France sizzles in 45 deg C heat, as rest of Europe melts

GENEVA/PARIS • This year is on track to be among the hottest ever and that would make 2015-2019 the world's hottest five-year period on record, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said yesterday.

It is too soon to definitely attribute Europe's current blistering heatwave to climate change but it is "absolutely consistent" with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the United Nations agency said.

"Heatwaves will become more intense, they will become more drawn out, they will become more extreme, they will start earlier and they will finish later," WMO spokesman Clare Nullis told a briefing in Geneva.

"We are still only at the end of June, but it seems like the Earth is set to experience its five warmest years on record, so that is 2015 to 2019 inclusive," she said. From January to May, 2019 ranked as the third warmest year, she added.

Meanwhile, temperatures in France yesterday reached a record-breaking high of 45.1 deg C in the village of Villevieille in the southern department of Gard, weather forecaster Meteo France said, surpassing the previous high of 44.1 deg C recorded in August 2003.

Governments warned citizens to take extra precautions, with the week-long heatwave causing a build-up of pollution and fears of an increase in emergency calls across Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned that such extreme weather is likely to become more frequent as a result of global warming.

"We will need to change our set-up, our way of working, build differently," he said, stressing a necessary "adaption of society and its habits".

Separately, a forest fire in Torre del Espanol in Spain's north-eastern Catalonia region raged out of control yesterday, devouring at least 60 sq km of land despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters.

Some 400 firefighters backed by around 230 soldiers and 15 aerial tanker aircraft were at the scene of the blaze.

"The situation is critical," said fire service chief Antonio Ramos. "We haven't seen a fire like this (in the region) in 20 years."

With temperatures expected to hit 43 deg C yesterday, Spain has issued a "red level" warning to its population. Farmers were asked to stop all work across the region for 48 hours.

The country reported its first known death related to the record heatwave when a 17-year-old harvest worker died from heat stroke yesterday.

In the Italian city of Milan, a 72-year-old homeless man was found dead at the main train station after falling ill due to the heatwave, the local authorities said.

In Germany, at least four people died in bathing accidents in different parts of the country on Wednesday. Some areas were experiencing water shortages and some residents in the North Rhine-Westphalia state were told to use drinking water for vital purposes only or face a €1,000 (S$1,500) fine.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2019, with the headline 'France sizzles in 45 deg C heat, as rest of Europe melts'. Print Edition | Subscribe