Visualizing Europe’s heat wave with melting popsicles

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Visualizing Europe’s heat wave with melting popsicles

July 19 at 10:00 a.m.

Heat is something you feel. It’s hard to see or capture in images or videos. Heat doesn’t fell trees, it doesn’t flood roads and submerge cars, and it doesn’t blow down houses. Images of extreme heat often portray people crowding beaches or workers mopping their brows, which might not convey the intensity of high temperatures.

Humans are “very dependent on what they see to understand the risks,” said Sabrina McCormick, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. “This makes heat a particularly difficult risk for people to understand.”

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The latest heat wave has contributed to wildfires in Spain and France and brought all-time record temperatures to Britain. These temperatures are especially dangerous in cityscapes, where a lack of green spaces, and concrete structures which absorb and radiate the sunlight, can make the city even hotter.


Surface air temperatures, 4 p.m. GMT





Note: Values shown for Monday and Tuesday are the forecasted air surface temperatures

Sources: NASA Goddard Earth Observing System (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday), NOAA Global Forecast System (Tuesday temperatures)

To see the heat wave sweeping Europe, Washington Post correspondents in various capitals set out to film time lapse videos of melting popsicles. And even that proved difficult: Phones overheated under the scorching sun.

It turns out that it takes popsicles much longer to melt than we had expected. In this unscientific experiment, the shortest melt time was around 12 minutes, in 90 degrees Fahrenheit, under Madrid’s beating sun. It took as long as 50 minutes earlier in the day and in the shade.

The takeaway: The best strategy for getting through the heat wave might be to encase yourself in ice and stand under a tree. At least if you’re a fruity snack.

Watch these popsicles — or as they’re called in Britain, ice lollies — melt and learn more about what countries are doing to brave the heat.


  • Reached114.26 degrees Fahrenheit (45.7 Celsius) during the wave
  • 30 percent of homes have air conditioning
  • The country has warmed 1.8 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times. Most of the warming has occurred in recent decades, increasing by 1.3 degrees Celsius in the past 60 years.

At least 30 fires are burning across the country forcing thousands of people to evacuate, blackening skies and affecting air quality.

Two people have died in the fires. And more than 1,000 people in Spain and Portugal — many among them elderly — have died of heat-related deaths last week. When the human body can no longer cool itself, people can experience heat stress, which can lead to heat exhaustion, cramps, strokes and death.

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To try to stay cool, people are staying inside and lowering the shades to keep their homes from overheating. Some have returned to their offices, where air conditioning is more readily available.


  • Reached104.36 degrees Fahrenheit (40.2 Celsius) during the wave, its hottest day on record.
  • 3 percent of homes have air conditioning
  • The country has warmed 1.5 degreesCelsius since preindustrial times

Britain, a country on the same latitude as Quebec, is not designed to deal with heat. But all the same, the nation is experiencing record-breaking temperatures. Authorities issued a “red extreme” heat warning for the first time, and some schools and zoos are closed. Trains are running slower so the tracks don’t buckle, and officials have urged people limit their travel.

To cope, Brits are spending their time at beaches or pools, or in movie theaters, which are air-conditioned.


  • Reached 108.68 degrees Fahrenheit (42.6 degrees Celsius) during the wave
  • 5 percent of homes have air conditioning
  • The country has warmed 2 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times

In 2003, a heat wave in France killed more than 15,000 people, with hundreds of fatalities in Paris. Since then, the city has adopted strategies to help protect people from high temperatures. Some measures include working to manage the amount of water used, improving free access to drinking water and converting cityscapes to green spaces to provide more shade.

This heat wave has exacerbated wildfires in southwestern France, where more 10,000 people have been evacuated.


  • Reached 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius) during the wave
  • 3 percent of homes have air conditioning
  • The country has warmed 2.3 degrees Celsius since preindustrial time — a full degree above the global average.

Germany is bracing for the worst of the heat later this week, with temperatures forecast to climb into the mid-100s Fahrenheit. The government has set up public cooling centers. But officials are also urging people to conserve power, including air conditioning, because the country is facing a continuing energy crunch due to the war in Ukraine.

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  • Reached 104.18 degrees Fahrenheit (40.1 degrees Celsius) during the wave
  • 7 percent of homes have air conditioning
  • The country has warmed 2 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times

Temperatures in Rome over the last week have been in the upper 90s Fahrenheit, a punishing but not unusual stretch for summer in the Italian capital, which broke records last month when the heat surpassed 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Officials are telling people to go to the beach to cool down. Otherwise, with scarce air conditioning, it’s hard to find reprieve.

Northern Italy is struggling the most. High temperatures and drought are affecting farming, hydroelectric power and drinking water supplies. The Po River, which stretches more than 400 miles, is running dry, stricken by the worst drought to hit the country in 70 years. The water is so low shipwrecks are resurfacing, and an estimated 30 percent of Italy’s rice crops are expected to be wiped out.

About this story

Editing by Reem Akkad and Joe Moore. Design and development by Garland Potts. Graphics by Dylan Moriarty. Video editing by Alexa Juliana Ard. Artur Galocha reported from Madrid. Karla Adam reported from London. Loveday Morris reported from Berlin. Rick Noack reported from Paris. Chico Harlan reported from Rome.

Sources: http://berkeleyearth.org/policy-insights/


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