24/07/2007 21:59 - (SA)
2007 could surpass 1998 as the warmest year on record due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases emitted mainly by burning fossil fuels and an El Nino warming of the Pacific.
Budapest - Up to 500 people have died in a heatwave in the past week in Hungary, the country's chief medical officer said on Tuesday as Europe struggled to cope with extreme weather conditions.
Soaring temperatures across southern and eastern Europe claimed scores of lives, including in southern Italy where a wildfire on Tuesday burned two people alive in their car and suffocated another two when it spread to a beach nearby.
At the same time, Britain struggled to cope with the worst flooding for 60 years, which has seen some towns turned into islands and hundreds of thousands of homes left without power or running water.
In Germany, average temperatures for the 12 months to May 2007 smashed records for the past century, raising questions about whether climate change was quickening, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said.
"If this trend continues in the near future, we will be experiencing an acceleration of global warming in Germany so far unexpected by climate scientists," it said in a statement.
In Hong Kong cold days are defined as being those when temperatures fall below 12 degrees Celsius. Between 1961 and 1990 there were an average of 21 cold days a year, usually between December and March.
Professor Yan Yuk-yee, who wrote the report, said one reason for the temperature rise was concrete used in skyscrapers that absorbs heat in the day and releases it at night.
"We used to feel cooler in the evening when we came home after work. But now the first thing we do as soon as we return home is to turn on the air conditioners because it is still very hot," she said.
Yan said the result of the rising temperatures was that people were burning more electricity and contributing to global warming in what she called a vicious cycle.
Hungary's chief medical officer Ferenc Falus said that during last week from July 15 to July 22 the heat in central Hungary "contributed to the early death of 230 people, which nationally means about 500 deaths".
'Warmest nights ever'
The country has been on its highest ever alert for a week, with temperatures hitting the all-time high of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the southern city of Kiskunhalas.
In the Balkans authorities meanwhile warned people to stay indoors to avoid searing temperatures that have already killed 30 people in Romania and two in Bulgaria and Greece, with another two deaths reported in Croatia.
Temperatures in the region rose to 40 degrees Celsius and above, with Greece experiencing 45 degrees on Tuesday and Italy a high of 44. Rome recorded one of its warmest nights ever on Monday at 27.1 degrees.
Bulgaria sweltered in its hottest temperatures since records began with the mercury shooting above 45 degrees Celsius in parts of the country, and more than 860 people were reported to have fainted in the streets in Romania.
The heat also fanned several fires, with one of the most serious on Tuesday raging near the southern Macedonian city of Bitola.