Romans sweating through worst heat wave in more than 60 years
ROME — With the Italian capital gripped by a crippling drought and its most severe heat wave since the mid-1950s, analysts say the city government needs to make structural changes to avoid the worst impacts from future bouts with extreme heat.
Many other places in Italy have witnessed extreme heat waves this summer, which also sparked wildfires that endanger the local residents.
On Thursday, a heat wave that led to wildfires claimed the life of one elderly woman and forced the closure of a major highway.
The 79-year-old woman was found dead in a field next to her home in Sant’Omero in the central region of Abruzzo, who was apparently killed by flames that engulfed two hectares of surrounding farmland.
In the capital, everybody feels the burning wave. Analysts said that this year will likely match 1956 as the most intense summer over the past century.
High temperatures in Rome have reached at least 40 C for more than a week, with more of the same forecast for next week.
That, coupled with the driest spring in more than 60 years, the heat has sparked fears of water rationing during the high season for tourists.
To combat the problem, Rome’s city government and government of Lazio, the region that includes Rome, have issued advice for residents and visitors, including: Avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day, drink more water, avoid alcoholic beverages, and wear light clothing.
The city has publicized emergency telephone numbers for those who might witness someone suffering from heat stroke, with specific instructions for the elderly and those in poor health.
According to Silvio Gualdi, a climatologist, one of the reasons the heat feels more intense in big cities is because of the quantity of heat-generating vehicles along with surfaces covered by cement and asphalt that store and reflect heat.
Gualdi said cities can lessen the impact of intense heat by planting more trees and maintaining parks and other green areas that help cool nearby areas.
Improving public transportation so residents and visitors are more likely to leave their cars at home can also help, he said.
“Because of climate change these periods of intense heat are only going to become more common,” Gualdi said.
“What would have been an extremely rare weather event a generation ago happens much more frequently today, and all indications are that in the future they will become the norm.”
A significant water shortage is also a big factor in Rome this year. The city has been shutting down public drinking fountains in order to save water, and it only narrowly averted a plan to shut off the water supply in residential areas for a third of each day.
The city has been forced to rely heavily on its backup water supply, Lake Bracciano, north of Rome, and experts say if water levels there get too low it will permanently damage the surrounding ecosystem.
According to Alfonso Perrotta, from the Rome chapter of the Italian Forum for Public Water, Rome’s water supply system should be enough to carry the city through even heat waves and droughts if it was as efficient as it should be.
Perrotta said it was difficult to calculate how much water is wasted in Rome’s distribution system, but media reports the number at between 30 and 40 percent.