Seemingly unrelated events, but all are part of Europe’s stunned response to a heatwave that has broken all records and sent a population reeling into the shade.
Thermometers from London to Lisbon once again rocketed into the high 30s Celsius on Thursday – even higher in parts of Portugal, Spain and Italy – and forecasters warned the dog days could last till the end of next week.
In Switzerland, Alpine glaciers were melting, while railway lines buckled in France. The Amsterdam zoo gave its chimpanzees iced fruit and sprayed ostriches with cold water. Suppliers of fans and AC units, ice cream and drinks saw stocks rise and their wares fly off the shelves.
Farmers in the western French region of Brittany said that at least 100,000 animals – mainly poultry – had died in the heat, and the fire services have been repeatedly called out to douse chicken-sheds with water in order to keep the temperature down.
The tinderbox conditions have allowed the summer’s usual crop of forest fires to rage out of control. Fanned by hot winds off the Sahara, the blazes have destroyed around 175,000 hectares – most of it in Portugal where 14 people were killed this week. In France five people died in fires that swept through the Mediterranean coast and Corsica.
In southern Bosnia, mines left over from the country’s 1992-95 war have prevented firefighters from getting to grips with a three-day-old bushfire near Mostar.
“Sustained sexual activity during a heat wave significantly heightens the risk of a heart attack”
The fires were not the only danger Europe’s sweltering citizens faced.
Doctors across the continent reissued advice on how to stay cool after 14 deaths from heatstroke in Spain. In the western French city of Nantes a man fell into a coma after spending too long in an overheated car, Le Parisien newspaper reported.
In Austria a specialist warned against too much sex in the sultry weather.
“Sustained sexual activity during a heat wave significantly heightens the risk of a heart attack,” said Norbert Bachl of the Sports Medicine Institute in Vienna. He advised couples to make love at night.
Cross-dressing bus driver
A Swedish bus driver, tired of his clinging trousers, turned up to work in a woman’s skirt after his bosses turned down his request to drive in shorts. Strictly adhering to the letter of the transport company’s dress code, Mats Lundgren fulfilled his desire to bare his white hairy legs by indulging his feminine side.
“It’s even better than shorts… it feels just great,” Lundgren told local daily Vaesterbottens Kolkblad.
In Berlin, a snowman proved the best equipped to deal with the heat, thanks to a solar-powered freezer, the brainchild of Duesseldorf artist and renewable energy campaigner Joerg Jozwiak.
As students at Berlin Technical College sweated in temperatures of almost 40 degrees Celsius, they could peer through a pane of thick glass at the chilled mascot, whose chamber is kept at minus five degrees using electricity generated by solar panels on the roof of the college.
Meanwhile, as the Mediterranean vineyards parched, British winegrowers were expecting a bumper grape crop and their finest ever vintage.
“The weather we have enjoyed this summer has been absolutely perfect for our grapes,” said Will Davenport, owner of vineyards in southeast England.
The heatwave is being caused by an anti-cyclone which has anchored itself firmly over the west European land mass, holding off rain-bearing depressions over the Atlantic and funnelling hot air north from Africa.
Though there was no clear evidence putting the blame on global warming and greenhouse gas production, scientists at the World Meteorological Office point out that the world’s 10 hottest recorded years have all taken place since 1987.