Spain, France and other western European countries were suffocated this weekend under a blistering June heatwave that has sparked wildfires and worries that such early summer bursts of warm weather will now become the norm.
The weekend’s rising temperatures were the culmination of a June heat wave, in line with scientists’ predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.
The popular French resort of Biarritz in the southwest of the country saw its highest temperature on record of 42.9 degrees Celsius (109.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday afternoon, state forecaster Meteo France said, as authorities urged vigilance from the central west coast as far as Spain. border.
Many parts of the region rose above 40°C, although storms were expected on the Atlantic coast Sunday evening – the first signs that stifling temperatures “will gradually decrease and affect only the eastern part of the country,” the weather service reported.
The baking heat didn’t deter heavy metal aficionados from visiting the Hellfest festival in Clisson on the outskirts of the western city of Nantes, where temperatures soared above 40°C.
Those who found the energy to headbang to the music were grateful for the various water fountains they regularly sprayed.
Queues of hundreds of people and traffic jams formed outside water theme parks in France, with people seeing water as the only refuge from the devastating heat.
Because the River Seine was forbidden to bathe, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city’s fountains.
And at Vincennes Zoo on the outskirts of the capital, shaggy lions licked and clawed frozen blood fed to them by zookeepers, who watched the enclosure’s animals for signs of dehydration under the blazing sun.
“This is the earliest heat wave ever recorded in France” since 1947, Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France, said when records fell in a dozen areas in June, calling it a “climate change marker” again.
forest fires rage
In a major incident in France, a fire caused by the firing of an artillery shell during military training in the Var region of southern France caused some 200 hectares (495 acres) of vegetation, local authorities said.
“There is no threat to anyone except 2,500 sheep who are being evacuated and brought to safety,” said local fire chief Olivier Pecot.
The fire came from the Canjeurs military camp, the largest such training site in Western Europe.
The fire service’s work was complicated by the presence of unexploded ordnance in the abandoned area, but four Canadair planes were deployed to extinguish the fires.
Farmers in the country have to adapt.
Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from “dawn until 11:30 am” and in the evenings, when temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a blistering 55C.
Wildfires in Spain had burned nearly 20,000 hectares of land in the northwestern Sierra de la Culebra region on Saturday.
The flames forced several hundred people from their homes and 14 villages were evacuated.
Some residents were able to return on Saturday morning, but regional authorities warned that the fire “continues to be active”.
Firefighters were still fighting fires in several other regions, including forests in Catalonia.
Temperatures above 40 degrees were forecast for Saturday in parts of the country, with a maximum of 43 degrees in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.
There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures were forecast to soar to 40°C on Saturday, but only reached 36°C. A fire in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over some 60 hectares on Friday evening.
A taste of the future
The UK registered its hottest day of the year on Friday, with temperatures rising above 30°C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.
“I think at the moment people are just enjoying being hot, but if it gets any hotter than this, which I think is the intent, then that’s a concern,” said Claire Moran, an editor in London.
Several cities in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens the harvest.
Italy’s dairy cows produced 10 percent less milk, the main agricultural association, Coldiretti, said on Saturday.
With temperatures well above the cows’ “ideal climate” of 22-24C, animals drank up to 140 liters of water a day, doubling their normal intake and producing less due to stress, it said.
Experts warned that the high temperatures were caused by troubling climate change trends.
“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.
“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing today is a preview of the future” as concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming toward 2C from pre-industrial levels, she added.