Weather: Most of Italy placed on alert over intense heat on Wednesday

Italy’s health ministry put 19 of Italy's 27 biggest cities, including Rome, Florence, Naples and Venice, on red alert on Wednesday as an intense heatwave continues.

Weather: Most of Italy placed on alert over intense heat on Wednesday
A fire and rescue helicopter prepares to drop water on a wildfire outside Rome on June 27th, 2022. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Health authorities issued a red alert for two-thirds of the country on Wednesday as the prolonged heatwave sweeping Italy pushes temperatures well above average for the end of June.

The cities and provinces of Ancona, Bologna, Bari, Cagliari, Catania, Campobasso, Civitavecchia, Florence, Frosinone, Latina, Messina,, Naples, Venice, Palermo, Perugia, Pescara, Rieti, Reggio Calabria, Rome and Viterbo were warned to expect conditions that could be harmful to health under the highest alert level.

By Thursday, every part of Italy is under either a red or amber heat alert, except for the northern provinces of Turin, Genoa and Bolzano.

Red warnings indicate emergency conditions with possible negative effects on everyone’s health, while amber warns the heat may pose a health risk, particularly to the elderly, children and those with chronic illnesses.

Peaks of 40C were recorded on Tuesday, when 12 areas were already on red alert and many others on a lower-level amber alert due to the intense heat.

Italy’s heatwave warnings for Tuesday, June 28th. Source: Italian health ministry

Meanwhile, the northern Italian regions of Emilia Romagna, Liguria, Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Trentino Alto Adige, Val d’Aosta and Veneto are braced for rain and thunderstorms between Tuesday and Wednesday.

The current heatwave, the latest in a series to have already hit Italy this year, has worsened wildfires and drought hitting many parts of the country after months of low rainfall and an unusually dry winter.

READ ALSO: Italian wildfires ‘three times worse’ than average as heatwave continues

The Po, Italy’s longest river, was up to 80 percent lower than usual on Monday according to Fabrizio Curcio, head of the civil protection department.

The department hasn’t ruled out the necessity of water rationing measures during the day, with restrictions on water use already in place in many towns in drought-hit areas.

Several regions have asked to be granted a ‘state of emergency’ under the government’s much-anticipated decreto siccità (drought bill), which is expected to be announced by the end of this week.

Experts have repeatedly warned that intense droughts and longer, earlier heatwaves are among the consequences of climate change.

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Italy reports a surge in deaths this summer due to extreme heat

A series of intense heatwaves caused Italy's mortality rate to spike in June and July, according to a health ministry report.

Italy reports a surge in deaths this summer due to extreme heat

Italy’s heat-related mortality rate was 21 percent above the seasonal average for the first two weeks of July, the health ministry said in a bulletin published on Monday.

There were 733 more deaths in 33 major Italian cities monitored by health authorities between July 1st and July 15th than in a typical year – a 21 percent increase on the average for that period.

READ ALSO: Will summer 2022 be Italy’s hottest ever?

Some central-southern parts of the country, where the heat has been particularly concentrated, experienced a far sharper spike in the death rate: by up to 72 percent in Latina and 56 percent in Viterbo (respectively south and north of Rome); 56 percent in Bari (Puglia); 51 percent in Cagliari (Sardinia); and 48 percent in Catanzaro (Calabria).

June also saw more deaths than in a typical year in Italy, the numbers show: a nine percent increase on seasonal averages over the course of the month.

“This first analysis shows that the high temperatures and heat waves that affected our country in June and in the first two weeks of July were associated with an increase in mortality, especially in the central-southern regions most affected by intensity and duration of the phenomenon,” the ministry’s bulletin reads.

Italy, along with much of the rest of mainland Europe, has been battered by a series of heatwaves this summer that have fuelled forest fires and drained rivers.

The Po Valley in the north of the Italy, one of country’s most important agricultural areas, is currently experiencing its worst drought in 70 years, decimating the risotto rice farms that make up much of the area.

Average temperatures of between two and three degrees above the seasonal average were consistently recorded across the country between May and June, with spikes of up to 10 degrees in some areas.

Similar highs are forecast for August, with warnings from meteorologists that mercury levels could shoot up 10C or even 15C higher than the average for this month.

In July, factory workers across the Piedmont region went on strike after the sudden death of a worker at an automotive manufacturing plant was linked to heat exhaustion.