phenomenon.

But the current El Niño only started a few months ago and is still weak to moderate and isn't expected to peak until winter.

Preliminary figures suggest the global average temperature last month set a new June record, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The World Health Organization's regional director for Europe, Hans Henri P. Kluge, said the world must look ahead while adapting to the "new reality" of killer heat waves and other extreme weather.

"There is a desperate and urgent need for regional and global action to effectively tackle the climate crisis, which poses an existential threat to the human race," he said.

An animated map of the world depicting the surface temperature between July 10 and July 18.

U.S. heat dome

A massive heat dome parked over the southern and western United States is keeping tens of millions of Americans under extreme heat advisories.

The city of Phoenix, Ariz., on Tuesday exceeded 43 C for the 19th day in a row, breaking its all-time record of 18 straight days over 43.

Arizona's largest utility reported that electricity demand was at an all-time high of 8,191 megawatts (MW) on July 15, mirroring trends in Texas. Central Texas, an area stretching from San Antonio north to Dallas, is forecast to reach 40.5 C or higher over the next two days.

Phoenix, Ariz., sets new heat record, with no relief in sight

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Phoenix, Ariz., broke a 50-year-old record on Tuesday when temperatures reached 43 degrees Celsius for the 19th day in a row. It's likely the heat will continue and new records will be set throughout the summer, said Tim Frieders, a warning co-ordination meteorologist at the Phoenix office of the U.S. National Weather Service.

The hottest spot in the U.S. on Tuesday is expected to be Death Valley, Calif., where temperatures at the visitors centre at Death Valley National Park are expected to reach 50 C.

Temperatures in Death Valley, which runs along part of central California's border with Nevada and dominates global heat records, reached 53.33 C on Sunday at the aptly named Furnace Creek, the National Weather Service said, just shy of what may be a record hot temperature.

Calls for air conditioning in prisons

The heat wave has consistently pushed temperatures well above 37.8 C across much of Texas this summer, which had family members of inmates on Tuesday calling for lawmakers to ensure that all of the state's prisons are fully air conditioned.

"They're cooking our inmates in the Texas prison system," said Tona Southards Naranjo who believes the death last month of her son, Jon Southards, was caused by excessive heat in his prison in Huntsville.

At least eight other inmate deaths in recent weeks that advocates allege are heat-related were either due to cardiac arrest or other medical conditions, said Amanda Hernandez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The cause of some are still under investigation.

A person with their back turned holds a protest sign reading "Cruel + Unusual Punishment. Enough is Enough" and a smaller sign reading "Texas Is Burning Them Alive."

Advocates and others have been highly critical of the lack of air conditioning in Texas prisons, alleging temperatures — that inside often go past 48.9 C in the summer — have been responsible for hundreds of inmate deaths in recent years.

Texas is one of at least 13 states that don't have universal air conditioning in their prisons, according to a report last year by the Texas A&M University Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center and the group Texas Prisons Community Advocates.

Only about 30 per cent of Texas's 100 prison units are fully air conditioned, with the rest having partial or no air conditioning. Texas currently has more than 128,000 inmates.

Europe's red alerts

Europe is battling the effects of scorching weather, with June having been the hottest month on record in the 174-year history of temperature monitoring.

The European Union's emergency response coordination centre issued red alerts for high temperatures for most of Italy, northeastern Spain, Croatia, Serbia, southern Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

Officials also warned residents and tourists packing Mediterranean destinations on Tuesday to stay indoors during the hottest hours as the second heat wave in as many weeks hits the region and Greece, Spain and Switzerland battled wildfires.

The Italian island of Sardinia hit 44 C and Rome topped out at 40 C on Tuesday, as the health ministry issued weather red alerts for 20 of the country's 27 main cities, with the number expected to rise to 23 on Wednesday.

Civil protection workers monitored crowds for people in distress from the heat in central Rome. As concerns grew the extreme heat would cause a spike in deaths, volunteers distributed water at 28 popular spots in Italy's capital.

A man dips his head under water coming from a spout as people stand around him in the water of a fountain.

Authorities also encouraged visitors and residents to take advantage of the Italian capital's distinctive public drinking fountains, hundreds of which are located in the city's historic centre alone.

In Greece, volunteers handed out water, while Red Cross teams in Portugal took to social media to warn people not to leave pets or children in parked cars.

'Invisible killer'

"Heat waves are really an invisible killer," Panu Saaristo, the emergency health team leader for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said during a Geneva briefing.

"We are experiencing hotter and hotter temperatures for longer stretches of time every single summer here in Europe," he said.

The new heat wave in several parts of southern Europe is expected to persist for days.

Last year, heat waves resulted in over 61,600 heat-related fatalities across 35 European countries and triggered devastating wildfires. This year, temperatures could exceed Europe's current record of 48.8 Celsius, recorded in Sicily in August 2021.

WATCH | Temperatures aren't expected to drop in Europe anytime soon:

European crews battle wildfires as another heat wave sets in

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Duration 2:05

As crews battle wildfires in the Swiss Alps, Greece and Italy, an unrelenting heat wave is gripping southern Europe. Experts warn any coming relief is only temporary, as another heat wave will soon follow.

China's string of high-temperature days

Beijing topped its record for most high temperature days in a year on Tuesday with 27 days as a blistering heat wave sweeps through the Chinese capital.

At 12:20 p.m. local time, the temperature measured by Beijing's benchmark weather station in its southern suburbs soared to 35.1 C, breaking through the 35 C high-temperature line.

The previous record for high temperature days in a year was 26, logged in 2000.

In Beijing between 1990 and 2020, the average number of days with temperatures of 35 C or more was just over 10.5, the official Beijing Daily reported, citing official data.

Large swathes of China have experienced periods of record-high temperatures since last month and Beijing baked in extreme heat in June when the temperature soared above 41 C.

WATCH | China, U.S. discuss climate as heat waves grip superpowers:

With heat records set in U.S., China and Europe, leaders talk emissions

1 day ago

Duration 2:34

With record-setting heat in the U.S., China and Europe, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is visiting Beijing to talk about curbing emissions. Experts say co-operation between the world's two largest polluters could provide a way forward, but they're skeptical of any real breakthrough because of tensions between the two powers.

With files from The Associated Press

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