Climate change made French heatwave ‘at least 5 times likelier’

Published by Kayle Crosson on

July 2nd, 2019

The record-breaking heatwave in France that disrupted life across the European powerhouse was made five times more likely due to human-induced climate change, scientists have found.

Last week, the French weather forecaster Meteo France observed the country’s highest ever recorded temperature of 45.9C at Gallargues-le-Montueux in southeastern France.

According to an analysis carried out for the World Weather Attribution (WWA) network, the heat wave was made at least five times more likely due to climate change.

An examination of the highest three-day averaged daily mean temperature in June for both the whole of France and Toulouse indicated a very large increase in the temperature of these heat waves.

Ironically, Toulouse was chosen as most of the WWA experts were at a conference in the city on extreme events and climate change. In addition, Toulouse was forecast to reach record temperatures and is close to the region that experienced peak temperatures.

The researchers, including Peter Stott from the UK Met Office, compared their observations of June temperatures with various climate models that indicate how the climate would appear without the human influence.

The analysis found that every heatwave occurring in Europe today is now made “more likely and more intense” by human-induced climate change.

“The observations and almost all models show a large increase in the probability of heat waves like the one observed in June 2019,” the analysis added.

The heatwave struck many other states across Europe during the last week of June 2019, breaking records in Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic and Spain. In Austria and the Netherlands, the whole month of June was the warmest ever recorded.

Earlier today, data from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service revealed that the European-average temperature for June 2019 was higher than for any other June on record.

Average temperatures were more than 2°C above normal and it has become the hottest June ever recorded, about 0.1°C higher than the previous warmest June in 2016 that following a strong El Niño event.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the “unusually early and exceptionally intensive” heatwave in Europe also posed agricultural, environmental, and health-related threats.

While the agency said that it is “premature” to attribute the heatwave to climate change, it said that the Europe-wide event is consistent with predicted climate scenarios that forecast more frequent, intense and drawn out heat events.

If the trend of high temperatures continues, the WMO has said that 2019 will be on track to be among the world’s hottest years, making the 2015 – 2019 period the hottest on record.

The European heatwave follows episodes of intense heat this year that have taken place around the world, namely in India, Pakistan, Australia, and parts of the Middle East.

“This increase in heat extremes is just as predicted by climate science,” Stefan Rahmstorf of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said.

“While in Europe we worry about reaching 40 degrees Celsius this week, India has seen temperature records above 50 C recently,” he added.

Record high in France

The average temperature across the country was 27.9C last Thurday, the highest value observed for the entire month of June. A weather forecast map last week displaying the high temperatures by Meteociel seemed to resemble a skull, which French meteorologist Ruben Hallali likened to Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” on Twitter.

A red hazardous weather warning was placed over southeastern parts of the country, the first ever of its kind to be put in place for the region. It’s the most severe classification out of a four level alert system that was established in the wake of 2003 heatwave that killed 15,000 people, according to the Associated Press.

The state-run rail operator SNCF offered exchanges and free cancellations for long-distance trips and social workers assisted homeless people in coping with the heat. The greater Paris region, Île-de-France, banned over half of cars from its roads as the temperatures worsened air quality, according to Reuters

Three elderly French people were reported to have died after suffering cardiac arrests while swimming. Some 4,000 schools were either closed or paritially running and national secondary school exams were postponed by the education minister due to safety concerns.

The heatwave, according to Paris inhabitant Martin Fox, was “expected in many ways because it’s been happening almost every year so far.”

“For precautions, it’s knowing when not to go out, always drinking water, and if it gets really hot, to go to rooms which have tiled surfaces,” he told The Green News.

Deaths in Spain

To date, two deaths have been reported in Spain as a consequence of the stifling heat. A 17-year-old boy died from heat-related causes last Friday after jumping into a swimming pool to cool down outside of Cordoba. The day before, 93 year old man collapsed and died due to the heat’s intensity in Valladolid.

The Spanish national meteorological and hydrological agency AEMET issued a heat red alert as temperatures surpassed 40 C in parts of northern Spain. The capital Madrid also recorded all-time high temperatures for the month of June on Friday.

Madrid resident Victoria Vallejo told The Green News that the intense heat made it difficult to function in the city. “I had to go to the doctor because my blood pressure was really low due to the heat,” she said. “You can definitely tell that people are scared, but hopefully it’s ending soon.

Wildfires raged in the Catalan region of the country, making it the biggest forest fire of the year. More than 1,200 hectares burned in under 24 hours and some 400 people fled their homes, the BBC reported.

The regional interior minister Miquel Buch said that the fire, ignited by improperly stored chicken manure, was the region’s worst in two decades.

Europe-wide problem

Other parts of the continent certainly weren’t spared from the wave of high temperatures. The Italian Health Ministry declared seven cities to be enduring the country’s highest heat warning level on Thursday. By Friday, 16 cities were under alert. 

Austria is expected to clock in its warmest June on record and more than half of Switzerland’s observing temperature stations noted new June temperature records last week. This includes Davos, according to to the WMO, hitting 29.8 C despite being 1,594 metres above sea level.

The German forecaster Deutscher Wetterdienst announced that a new national June temperature record of 39.6 C was set on the last day of the month. Highway speed limits were reduced when road surfaces started to decline and some areas of the country faced water shortages

In addition, Doksany in the Czech Republic reently recorded a new national high tempreature of 38.9 C. 

Heatwaves can acutely impact large populations for short periods of time, the World Health Organization (WHO) says, frequently triggering public health emergencies that lead to lost work capacity, reduced labour productivity, and death. 

High temperatures can also limit the health service’s capacity, as heatwave-induced power shortages disrupt health facilities, water infrastructure, and transport. They can also worsen existing chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular, respiratory, and diabetes-related conditions.

The scale and nature of health impacts vary around the world, depending on the timing, intensity and duration of a heatwave, as well as how well local populations are adaptable and acclimatized. In the case of last week’s heatwave, the WMO noted that initial reports indicate heat-health early warnings successfully limited the death toll.

If the trend of high temperatures continues, the WMO has said that 2019 will be on track to be among the world’s hottest years, making the 2015 – 2019 period the hottest on record.

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Categories: News

Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.