Weather and Critical Events

European heatwave decelerates transportation, accelerates wildfires

A sizzling heatwave has been rough on European citizens and tourists this week. The record-setting temperatures are no joke, and they’re being blamed for killing at least one person, helping spark a huge wildfire and slowing transportation a bit. The extreme heat and dry air are blowing in from North Africa and could last through the weekend.

Monthly and all-time temperature records were broken on Wednesday, June 26 in parts of the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland and Spain. A record high temperature of 105.6° Fahrenheit (F), or 40.9° Celsius (C), was reported in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Forecasters expect parts of France to see temperatures rise to 110°F by Friday.

Fahrenheit = (Celsius temperature X 1.8) + 32

“The whole government is mobilized,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on Monday. Public health warnings for heat have also been issued in Belgium, Italy and Switzerland.

The temperature in Coschen, Germany peaked at 101° F, a new German record for June. Radzyn, Poland and Doksany, Czech Republic set new record national highs of 101° F and 38.9C respectively. Even in the high-altitude Alps, temperatures topped 85°F in some spots. Parts of Austria recorded local all-time high temperatures.

It’s been so hot that the transport ministry in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt has imposed temporary speed limits of 62 to 74 mph (100 to 120 kilometers per hour) on several short stretches of the Autobahn. Those stretches usually have no speed limit, but officials fear the road might buckle and crack in the heat, putting drivers and their passengers at risk.

The Autobahn in Bavaria. (Image: Pixabay)

In Paris, authorities have temporarily banned older vehicles from the city because the extreme heat can increase and aggravate pollutants in the air. Regional authorities estimate that the brief ban affects nearly 60 percent of vehicles in the Paris metro area, including many delivery trucks and older cars with higher emissions levels. Violators could be fined.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling wildfires in Spain’s Catalonia region where temperatures have soared past 100°F. Officials say these are the worst fires in the region in 20 years and may spread rapidly. At least 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) have been burned by the fires near the town of La Torre de l’Espanyol, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the coastal city of Tarragona.

Tweet on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 by the government of the Catalonia region of Spain.

Officials said that the size of the fire could become five times larger as the heat wave persists. At least 30 people have been evacuated and five roads have been closed. Regional interior minister Miquel Buch told Catalan radio the fire might have been caused by “an accumulation of manure in a farm that generated enough heat to explode and generate sparks.”

No deaths were reported in Spain. But this morning, June 27, the body of a 72-year-old homeless Romanian man was found near Milan’s central train station. Officials say the heat may have been a factor in his death.

Back in France, the heat has forced the cancellation of some public events and schools in France have postponed exams for the first time ever. Public cooling rooms have been opened in Paris and other cities.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has bent some rules during the women’s World Cup soccer tournament. Under normal circumstances, spectators are not allowed to bring any bottles or drink containers into stadiums. But, because of the heat, FIFA allowed people attending Monday’s match in Paris to bring outside water bottles into the stadium.

FIFA also may implement cooling breaks for players, with three-minute pauses for water at the 30- and 75-minute marks if temperatures reach 90°F inside the stadiums. Such breaks were first allowed during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil during a scorching heatwave. If the weather gets hot enough, FIFA could also postpone games. No games had been originally scheduled for Wednesday, but play resumed today.

Unfortunately, Europe is no stranger to excessive heat. In the summer of 2003, a heat wave was blamed for tens of thousands of deaths across the continent. At the time, it was the hottest summer for Europe since the 16th century. However, Europe does not have frequent heat waves, so many parts of the continent lack the resources to cope with them. Many buildings don’t have air conditioning and they aren’t designed with passive cooling in mind.
For example, as few as 2 percent of homes in Germany are air conditioned. It’s an issue that European countries may want to consider addressing sooner rather than later. It’s difficult to impossible to link a single event, like this heat wave, to global warming. While extreme weather occurs naturally, some experts say it could happen more often because of climate change.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.