For the second time this summer, western Europe is baking in record heat this week that is being linked to several deaths. All-time records for cities have been broken, new national records could be set, and there’s no relief in sight for at least a couple more days as the exceptionally warm air continues to surge from Africa.
Today, July 24, the high temperature hit 103.8°F (39.9C) in the Belgian town of Kleine Brogel in Limburg province, the hottest since records began in 1833.
Also in Belgium, the high-speed Eurostar passenger train broke down near the town of Halle. At least 600 passengers were stuck on the train for two hours, with some of the carriages exposed to the blazing sun and extreme heat.
“The temperature was sky high. It was very bad,” Jan Willem Wiersma from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, told the BBC. “We’re happy to be off the train, where it’s 15 degrees less.”
Eurostar said the fault was due to an overhead power supply, and it advised people not to travel today, July 24, if possible. Other services between Brussels and Paris were caught in the breakdown.
Also, a big bridge at the Dutch port of Rotterdam was being sprayed to prevent the metal from expanding in the heat. There is a code red warning in effect for the entire country of Belgium in anticipation of more dangerous heat on Thursday.
In Luxembourg, temperatures were close to 104°F today, and drivers were told to slow down in order to reduce emissions that may aid in smog formation. Also, Luxembourg is on red alert in its southern area and the capital, Luxembourg City, with temperatures possibly soaring beyond 105° on Thursday, July 25.
The Dutch national record, which stood for 75 years, was initially broken today with 101.8°F at the Gilze-Rijen air base. Then, just hours later, a higher temperature of 102.7°F was recorded in Eindhoven. In Kleine Brogel, the city’s all-time record was broken early in the afternoon when the mercury rose to 102°F, but then the temperature continued rising to 103.8°F later in the day.
Much of France has also been sweltering. Amid the extreme temperatures, French reports suggested five deaths may be linked to the heatwave, according to the BBC. The highest temperature ever recorded in Paris – 104.7°F in 1947 – is expected to be broken on Thursday. Forecasts are calling for highs of 105°F to 107F°. Pont-la-Ville, in the eastern region of Haute-Marne, had a high of a whopping 106.2°F today, while the high in Vassincourt reached 105°F.
In preparation for more intense heat, the French national weather service, Météo-France, has put 80 of the nation’s 96 regions on high alert. Authorities are calling for “absolute vigilance,” encouraging business owners to let employees work from home during the heatwave, if possible. Comparisons have been drawn to a heatwave in August 2003, during which heat contributed to almost 15,000 deaths across France, and an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 across Europe.
To limit the heating of water used to keep its nuclear reactors cool, French energy firm EDF said it would be shutting down two reactors at the Golftech nuclear power plant in the Tarn-et-Garonne region. To avoid dehydration, ice foot baths and extra water points are being made available to cyclists competing in the Tour de France, now entering its final week.
Spain has also declared a red alert in its Zaragoza region, which was hit by devastating wildfires last month. The European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service says the risk of wildfires is high in Spain and in Portugal.
Forecasters at the Met Office, the United Kingdom’s weather service, have predicted a new all-time record high for the United Kingdom on Thursday, saying temperatures could reach 102.2°F. The hottest temperature ever recorded in the country was 101.3 F in Faversham, England in August 2003.
Bob Ward, director of policy for the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, thinks the Met Office should do more to warn people about the dangers of heatwaves. He wants heatwaves named the way the Met Office assigns names to winter storms. The institute cited data from Public Health England to highlight an estimated 863 “excess deaths” as a result of three heatwaves in the summer of 2018, the hottest summer on record in England.
“Far more people in the U.K. have died from recent heatwaves than from storms, so it should be uncontroversial to start applying names to both,” said Ward.
Europe has also been hit by severe droughts, particularly in France, with barely a drop of rainfall in many areas since last month’s heatwave. A number of places in France have set new records for the lowest amount of rainfall ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This has caused problems with nuclear energy facilities and agriculture, such as grape harvests and other crops. Farmers in mountainous areas have been allowing cattle to graze on what are ski slopes in winter due to the effect of the drought on lower ground.
The government has imposed restrictions on water use in 73 regions, and Paris has seen its driest period for almost 150 years. France is planning to ask the European Commission to financially assist farmers hit by the recent weather.
FreightWaves SONAR shows dozens of assets in the risk zone of the heat wave, including ports and many oil refineries. The heat wave across western Europe should peak on Thursday, but additional records could be tied or broken on Friday, too. If they’re not, temperatures will still likely be several degrees above late-July norms.