On Monday, heat records were broken in several places in France and Great Britain. Further records could fall later today or on Tuesday, with Britain expecting temperatures of up to 106 degrees (41 degrees Celsius) – well above the current record of 101.7 degrees (38 .7 degrees Celsius), set in 2019. Temperatures in France were expected to be up to 104 degrees (40 Celsius).
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Nikos Christidis, a climate attribution researcher at Britain’s meteorological service, the Met Office, said this reflected scientists’ expectations that climate change was making episodes of extreme heat more frequent.
“The chances of seeing 40°C [104 Fahrenheit] days in the UK could be up to 10 times more likely in the current climate than in a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” he said. said in a press release.
Across Europe, the human toll of the oppressive heat was becoming increasingly visible on Monday.
Thousands more are expected to be evacuated amid rapidly spreading wildfires in Spain, France and Portugal. Authorities have warned that the heat will deteriorate air quality in large urban centers of population, and it was feared that hundreds of people died from the high temperatures. Much of northern Italy, which is facing one of its worst droughts in decades, remained under a state of emergency.
In many parts of France and Spain, firefighting services and hospitals were under increasing strain. France’s interior ministry said it would deploy hundreds of additional firefighters to the hardest-hit areas, including popular beaches and vacation spots on the country’s west coast. In Spain, authorities in many places said available firefighting planes were already operating at full capacity.
“Full solidarity with firefighters and disaster victims”, wrote French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Twitter. His Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, on Sunday paid tribute on Twitter to a deceased rescuer.
Models of the Spanish public Carlos III Health Institute estimate that at least 350 people have died in the previous week due to the country’s heat – well above the weekly average of around 60 deaths, although in line with the impact of previous years’ heat spells . The institute reported more than 800 heat-related deaths last month, when similar scorching temperatures hit the country and other parts of Europe, with temperatures reaching between 104 and 110 degrees (40 to 43 degrees Celsius).
The number of deaths could still exceed estimates – it sometimes takes days or weeks before authorities have a clear understanding of the number of heat-related deaths, which are difficult to estimate in real time.
Hospital unions in France and other countries have warned that the heat is weighing down wards which have already faced a further rise in coronavirus-related hospitalizations in recent weeks.
The UK Health Security Agency has issued a level 4 heat alert, its highest level, warning that illness and death could occur “among fit and healthy people”. Public health officials predicted that thousands of excess deaths could occur, although some skeptics saw it as hype. Conservative Party lawmaker John Hayes told the telegraph log that “it is not a brave new world but a loose new world where we live in a country where we are afraid of the heat”.
But Britain is not designed for extreme heat.
Very few houses have air conditioning, and instead houses have traditionally been built to retain heat. Maintenance crews were spreading sand on the highways to prevent the roads, yes, from melting.
Penny Endersby, the Met Office’s chief operating officer, called the forecast temperatures “absolutely unprecedented.”
She acknowledged that while many Britons typically enjoy a sunny warm spell, “it’s not that kind of weather,” Endersby said. “Our ways of life and our infrastructures are not adapted to what is coming.”
In London, workers wrapped the historic Hammersmith Bridge over the Thames in silver foil insulation to protect the cast iron spans from cracking.
Transport officials advised passengers to stay clear and ordered trains to slow down as maintenance crews were on the lookout for flexes and warps in the steel tracks.
Network Rail official Jake Kelly told BBC Radio on Monday morning the system was under “exceptional stress”.
“Our railroad is made up of many components, many of which are metal, which expand when heated,” Kelly said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned commuters to avoid all public transport, including the London Underground, “unless absolutely necessary”. The metro turns into a sauna on hot days. The system, parts of which date back to the Victorian era, has never experienced temperatures like those predicted.
In France, national rail operator SNCF has also urged travelers to pack bottled water and be prepared for delays.
This heat wave, which is already part of a series in Europe this year, has reignited the debate on how to prepare citizens for the impact of climate change.
While environmental concerns over the use of air conditioning remain widespread in Europe, with up to 75% of all French people having no air conditioning, it is increasingly seen as a key tool to protect less vulnerable groups. more vulnerable.
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After a heatwave killed around 15,000 people in France in 2003, French nursing homes drew up emergency plans. Many of them are now equipped with air-conditioned rooms, additional ventilation or sprinklers that cool the building facades.
In Paris, city authorities have encouraged residents and tourists to use a dedicated website to find 900 “islands of freshness”, including city parks, cemeteries, swimming pools and museums. The website also indicates dedicated “chill roads” — for example, streets with lush trees — that connect these spaces. Some buildings use cold water pipes as a greener alternative to air conditioning.
Studies suggest such measures have lowered heat-related mortality since 2003, which has encouraged more adaptation plans in cities like Paris. Over the next few years, the French capital wants to plant tens of thousands more trees, in the hope that they will help lower the air and surface temperatures of the cobbled squares and asphalt roads that trap the heat.
But as climate change progresses, the increasingly brutal heat islands building up in urban areas could pose risks that may go beyond conventional solutions – even today, the temperature difference between Paris and its greener surroundings can sometimes approach 18 degrees (10 Celsius). People living in poorer neighborhoods, who are more likely to live in unrenovated buildings and without easy access to green spaces, are particularly affected. Many elderly people who died in France’s recent heatwaves were at home, not in nursing homes.
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In rural areas, heat waves are expected to have an increasingly severe impact on agricultural production. This year, French farmers have had to deal with a mix of frost, a record May accompanied by a spring drought and intense hailstorms which brought heavy rains, followed by another drought this summer.
“The drought in much of Europe is critical,” said the European Commission’s research service. concluded in a report published on Monday, which warned that “a staggering part of Europe” – around half of the territory of the EU and the UK – is now at risk of drought.
Booth reported from London.