An intense heatwave across Europe is set to spike even higher after already breaking records in several countries, impacting rail traffic and sending people in search of shade and water.
Thursday has been forecast to be the peak of the continent’s latest heatwave – the second in less than a month and new impetus for a focus on climate change.
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Paris was expected to see the mercury soar to as much as 41 or 42 degrees Celsius, breaking a 70-year-plus record of 40.4C and turning the UNESCO-listed capital into a baking urban bowl.
Cooler weather and rain was expected to provide some relief on Friday.
Britain’s Met Office predicted a chance that the UK record of 38.5C, which was recorded in Faversham, Kent, in August 2004, would also be exceeded on Thursday.
Italian authorities have issued fire alerts for the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where temperatures were expected to climb above 40C. They also put 13 cities on their highest “red” weather alert warning of a possible health threat for everyone, not just the frail and infirm.
— Met Office (@metoffice) July 24, 2019
France’s weather office said the scorching conditions “require particular care, notably for vulnerable or exposed people” with almost the entire country under an orange-level weather alert, the second-highest level.
Paris, in particular, remains haunted by the early summer of 2003 when 15,000 deaths were blamed on the heat and the authorities were bitterly criticised for not mobilising fast enough.
“In France, the government is trying to do their best, we are informed at all times about the situation,” Andoni Rosales, a Paris resident told Al Jazeera.
“The general measures that have been taken such as extending the pool schedules, allow many children to cool off. In the government offices, water is free and available to everyone, and inside public transportation, the AC is on at all times.”
“However the situation is rough,” he added.
Local authorities have placed restrictions on water usage in many areas due to drought-like conditions that have seen ground and river water levels fall dramatically.
Climate specialists have warned that such heatwaves were becoming more frequent as a result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions.
“With further climate change, there could be a 50 percent chance of having hot summers in future. That’s similar to saying that a normal summer in future will be as hot as our hottest summers to date,” said Declan Finney, a research fellow at the University of Leeds in Britain.
Peter Innes, a senior climate research scientist at Britain’s University of Reading, said the recent greater frequency of hot summers was in line with expectations from man-made global warming.
He referred to a study looking at the European heatwave of 2003 and a finding that by the middle of the 21st century, this could be the norm.
“It has been estimated that about 35,000 people died as a result of the European heatwave in 2003, so this is not a trivial issue,” he said.