Europe’s record-breaking heat wave yesterday was forecast to intensify, with authorities on alert as temperatures threaten to surpass 40°C in some regions.
The stifling heat has prompted traffic restrictions in France, sparked forest fires in Spain and fanned debate in Germany over public nudity as sweltering residents stripped off.
Meteorologists blame a blast of hot air from northern Africa for the heat this week, which has already set new records in Europe for June.
Exceptional for arriving so early in summer, the heat wave yesterday and today was likely to send thermometers above 40°C in France, Spain and Greece.
In Spain, hundreds of firefighters and troops, backed by water-dropping aircraft, yesterday continued to battle against an out-of-control forest fire in Torre del Espanol in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
The worst is expected today when 33 of the 50 Spanish provinces face extreme temperatures, which could reach 44°C in Girona.
“Hell is coming,” one Spanish TV weather presenter tweeted on Wednesday.
In France, temperatures “unprecedented” for their timing and intensity — since 1947, when detailed surveys started — were expected to reach at least 39°C over two-thirds of the nation, weather service Meteo-France said.
Health official Jerome Saloman said the impact of the extreme heat was starting to be felt in France, with an increase in weather-related calls to emergency medical services.
Some schools were expected to close yesterday and today, while several cities — including Paris and Lyon — restricted traffic to limit a buildup of air pollution.
French authorities were taking no chances after a August 2003 heat wave was blamed for 15,000 deaths in the nation, with TV and radio broadcasts issuing warnings.
In Greece, where about 100 people died in last year’s deadly fires at the Mati coastal resort, hospitals and officials were on red alert with temperatures of about 45°C nationwide.
Scientists warn that climate change linked to human fossil-fuel use could make such scorchers more frequent.
“Global temperatures are increasing due to climate change,” said Len Shaffrey, professor of climate science at the University of Reading. “The global rise in temperatures means the probability that an extreme heat wave will occur is also increasing.”
However, French winemakers said that the hot weather was more than welcome as it could produce a superior vintage.
“Two of three days of heat wave in Bordeaux at this time, it’s magic,” Bordeaux Wine Council head Philippe Bardet said.
Temperatures of more than 40°C would help burn off any of the mildew caused by residual damp, which is “very, very good for quality,” Bardet said.
The 70-year-old record for the highest temperature recorded in June was beaten in Germany as 38.6°C was recorded in Brandenburg, the German Weather Service said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, police in Brandenburg cautioned a naked man for driving his moped wearing only his helmet and sandals and in Munich, security guards ordered a group of women sunbathing topless on the banks of the River Isar to cover up.
The move backfired, Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, quoting another sunbather as saying that she and others took their tops off “out of solidarity.”
It said an urgent motion on Wednesday was introduced in a city council meeting to allow topless bathing.
Scores of people have drowned in Poland and Lithuania as they tried to cool off in lakes and rivers, authorities said.
Polish weather institute IMGW said the nation’s highest ever June temperature was recorded on Wednesday in the southwest: 38.2°C.
The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute also recorded the nation’s highest June temperature: 38.9°C in the northern town of Doksany.
In Belgium, vastly different temperatures were expected yesterday — 19°C in the north and 33°C in the south, broadcaster RTBF reported.
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