As Europe sizzled at the start of a heatwave tipped to break records, drivers on Germany’s famously speedy motorways were ordered to slow down and fans at the women’s World Cup were showered in health warnings.
Meteorologists blamed a blast of torrid air from the Sahara for the unusually early summer heatwave, which could send thermometers above 40 degrees celsius in some places on Thursday and Friday.
Experts say such heatwaves early in the Northern Hemisphere summer are likely to be more frequent as the planet heats up — a phenomenon that scientists have shown to be driven by human use of fossil fuels.
In Germany, where forecasters have warned a June record of 38.5 degrees celsius could be smashed, speed restrictions were placed on some stretches of “autobahns” as the unusually warm weather raised the risks of “blow-ups” — the hot tarmac breaking up and shredding tyres.
A forest fire was raging north of Cottbus, the second-largest city in Brandenburg state, in an area that was just recovering from a fire in 2018.
It was deemed especially dangerous due to the risk of unexploded ammunition left in the area, which is home to a military training facility.
‘HELL IS COMING’
In Spain, TV weather presenter Silvia Laplana riffed on the doom-filled catchphrase “Winter is coming” from the blockbuster series Game of Thrones to describe what lay in store for the country.
“El infierno (hell) is coming,” she tweeted alongside a weather map which showed most of the country coloured scarlet later in the week.
“Of course it’s hot in summer but when you have a heatwave that is so extensive and intense, during which records are forecast to be beaten, it’s NOT normal,” she tweeted.
Temperatures are expected to be particularly sweltering in the northeast of Spain, with a stifling 45 degrees expected on Friday in the city of Girona, and 44 degrees in Zaragoza at the weekend.
Five northern provinces were placed on an orange high alert for a heatwave on Wednesday, with another five to be added by the weekend.
‘OVERDOING’ THE WARNINGS?
Authorities were also taking no chances in France, where a heatwave in August 2003 was blamed for 15,000 deaths, many of them elderly people who were left to fend for themselves.
In a highly unusual move, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on Monday postponed national school exams to next week. Paris authorities have banned older models of diesel and petrol cars from Paris on Wednesday, fearing a build-up of pollution.
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn denied the government was being excessively vigilant.
“For all those who know (the risks), obviously it’s too much, but if I can avoid unnecessary deaths, I will continue to communicate about prevention,” Ms Buzyn told LCI television, referring to the warnings on radio, TV and public transport.
The Red Cross meanwhile urged people to check on vulnerable neighbours, relatives and friends, saying the “coming days will be challenging for a lot of people, but especially older people, young children, and people with underlying illnesses or limited mobility.” Players and spectators at the women’s football World Cup taking place in cities around France were also being inundated with messages about keeping hydrated.
In a rare gesture by FIFA on Monday evening, fans were allowed to bring their own bottles of water into the Paris stadium where Sweden took on Canada.
Phil Neville, the England coach, was sanguine about the impact of the weather on the tournament, however.
“There’s no excuse, the players are ready for it.”
Meanwhile, French beekeepers and farming groups said they were bracing for a “catastrophic” honey harvest this year after frost damage in winter, an unusually rainy spring, and, now, unusually high temperatures.
“In the hives, there is nothing to eat, beekeepers are having to feed them with syrup because they risk dying from hunger,” added the union, which represents many small farms in honey-producing regions.
In the Baltic region of northeast Europe, crowds have flocked to lakes and rivers to cool down, leading to a spike in drownings.
Twenty-seven people were reported to have drowned so far in Lithuania where the temperature soared to an unusual high of 35.7 degrees celsius.
It comes as England was hit by torrential rain after enduring searing heat which weather forecasters described as a “danger to life”.
Millions in the South, East and Central parts of England will continue to be battered by monsoon showers in the coming days — with frequent lightning as well as hail and high winds, reports The Sun.
The Met Office yellow weather warning for the East Midlands, West Midlands, North West England and Wales is due to last until noon — although poor weather is expected throughout the day in parts.
The arrival of a 3215-km wide African plume in continental Europe is set to raise the mercury to 35C — smashing the UK’s June temperature record this week.
A huge bubble of hot air from Northern Africa is set to move from Algeria towards Spain and Italy.
The high pressure will see temperatures soar, but will also bring tropical thunderstorms, heavy wind and hail.
The storms are being fed by an area of warm air, bringing muggy air for many.
Conditions will start to improve after Wednesday in the UK as temperatures will rise from 30C on Thursday to 34C on Friday and Saturday.
But hot air moving in from continental Europe will bring with it drier, sunnier and warmer conditions — and by Saturday parts of London could get as hot as 35C.
The rain and thunderstorms are set to make way for sunshine and searing heat in time for the famous music festival Glastonbury this weekend, according to the Met Office.
As the week progresses the heat is forecast to build — with southern areas getting the hottest weather.
Peak daily temperatures across much of England and Wales are predicted to be well above 20C all week.
Scotland and Northern Ireland will be slightly cooler, although the mercury is expected to rise above 20C on Saturday.
Met Office spokeswoman Nicola Maxey said: “The continent is seeing some very high temperatures, with record-breaking temperatures expected across France, Spain and Belgium.
“We are not seeing temperatures as hot as Europe, but it will be warm for the UK.”
She added: “By Saturday we could be looking at 30C in the south, with London looking at 30C but with isolated spots of 33C, 34C or 35C, maybe.”
— with The Sun