Europe’s latest summer heatwave broke heat records just weeks after the continent recorded its hottest ever June, fueling concern that a shifting climate is making extreme weather events more frequent.
Germany probably set a new all-time temperature record of 106.7 Fahrenheit (41.5 degrees Celsius) in the town of Lingen in Lower Saxony on Thursday afternoon, according to the DWD federal weather service. Residents in Paris, London and Brussels fought to stay cool as temperatures soared 10 degrees Celsius above July averages, making those cities hotter than Singapore and Cairo.
Forecasters said the U.K. could still see temperatures exceed the all-time highs of 38.5 degrees just ahead of rush hours in major cities after the July record was broken at Heathrow Airport earlier Thursday.
“This is clearly as a result of climate change,” said Andreas Friedrich, meteorologist at Germany’s DWD federal weather service. “‘If you’d have said five years ago we’d see temperature records fall this frequently, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
DWD officials earlier put the entire country on a heatwave warning after June’s surge in temperatures set tinder dry conditions for wildfires to ignite in eastern states. France’s meteorological agency said “absolute vigilance is required” as it put north-eastern parts of the country on red alert, the country’s highest warning level.
In the U.K., health officials warned that older people, those with underlying health conditions and very young children were most at risk from the surge in temperatures and should be monitored. France’s national train operator SNCF advised commuters not to travel if possible. Several German soccer teams canceled pre-season training sessions.
“The extreme heat means that our bodies, especially our hearts and lungs, have to work harder to maintain a normal temperature,” said Owen Landeg, Principal Environmental Public Health Scientist at Public Health England.
The heat is drying up some of Europe’s busiest rivers, making stretches of the Danube impassable to cargo and cruise ships and prompting at least eight nuclear reactors in France to scale back output. In London, engineers on the Underground railway network warned passengers to expect delays if tracks buckle.
“The likelihood of two record-braking heatwaves have almost certainly gone up due to climate change,” said James Screen, climatologist at the University of Exeter in southern England. “More hot extremes is one of its simplest and well-understood effects.”
France is also getting sweltering weather, with Paris seen peaking at 42 degrees Celsius, Meteo France says. Cooler weather is due from Friday.
All-time Temperatures in the Netherlands fell again on Thursday after breaking a record that stood for 75 years on Wednesday, according to the country’s meteorological office. Belgium posted a new highest temperature of 39.9 degrees for the first time ever, according to the country’s meteorological institute.
Consecutive heatwaves are fueling political and scientific debate in Europe. Measures including a tax on carbon emissions are under discussion as incoming European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said environmental policy was the continent’s top political priority.
Wildfires in Sweden along with increasingly violent storms in the Mediterranean and a drier Rhine River in Germany have unsettled voters, some of whom joined protests in the past few months.
Electricity prices in France spiked to their highest level since February as consumers turned on fans and air conditioning units. The utility Electricite de France SA dialed down nuclear reactors after river waters used to cool the power units became too warm. The heat also is curbing expectations for corn yields this season. Near the German city of Hanover, the Grohnde nuclear power plant operated by EON SE subsidiary PreussenElektra was also halted after the River Weser became too warm.
Water levels in Germany’s Rhine river fell closer to the crisis levels seen last summer, increasing concern that the waterway could become impassable to shipping for a second consecutive year. Utilities depend on the river to bring coal to power stations.
In Britain, the Salvation Army asked members of the public to provide water and sunscreen to the country’s homeless people.
“What makes this year’s heatwaves so unusual is they have both been relatively early in the year, and have not occurred following a prolonged spell of warmth,” said Simon Lee, climatologist at the University of Reading. “This year, it seems it’s been easier to achieve these unusually high temperatures, which has given enough time in the season for it to happen more than once.”
Changes to the jet stream, which would normally blow in cooler weather from the Atlantic Ocean, are contributing to the build-up of hot and dry conditions over the continent. That has turned a few sunny days into dangerous heatwaves, according to Dim Coumou, a climatologist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
The heatwave is the third to hit Europe this year after a similar weather pattern pushed temperatures above 20 degrees for several days in February, sparking wildfires in northern England and the Alps. A June heatwave broke temperature records in France and saw wildfires ignite in Germany, Portugal and Spain.
Zookeepers at Frankfurt’s city zoo handed out frozen pieces of watermelon to bears to help them stay cool and showered south American Alpacas with cold water.
“It’s not that the heatwave poses a health threat to the Alpacas,” Frankfurt Zoo spokeswoman Caroline Liefke said by phone. “They just love having showers.”
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