A historic heatwave caused record temperatures on Europe and shattered all-time highs in multiple countries and cities. Paris is one of the hardest-hit cities, registering 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit (42.6 Celsius), breaking the previous record of 104.7 (40.4) set in 1947.
The heatwave was caused by a massive area of high pressure air that extended into the upper atmosphere. The phenomenon — known as a heat dome — has temporarily rerouted the typical flow of the jet stream and allowed hot air from Africa to surge northward. It is expected to migrate farther north by the weekend.
French authorities issued a red alert in the Paris region and 19 other districts as temperatures were expected to reach 108-109 degrees (42-43C) in parts of the country. Locals were advised to avoid traveling to work from home if possible. Some nurseries were closed.
“No one is safe in such temperatures,” said Agnès Buzyn, France’s health minister. “This is the first time that this affects departments in the north of the country, populations that are not accustomed to such heat.”
France is particularly wary of high heat after a 2003 heatwave killed nearly 15,000 people, especially elderly people. Since then, the government has introduced a color-coded heat alert system to warn people when temperatures are expected to rise to dangerous levels in their area and trigger government assistance efforts.
The alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month’s heatwave, when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature of 114.8 degrees (46C). On Thursday, about one-fifth of French territory was issued a red alert, stretching from the English Channel through the Paris region and down to Burgundy. Élisabeth Borne, France’s minister of sustainable development, urged citizens to cancel or postpone all unnecessary travel. The SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company, allowed customers to exchange or cancel free of charge any Thursday travel to the heaviest-affected 20 northern regions.
Climate experts at the UK’s Met Office said there’s “no doubt” climate change is playing a role in the heatwave, assuring it’s making summer heatwaves five times more likely and significantly more intense – making these temperatures the new normal in many parts of the world.
“What we have at the moment is this very warm stream of air, coming up from northern Africa, bringing with it unusually warm weather,” Peter Stott, from the Met Office, said. “But without climate change, we wouldn’t have hit the peaks that we’re hitting right now.”
The UK recorded a record temperature for July of 100.5 (38.1C), with trains running more slowly to stop rails from buckling. Meanwhile, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reached new record highs, of 107.2 (41.8C), 106.7 (41.5C), 105.4 (40.8C) and 105.2 (40.7C) respectively.
But temperate Europe – where air conditioning is rare – isn’t equipped for the temperatures sizzling the region this week. So, tourists frolicked in fountains to seek relief, while authorities and volunteers fanned out to help the elderly, sick, and homeless — those hit hardest by the heat.
Across Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, some communities painted rail tracks in white hoping the light color would help cool them down by a few degrees. In Cologne in western Germany, volunteers offered free water to passers-bys at the initiative of the city’s local transportation system.