Latest heatwave causing major disruption across Europe

Published by Kayle Crosson on

July 2nd, 2019

Last week’s European heatwave set new temperature records and disrupted life across the continent. 

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the “unusually early and exceptionally intensive” heatwave in Europe broke previous temperature records for the region and 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.

The 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

French weather forecaster Meteo France observed the highest ever recorded temperature in the country. Temperatures climbed up to 45.9C at Gallargues-le-Montueux in southeastern France, beating out the country’s previous record of 44.1C at Conqueyrac during the 2003 heatwave.

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.