The temperature records that could be broken this week as 'dangerous' extreme heat grips the world

Video report by ITV News Europe editor James Mates, words by Multimedia Producers Rachel Dixon and James Hockaday

Across the world, extreme heat has caused chaos, with temperature records being broken on multiple continents.

China is sweltering in 52C, an "out of control" wildfire is raging through the Canary Islands, Italy is expecting a "severe weather storm" - and it is only going to get hotter.

While it's currently a classic British summer in the UK, the hot weather has caused havoc across the world.

In the US, more than a third of Americans are under extreme heat alerts, with particularly high temperatures in the west.

While in La Palma more than 4,000 people were evacuated as a wildfire spread out of control over the weekend.

How hot could it get?

Record-breaking temperatures

The hottest temperature ever recorded was 134 degrees (56.67 degrees Celsius) in July 1913 at Furnace Creek, said Randy Ceverny of the World Meteorological Organization - but that could change.

The European Space Agency says the highest recorded temperature in European history – 48.8C in Floridia, Sicily, on 11 August 2021 – could be beaten this week.

China provisionally saw its highest temperature on record on Sunday, with a roasting 52 degrees in Sanbao.

Death Valley National Park was expected to equal or surpass its heat record of 54.4C.

While this will be a cause for alarm for many people, many tourists have been posing for photos at the sites digital thermometer, eager to show that they've been to one of the hottest places on Earth.

Las Vegas could see three consecutive days with a high of 46C, with a blistering heatwave forecast to get worse for Nevada, Arizona and California, where desert temperatures were predicted to soar in parts past 48.8C during the day, and remain in the above 32.2C overnight.

Phoenix marked the city’s 15th consecutive day of 43.3C or higher on Friday, hitting 46.6C by late afternoon, and putting it on track to beat the longest measured stretch of such heat. The record is 18 days, recorded in 1974.

A woman poses by a thermometer in Death Valley National Park. Credit: AP

Temperatures in the country are expected to reach 12C above average in some areas this weekend.

In Japan, heatstroke alerts have been issued in 20 of 47 prefectures with Tokyo and other cities recording temperatures close to 40C.

Forecasters say the country's highest record temperature, 41.1C, recorded in Kumagaya city in 2018, could be surpassed.

A sea surface temperature map, which shows that the North Atlantic has been subject to a severe marine heatwave since March. Credit: PA

At a glance - how hot has it been?

  • 52C - Sanbao, China

  • 44C - Antalya, Turkey

  • 41C - Athens, Greece 

  • 38C - 40C - Sardinia, Sicily and Puglia, Italy

  • 38.6C - Plzen-Bolevec ,  Czech Republic

  • 35C - Rome, Italy

  • 35C - Warsaw

Why has it been so hot?

While summer is always warm, scientists say that climate change is adding to the intensity of incoming heatwaves.

A study by the Met Office found that the chances of observing a June beating the previous joint 1940/1976 record of 14.9C has at least doubled since the 1940s.

Sure enough, the mean temperature for June this year was recorded at 15.8C - the highest since records began in 1884.

"Alongside natural variability, the background warming of the Earth’s atmosphere due to human induced climate change has driven up the possibility of reaching record high temperatures," the Met Office said.

According to the forecasting body's climate projections, these heatwaves are expected to become more frequent, with the chance of surpassing the previous 14.9C record potentially rising as high as 50% by the 2050s.

A boy cools himself in a fountain of the central Syntagma square in front of the Greek parliament. Credit: AP

Conditions may have cooled in the UK during July, but Europe as a whole has been warming much faster than other continents in recent decades, says Dr Leslie Mabon, lecturer in environmental systems at The Open University.

"A common theme across much of the research is that it is difficult to pinpoint one single factor that is responsible for making Europe warm so fast," he said.

"This is because there are so many complex relationships between the different elements in the system, which are still being researched and understood.

“However, we can be in absolutely no doubt that a critical driver behind this warming trend is carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

"The differences that we are seeing in the extent of warming both globally and between regions of Europe are also a stark reminder that the earth’s climate is a complex system. As we get to higher degrees of warming, the danger of feedback loops or unexpected events occurring becomes greater."

Europe's current heatwave is being driven in part by an anticyclone - an area of high pressure - that has travelled from the Sahara Desert.

It happens when cool air from higher up in the atmosphere sinks down, as it sinks, the pressure rises and the temperature does too, this causes hot, warm and dry weather.

Scientists are also putting soaring temperatures in Europe - and more widely across the world - down to El Niño.

In its simplest form, El Niño Southern Oscillation is the redistribution of heat into the central southern Pacific Ocean, which drives the weather patterns across the Pacific and around the globe.

A typical El Niño temporarily adds about 0.2C to average global temperature according to the Met Office, which may not seem like much.

But combined with the 1.2C above pre-industrial levels we've reached as a result of climate change, it is creating a double-whammy, which may help explain why we're seeing so many record-breaking temperatures this year.

After all, 2016, the world's hottest year so far, coincided with the last major El Niño.

Some of 2023's heatwaves can also be explained by "heat domes", one of which is engulfing western states in the UK and another of which is forming in southern Europe.

Heat domes are one explanation for southern Europe's hot weather. Credit: Royal Meteorological Society

A heat dome is when a broad area of high-pressure hangs over a large section of a continent, often staying there for days, or even weeks - trapping warm air underneath like a lid on a pot, the Royal Meteorological Society explains.

Usually, pressure systems move from east to west, but sometimes they get blocked, often when the jet stream weakens and buckles - leading to a persistent area of high pressure in one area.

When will the UK have its next heatwave?

Despite such sweltering temperatures elsewhere in the world, the UK is not expected to experience a repeat of the scorching conditions it experienced last July and August.

The Met Office has said it is not expecting another heatwave, with no particularly hot summer weather expected to return until mid-August.

Rebekah Sherwin, from the Met Office’s global forecasting team, said the southern shift of the jet stream pushing high pressures southward across Europe, is driving low-pressure systems towards the UK, "bringing more unsettled and cooler weather here than we experienced in June".

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