ROME: Scorching weather gripped three continents on Sunday, whipping up wildfires and threatening to topple temperature records as the dire consequences of global warming take shape.

Predictions of historic heat hung over swathes of Asia, Europe and the United States.

In the Vatican, 15,000 people braved sweltering temperatures to hear Pope Francis lead prayer, using parasols and fans to keep cool. But in their black robes, priests like Francois Mbemba said they were “sweating like hell”.

The 29-year-old said it felt hotter in St Peter’s Square than in his Democratic Republic of Congo diocese.

In Japan, authorities issued heatstroke alerts to tens of millions of people in 20 of its 47 prefectures as near-record high temperatures scorched large areas and torrential rain pummelled other regions.

National broadcaster NHK warned the heat was life-threatening, with the capital and other places recording nearly 40 degrees Celsius.

Japan’s highest temperature ever -- 41.1C first recorded in Kumagaya city in 2018 -- could be beaten, according to the meteorological agency.

Some places experienced their highest temperatures in more than four decades on Sunday, including Hirono town in Fukushima prefecture with 37.3C.

The US National Weather Service warned a “widespread and oppressive” heat wave in southern and western states was expected to peak, with more than 80 million people affected by excessive heat warnings.

Historic highs

Predictions of historic highs in the coming days led the health ministry to sound a red alert for 16 cities, including Rome, Bologna and Florence.

Temperatures are likely to hit 40C in Rome by Monday and 42C-43C on Tuesday, smashing the record of 40.5C set in Aug 2007. Sicily and Sardinia could wilt under temperatures as high as 48C, the European Space Agency warned — “potentially the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe”.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2023

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