Dangerous, record-high temperatures hit Western Europe, with worse to come

Paris is expected to record the highest temperature in its history on July 25, 2019, with a predicted high of 42 deg C. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (NYTIMES) - People across Western Europe are suffering through an intense heatwave this week, with the worst still to come on Thursday (July 25), when Britain, France, Germany and the Low Countries are expecting life-threatening, record-breaking temperatures.

Officials sounded high-temperature health alarms on Wednesday, mindful that some previous heatwaves have claimed thousands of lives across a region where people are not used to such weather, structures are not built for it and few homes have air-conditioning.

Paris is expected to record the highest temperature in its history on Thursday (July 25), with a predicted high of 42 deg C, shattering the record of 40.4 deg C set in July 1947, according to Météo France, the national weather service.

Bordeaux, in south-western France, broke its record on Tuesday, reaching 41.1 deg C.

Thursday could bring the highest temperatures ever recorded in Germany and Britain, those countries' weather services warned, breaking their respective national records of 40.3 deg C and 38.5 deg C.

The Netherlands and Belgium surpassed their record highs on Wednesday, reaching 38.6 deg C and 38.8 deg C, and officials warned that Thursday could be worse. The Belgian authorities told people who work outdoors to go home early through Friday.

Mr René Pierron, 51, a street cleaner at Paris' City Hall, was not so lucky, and said it was extremely difficult to work outdoors under such conditions.

"The buildings and roads here absorb the heat during the day and act like radiators - it's unbearable," he said, while taking a break in the shade of an awning near the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Ms Kate Simmonds, also 51, who works in a small, portable refreshment canteen in central London, could commiserate.

"It's so hot - we can't work like this," she said on Wednesday.

But she said business was good this week, with plenty of people buying cold drinks and ice cream.

Nation after nation issued unusually dire health-related alerts for people wilting in the heat. Belgium issued its first code red since the weather warning system was put in place 20 years ago, and Germany placed the entire country under a heat warning.

In France, a record 80 administrative regions were put on orange alert, the second-highest level of warning, while a drought prompted the government to impose restrictions on water use in 73 regions.

Britain's weather service, the Met Office, placed five of England's nine regions, including London, on a rarely invoked "Level Three" heat health watch, one level short of declaring a national emergency. It advised people to stay out of the sun, draw their window shades, drink plenty of fluids and check in on older people who live alone, "who might be at special risk."

Several commuters on Paris' Metro system - where trains on many older lines are not air-conditioned - fainted on Wednesday, prompting authorities to issue warnings about public transportation and advise travellers to stay hydrated.

Transport for London warned that the heat might force temporary speed restrictions on the city's Tube network - where none of the trains are air-conditioned, and sweltering conditions are the norm even in mild summer weather. It advised riders to carry water at all times and not to board trains or buses if feeling unwell.

In Portugal, where temperatures reached 37 deg C early in the week, the heatwave fuelled the latest round of devastating forest fires. Over 1,000 firefighters supported by aircraft and a military unit, battled blazes that started last weekend, consumed about 8,900ha and injured about 30 people.

"A heatwave has been building across Europe this week," Ms Liz Bentley, the chief executive of Britain's Royal Meteorological Society, said by telephone on Wednesday, adding that the wave of scorching weather had come from northern Africa.

"Yesterday we saw 33 deg C," in London, she said. "It has also been extremely hot during nighttime."

On Thursday, Britain's July temperature record - 36.7 deg C - is expected to be surpassed.

Ms Nicky Maxey, a Met Office spokesman, said that one isolated spot in south-eastern England could reach 39 deg C, which would break the country's all-time record. That was set in the town of Faversham in August 2003.

"Maximum temperatures of 35 deg C may be registered as far west as West Midlands and parts of northern England, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol," Ms Maxey said.

Ms Bentley, of the meteorological society, warned that while a country like Britain is not accustomed to heatwaves, they could become more common because of the changing climate.

"If you live in a Mediterranean country, the population adapts to these temperatures," she said. "We'll see mortality rates go up in the next coming days."

Almost 3,000 people were admitted to British hospitals "because of heat-related ailments" like heatstroke and sunburn in the 2017-18 operating year, the National Health Service said on Wednesday.

The agency released a list of tips for coping with heat, including staying hydrated, avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm, splashing yourself with cool water, shutting windows when it is too hot outside and wearing loose, cool clothes.

"Everyone can take simple steps to avoid fun in the sun turning into a holiday in hospital," Ms Ruth May, England's chief nursing officer, said in a statement.

At the London Zoo, workers made sure to keep animals sensitive to heat hydrated. Tigers have their own pool to swim in, while primates were given lollipops made of frozen fruit tea, said Ms Veronica Heldt, a zookeeper.

Officials in Brussels suspended horse-drawn carriages to keep the horses out of the heat and in their stables, where they will have fans and will receive regular showers.

Russell Square in central London, which is usually busy on sunny days, was nearly empty on Wednesday, aside from children and dogs splashing in the fountain.

Ms Grace Knee, 29, was an exception, cherishing the heat.

"I love this weather," she said, adding that she had applied strong sunscreen before lounging under the sun. "I just like getting a tan."

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