The Washington Post

Extreme weather bakes Europe

As deaths rise, officials warn of ‘heat apocalypse’

- BY RICK NOACK AND WILLIAM BOOTH

paris — An unforgivin­g heat wave in Western Europe laid bare Monday how extreme temperatur­es will increasing­ly challenge everyday life, as dozens of heat records were shattered, key sectors were hobbled, and emergency services confronted spreading wildfires and rising death tolls.

In France, officials warned of a “heat apocalypse” as the temperatur­e soared up to 109 degrees. France’s meteorolog­ical service placed a stretch of its Atlantic coast under the highest-possible alert level. More than 15,000 people were evacuated amid wildfires in France.

Wales reported a new all-time high, and Ireland registered its highest air temperatur­e in more

than a century, with Britain expecting on Tuesday temperatur­es of up to 106 degrees — far above the record of 101.7 degrees set in 2019.

British authoritie­s declared a national emergency and for the first time issued a “red extreme” heat warning for large parts of England, as the nation struggled to adapt. In London, workers wrapped the historic Hammersmit­h Bridge over the River Thames in silver insulation foil to protect the cast-iron spans from cracking. Transit officials advised passengers to stay away and ordered trains to slow down as maintenanc­e crews were on the lookout for steel tracks bending and buckling. Planes were diverted from at least two airports, amid reports of melting runways and roads.

Penny Endersby, the chief operating officer of the Met Office, the United Kingdom’s weather service, called the forecast temperatur­es “absolutely unpreceden­ted.”

“Our lifestyles and our infrastruc­ture are not adapted to what is coming,” Endersby said.

The heat has been pumped into Europe by a zone of low pressure cut off from atmospheri­c steering currents west of Portugal. The counterclo­ckwise flow around this low-pressure zone has drawn hot air from northern Africa directly into Western Europe.

After peaking in Western Europe on Tuesday, heat is expected to envelop Germany and Poland and then rebuild over Southern Europe. Much of Italy’s north, which is facing one of its worst droughts in decades, remains under a state of emergency.

Some experts said Europeans are bearing witness to a heat wave unmistakab­ly shaped by humancause­d climate change.

“The chances of seeing 40°C [104 Fahrenheit] days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” Nikos Christidis, a researcher at the Met Office, said in a statement.

While Europe produced some of the most indelible scenes of heat’s impact, other parts of the world were also experienci­ng intense temperatur­es. Scorching heat is swelling from the western to the central United States. Salt Lake City soared to 107 degrees Sunday, matching its all-time high. Temperatur­es as high as 108 degrees reached Glasgow, Mont.

On Tuesday, temperatur­es above 100 are forecast across nearly the entirety of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, with record-challengin­g highs of 108 to 110 degrees projected in Dallas and Oklahoma City. About 40 million Americans are under excessive-heat warnings or heat advisories.

In Europe, the human toll and logistical challenges of extreme heat were becoming increasing­ly visible, with firefighti­ng services under strain, hospitals preparing for increased admissions, and office work and schools disrupted.

In France, the Interior Ministry announced that it would deploy hundreds of additional firefighte­rs to the regions most severely hit by wildfires, including popular beaches and vacation spots on the country’s west coast. In Spain, authoritie­s said that in many places, the available firefighti­ng planes were already working at capacity.

“Full solidarity with firefighte­rs and disaster victims,” wrote French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne on Twitter. Her Spanish counterpar­t, Pedro Sánchez, on Sunday paid tribute on Twitter to a dead emergency service worker.

Models by Spain’s public Carlos III Health Institute estimate that at least 350 people died during the previous week as a result of the country’s heat — far above the weekly average of about 60 deaths, though in line with the impact of heat episodes in previous years.

The institute reported more than 800 heat-linked deaths last month, when similarly scorching temperatur­es hit the country and other parts of Europe, with temperatur­es reaching between 104 and 110 degrees.

In Portugal, the Health Ministry said 659 people, mostly elderly, died because of the heat last week, Reuters reported.

The number of fatalities could still rise above the estimates — it sometimes takes weeks until authoritie­s have a clear understand­ing of heat-linked death tolls.

Hospital unions in France and other countries warned that the heat is putting an additional burden on services that were already dealing with a renewed rise in coronaviru­s-linked hospitaliz­ations in recent weeks.

The U.K. Health Security Agency issued a Level 4 heat alert, its highest level, warning that illness and death could occur “among the fit and healthy.”

Public health officials predicted that thousands of excess deaths could occur, even as some skeptics considered it hype. Conservati­ve Party lawmaker John Hayes told the Telegraph newspaper that “this is not a brave new world but a cowardly new world where we live in a country where we are frightened of the heat.”

But Britain isn’t designed for extreme heat.

Few homes have air conditioni­ng. Instead, houses have traditiona­lly been built to retain heat. Maintenanc­e crews were spreading sand on the highways to keep the roads from melting.

The extreme temperatur­es forced the diversion of flights from the RAF Brize Norton air base and Luton Airport on Monday. The Royal Air Force said the diversion had “no impact on RAF operations.”

Repairs temporaril­y suspended all flights at Luton, one of the country’s busiest airports, after a “surface defect” was spotted on its runway. The airport reopened later in the evening.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned riders to avoid all public transit, including the London Undergroun­d, “unless absolutely necessary.” The subway becomes a sauna on hot days. The system, parts of which date to the Victorian Age, has never seen temperatur­es like those that are forecast.

This summer’s heat has revived a debate over how to prepare citizens for the impacts of climate change. While environmen­tal concerns over the use of air conditioni­ng remain widespread in Europe, with as many as 75 percent of all French having no air conditioni­ng, it is increasing­ly seen as a tool to protect the most vulnerable.

After a heat wave killed an estimated 15,000 people in France in 2003, French nursing homes developed emergency plans. Many of them are now equipped with airconditi­oned rooms, additional ventilatio­n or sprinklers that cool down building facades.

In Paris, city authoritie­s encouraged residents and tourists to use a dedicated website to find 900 “islands of coolness,” including parks, cemeteries, swimming pools and museums.

Studies suggest that such measures have brought down heat-related mortality since 2003, which has encouraged more adaptation plans. Over the next few years, the French capital wants to plant tens of thousands of additional trees, in the hope that they may help to lower air and surface temperatur­es in cobbleston­e squares and asphalt roads that trap heat.

But as climate change progresses, the increasing­ly brutal heat islands that build up in urban areas could pose risks that may be beyond convention­al solutions — even today, the difference in temperatur­es between Paris and its greener surroundin­gs can at times approach 18 degrees. People in poorer areas, who are more likely to live in unrenovate­d buildings and without easy access to green spaces, are particular­ly affected. Many of the elderly residents who died in recent heat waves in France were at home and not in nursing facilities.

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 ?? CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: MANU FERNANDEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS; JOHN SIBLEY/REUTERS; MARIAM A. MONTESINOS/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK; BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS ?? CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A worker in Madrid, where temperatur­es have topped 100 degrees in recent days. A member of the Queen’s Guard gets a drink of water outside Buckingham Palace in London. A woman watches flames in the village of San Martin de Tabara in Spain, where wildfires are burning in five regions. A cyclist pauses to cool off under a mist machine in Paris.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: MANU FERNANDEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS; JOHN SIBLEY/REUTERS; MARIAM A. MONTESINOS/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK; BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A worker in Madrid, where temperatur­es have topped 100 degrees in recent days. A member of the Queen’s Guard gets a drink of water outside Buckingham Palace in London. A woman watches flames in the village of San Martin de Tabara in Spain, where wildfires are burning in five regions. A cyclist pauses to cool off under a mist machine in Paris.

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