Over 60% of European Union and UK is now experiencing drought conditions
Over 60% of the European Union and United Kingdom is now under either drought warnings or alerts, according to data published by the European Drought Observatory on Wednesday.
The new figures mark a slight increase from a 10-day period earlier in July, with 46% of land now covered by "warnings," which means there is a deficit of moisture in the soil, while 17% is under the more severe level of "alert," where vegetation is stressed.
A map accompanying the data shows a high concentration of the more severe alert level in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Romania.
An update on Wednesday by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology suggested that warmer-than-average temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall was likely to affect the southeast of the country, mostly England, until October.
Water companies in these areas are considering more hosepipe bans on millions of customers in coming weeks.
On Monday, the EU's climate monitoring agency Copernicus said that much of Europe experienced a drier-than-average July, with several local records broken in the west for low rainfall and drought hitting several parts of southwestern and southeastern Europe.
In its monthly climate update, Copernicus said those conditions facilitated the spread and intensification of wildfires, fueled also by back-to-back heat waves in parts of Europe, in what is shaping up to be one of the continent's hottest summers on record.
Copernicus Senior Scientist Freja Vamborg said that "dry conditions from previous months combined with high temperatures and low precipitation rates seen in many areas during July may have adverse effects on agricultural production and other industries such as river transport and energy production."
One senior scientist with the European Commission warned that Europe is on course to suffer through its worst drought in 500 years.
Wildfires are charring thousands of acres of tinder-dry brush and destroying homes in Spain, Portugal and France.
French officials have already declared it the country's "most severe" drought on record. Authorities there say dozens of municipalities have seen their drinking water supplies run dry, leaving them to rely on water brought in by tanker trucks.
In Germany, water levels of the Rhine River have dropped so far that it's making it harder for ships to transport goods, including coal and gasoline, which the country sorely needs amid soaring global energy prices.
Some ships are being forced to carry only 25% of their usual cargo capacity to avoid running aground.
Scientists have said heat waves are increasing in both frequency and intensity faster in Europe than almost anywhere else on Earth, and they say human-induced climate change is playing a critical role in those changing weather patterns.