A blanket of warm air stretching from the Mediterranean to the North Sea brings much of Western Europe its first heat wave of the summer, with temperatures on Friday (all local times) exceeding 30 degrees Celsius from London to Paris.
Meteorologists say the unusually early heat wave is a sign of what is to come as global warming continues, pushing up the timeline to temperatures that Europe would previously have only experienced in July and August.
“In parts of Spain and France, temperatures are more than 10 degrees higher – it’s huge – than average for this time of year,” said Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the Organization. world weather forecast in Geneva.
In France, some 18 million people were awakened by heat wave alerts affecting around a third of the country on Friday. Wildfire warnings have been issued from the Pyrenees south to the Paris region.
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Tourists dipped their feet in the fountains near the Eiffel Tower or sought relief in the Mediterranean.
France has put in place numerous measures to deal with extreme summer temperatures following a deadly heat wave in 2003 that killed around 15,000 people.
On Friday, schoolchildren were allowed to skip class in the 12 regions of western and southwestern France that were under the highest alert. The government has stepped up efforts to ensure care home residents and other vulnerable populations can stay hydrated.
Temperatures in France have been rising all week and exceeded 37°C in the southwest on Friday. Nighttime temperatures are also unusually high and the heat is spreading to normally cooler parts of Brittany and Normandy on the Atlantic coast.
Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist with the national weather service Météo France, told public broadcaster France-Info that temperatures are expected to break several records. He called the long spell of unusually early warm weather a “marker of climate change”.
Britain recorded its hottest day of the year so far, with the temperature hitting 32.4C at Heathrow Airport near London just after midday. The Met Office weather service said the mercury could reach 34C in southern England ahead of a cooler and rainier weekend.
The heatwave prompted organizers of the Royal Ascot horse-racing event to relax their reputedly strict dress code, with men allowed to remove their jackets and ties once the traditional carriage procession of royals is over.
The UK Met Office has said global warming has increased the average temperature of UK summers – and the likelihood of more extreme temperatures during hot spells and heatwaves.
“Reaching 34C in June is a rare, but not unprecedented, event in the UK’s historical climate record,” said Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre. “But if it were to happen this week, it would be noted that it would have happened over three days in the last six months of June.
Prior to 2017, the last three times the UK recorded June temperatures of 34 degrees Celsius or higher were in 1947, 1957 and 1976.
In the Dutch capital Amsterdam, people boarded trains for the nearest North Sea beach early Friday afternoon while others took boats and stand-up paddle boards on one of the city’s historic canals.
Germany’s national weather service DWD predicted the big sweat would continue over the weekend as the heat moved towards central and eastern Europe. It follows an unusually dry spring in Western Europe, with authorities ordering water rationing in northern Italy and parts of France and Germany.
Experts say climate change is already affecting rainfall patterns and evaporation rates across the region, with implications for agriculture, industry and wildlife.
“Heat waves are starting earlier,” said Nullis, from the UN weather agency. “They are becoming more frequent and more severe due to the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are reaching record levels. What we are witnessing today is unfortunately a taste of the future.
She noted that extreme temperatures have hit other parts of the globe in recent weeks. Nearly a third of Americans were on some form of heat advisory this week. During months of scorching temperatures, India and Pakistan saw the mercury exceed 50°C in some places.
The current heat wave in Europe started almost a week ago in Spain, where temperatures reached 43°C. Spanish authorities hope the weather will start to cool again on Sunday.
Intense temperatures and a lack of rain have helped fuel wildfires across Spain, testing firefighting capacity.
The heat was also felt at a meeting in Madrid, where experts and policy makers gathered to discuss ways to combat drought and the growing spread of deserts across the world.