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Heatwave

France issues more extreme heat and storm warnings for coming days

People cool off in city fountains to beat the heatwaves, becoming more recurrent in France and across Europe.
People cool off in city fountains to beat the heatwaves, becoming more recurrent in France and across Europe. AFP

France’s weather bureau has issued yet another extreme heat warning for 32 departments across the country with temperatures in some parts set to top 41 degrees Celcius on Friday. Coupled with this is a violent storm warning for 19 departments. The increasingly hot temperatures have heightened fears of further disastrous effects on agriculture, health and the environment.

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Soaring temperatures are expected in the next 24-48 hours, as the national weather agency Météo France issued warnings for 32 departments, particularly in the south-east including Ardèche, Drôme, Isère, Rhône, Savoie and Haute-Savoie.

“Temperatures of 30-35°C are expected in the northern half of the country and 35-40°C in the south,” the agency said on Twitter, explaining that some areas could expect to see highs of 41°C.

Temperatures are expected to cool off by around 5 degrees by the end of the weekend.

Furthermore, severe storm warnings have been issued for 19 departments of France, particularly in the north and centre of the country.

Winds of up to 100 kilometres per hour are expected as well as electrical storms and heavy rainfall, while fire services have warned of dangerous conditions for wildfires in the south.

The sudden variations in temperature from one day to the next have become a worrying trend over the last few months, experts explain.

Despite this, these “peaks” of heat cannot be described as heatwaves per se, which are defined by at least three days of very high temperatures in a row, and temperatures not dipping under 20°C at night.

'Definite link' to climate change

“Masses of hot air from Spain, having crossed the Pyrénées mountains, have now stagnated in an anti-cyclonic formation," Yves Choplin, a weather forecaster with the national agency, told France Info on Thursday.

"The hot air becomes even hotter locally after it has crossed land that is already very hot from the sun, such as in the Rhône Valley. If it is an isolated case, it can be seen as a ‘weather accident’, something which has always existed."

“But when episodes such as this multiply and surpass averages over a six month period from the beginning of the year, then the connection with climate change is undeniable,” he says.

The month of July has so far seen temperatures at one degree above average, and without the usual cooling mechanism of the Channel coast, this increase is as much as 3°C further inland.

Could 2020 be another record year for heat?

2020 is already in the running to become one of France’s hottest years on record after 2014, 2018 and 2019 – which saw two heatwaves and a record high of 46°C.

The increasingly high temperatures are reviving fears for farmers and ecologists with regards to yet another drought.

“This is not our first year of drought,” warns French water scientist Emma Haziza, indicating that France is suffering in particular from the lack of rainfall.

“We are now in our fourth year (of drought) which is beating all records. Underground water supplies are extremely fragile now.”

Concerns for the elderly

Other concerns have been raised for the well-being of elderly citizens in nursing homes, and those who live alone without family nearby.

After a gruelling period faced with the constant threat of Covid-19, staff now have to contend with keeping their elderly patients cool and hydrated – a difficult task made even more complicated with the obligation to wear masks.

The government has already begun its annual heatwave warning campaign, with reminders to drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol, stay cool and check up on elderly relatives.

The communication drive was prompted by the disastrous heatwave of August 2003 which saw an estimated 15,000 people die, mostly in aged-care homes.

 

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