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Why is it so hot in Europe?

An extreme heat wave is gripping much of Europe, breaking records and causing widespread misery. Temperatures soared well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in France, Germany and Spain. While the heat is coming from sub-Saharan Africa, some researchers say climate change is exacerbating and prolonging it. They warn more record highs are likely--and along with them, more deaths. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Continental Europe is baking from an early summer heat wave that is expected to last through the weekend. Government authorities are warning about health risks.

    And, as William Brangham reports, record temperatures are making for sweltering conditions in many cities where air conditioning is not common.

  • William Brangham:

    The children seem to be enjoying splashing in fountains in Spain today, but underneath the bustle of summertime fun are families desperate to cool down.

  • Woman (through translator):

    People like to stay in the swimming pool, river. There are no other solutions. Some even go to shopping malls to stay away from the heat.

  • William Brangham:

    Temperatures here surged to a record 104 degrees Fahrenheit. People are struggling to escape the unprecedented heat day and night.

  • Man (through translator):

    The most annoying thing is not being able to rest. You can't sleep well at nights because you would always feel hot and wake up.

  • William Brangham:

    In France, classrooms are empty after officials closed or restricted some 4,000 schools as a safety precaution. Today was France's hottest day on record. Temperatures there reached over 113 degrees.

    A heat wave from sub-Saharan Africa has spread across large parts of Europe all week. The system spans from the U.K. to Italy to the Czech Republic. In Berlin, police deployed water cannons to salvage dying grass and trees. In Catalonia, firefighters struggled to control a wildfire under scorching temperatures.

    Tonight, Paris was baking as the U.S. women's soccer team defeated France at the World Cup.

    While it's difficult to attribute any particular weather event to climate change, there's growing evidence that climate change is changing the way the jet stream flows, and that can make these events worse.

    Michael Mann is at atmospheric scientist at Penn State University.

  • Michael Mann:

    This extreme heat is due to the fact we're seeing these really large wiggles in the jet stream. The jet stream is slowing down, so these high and low pressure systems get stuck in place.

    And where you get one of these high pressure systems stuck in place, like we saw last year in California, you get extreme heat, extreme drought and wildfire for days or even weeks on end. We're seeing the same thing happen this summer and in particular right now in Europe.

  • William Brangham:

    These unprecedented temperatures this early in the summer are a direct threat to human life. Spanish authorities say the heat has already contributed to at least two deaths.

    Experts warn that toll is likely to increase.

  • Julio Diaz Jimenez (through translator):

    If temperatures increase today, the rates of mortality will start to increase tomorrow. So if a heat wave lasts for three or four days, you will see an accumulated impact of the increase in mortality for three or four days after it's gone.

  • William Brangham:

    Many Europeans know that risk all too well. In 2003, as many as 70,000 people died across the continent due to what were then record-breaking temperatures. But those deadly records were broken again this week, and experts warn this heat wave could be evidence of a move into uncharted waters.

  • Christelle Robert:

    A heat wave of this amplitude in June is exceptional. We have experienced this in the past already, but it wasn't this intense. We should expect more intense and frequent heat waves with climate change, because it will accentuate the extremes.

  • Michael Mann:

    I would like to say what we're seeing is a new normal, but it's worse than that, because a new normal implies that we sort of have arrived in a new regime and we just have to figure out how to deal with that new regime.

    That's not what's happening here. We will continue to see these sorts of conditions more often and they will because more pronounced, if we continue to warm the planet, if we continue to melt the Arctic.

  • William Brangham:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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