Hot-weather warnings were lifted across northern and western France, days after the country posted all-time high temperatures as it sizzled along with Italy, Spain and some central European nations.
Six days of intense heat fuelled huge blazes and pollution peaks, and officially claimed four lives in France and two each in Italy and Spain, including a 17-year-old harvest worker, a 33-year-old roofer and a 72-year-old homeless man.
Record heat in France
The temperature in France’s southern Gard region hit an all-time high of 45.9 degrees Celsius on Friday – hotter than in California’s Death Valley – sparking scores of fires that burned 600 hectares of land and destroyed several homes and vehicles.
France is the seventh European country to ever register a plus 45-degree temperature, along with Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Macedonia, Meteo France said, prompting the weather service to issue its highest alert level of red for the first time.
Winegrowers in the south of France said their precious crops had been badly burned.
“Some vines seem to have been hit with a blowtorch,” Jerome Despey said. “I’ve been a winegrower for 30 years. I have never seen a vine burned by a sudden onset of heat like yesterday.”
France remains haunted by the memory of the devastating heatwave of August 2003, in which nearly 15,000 people were estimated to have died.
“I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of citizens – there are avoidable deaths in every heatwave,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
In Spain, 40 out of 50 regions have been put under weather alert with seven of them considered to be an extreme risk, the national weather agency said.
Temperatures in Girona in northeastern Spain reached 43.9 degrees Celsius on Friday – the highest recorded in the Catalan city.
A fire that started on Friday in the central Spanish town of Almorox burned at least 1,600 hectares of land, spilling over into the Madrid region and forcing the evacuation of a village, emergency services said.
Temperatures eased slightly on Sunday although the Spanish national meteorological agency predicted the mercury could stay over 40 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country, in particular in the northeast.
Germany’s weather service warned of “extreme” heat on Sunday, forecasting peak temperatures of up to 39 degrees Celsius from Saxony in the east to the Upper Rhine in the west – just below an all-time high of 40.3 Celsius.
Germany’s national weather service said temperatures were more than four degrees higher in June than an international reference period of 1981-2010.
The stifling heat caused air quality to nosedive in some European cities, prompting local authorities to take anti-pollution measures.
2019 set to be one of the hottest
Meteorologists say a weakening of the high-level jet stream is increasingly causing weather systems to stall and leading summer temperatures to soar.
Five of Europe’s hottest summers in the last 500 years have happened in this century.
Earlier this week, the World Meteorological Organization said 2019 was on track to be among the world’s hottest years, and 2015-2019 would then be the hottest five-year period on record.
It said the European heatwave was “absolutely consistent” with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
On Friday, a “Rebellion on the Bridge” protest was held in Paris, during which hundreds of people, many of them students, blocked traffic as they called for more attention to climate change.
Meanwhile, on the hottest day in the history of France, here’s shocking video of police spraying tear gas in the faces of climate activists in Paris.
This happened today. Do not look away. https://t.co/F43YoxANT5
– Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) June 28, 2019
“The goal was to create activities to alert people and to call for media attention to climate change and its consequences. And today, we see that the government’s response was not to start a dialogue with us or hear out our demands, but simply to chase us away by force.”, said Loic Daniellou, a 20-year-old French student.
How Should We Face the Challenge of Climate Change?