The Italian island of Sicily may have set a modern record for the hottest day ever recorded in Europe, with a monitoring station near the ancient city of Syracuse in the southeast recording 48.8 degrees Celsius, or 119.84 Fahrenheit.
The temperature, recorded Wednesday by the Sicilian Meteorological Information Service for Agriculture, still needs to be verified by the World Meteorological Organization. If confirmed, it would top the previous record of 48 degrees set in Athens in July 1977, experts said.
“Sicily is surely experiencing high temperatures,” said Lieutenant Colonel Guido Guidi of Italy’s Aeronautical Meteorological Service.
But he cautioned that official records take time to verify. Guidi said that data recorded by stations across the region needed to be analyzed and validated. Even a minor malfunction, he said, can throw off the results.
But Sicilians, long accustomed to the summer heat, don’t need an official record to tell them that this hot season has been particularly oppressive.
“We are used to torrid summers, but I have no memory of such an unbearable heat,” Francesco Italia, the mayor of Syracuse, said in a phone interview. “It is so humid that you just can’t be outside after a certain hour.”
Italia said that residents were experiencing electrical shortages because of the large number of air conditioners working day and night. The local Civil Protection Agency was patrolling the territory to help older residents and was on high alert for blazes that could escalate into the wildfires that ravage the vast, arid region every summer.
“As Sicilians, historically troubled by water shortages, we need to rethink many things for the next generation,” he said.
Italian firefighters said Thursday that half of the fires active in the country in the previous 12 hours were in Sicily, where a large area of a natural reserve in the northern mountains was burning, killing animals and destroying farms and homes. On Wednesday, a young farmer died in a road accident near Catania, in eastern Sicily, as he was transporting a water tank to extinguish a fire.
“In recent years we have observed more frequent and more intense heat waves in Italy,” Antonello Pasini, a climate change physicist at Italy’s National Council for Research, said in a phone interview. “Like one anticyclone from Morocco that caused very high temperatures in Sicily but also in cities like Bari and Rome.”
Pasini said that, in the Mediterranean basin, summers used to be dominated by the so-called Azores High, a persistent atmospheric high-pressure center that resulted in mild heat and consistently sunny weather. But in recent years, as global warming pushed up temperatures, the Azores High has given way to a series of anticyclones from Africa that moved north and caused intense heat waves, often followed by heavy rains and hailstorms.
In the Sicilian interior, where it hasn’t rained since April, the heat is perceived as even more intense than on the coast, where some seaside breeze eventually starts blowing in the evening.
In the town of Floridia, the closest urban center near the monitoring station that recorded the record high temperature Wednesday, people were trying their best to carry on with their daily activities.
“We need to keep the pharmacy’s door open for COVID reasons and have five air conditioners working inside to keep the right temperature for drugs,” said Giovanna Catania, a local pharmacist.
She said that some customers had returned shortly after buying medicine, because it had melted inside hot cars or during walks home in the heat.
“We do our best,” she said. “But as people, we were not born to live in such a heat.”