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WEATHER

France, Spain to get reprieve from heatwave but Germany swelters on

A welcome dip in temperatures came to parts of Europe on Sunday, bringing relief to areas which have roasted through a widespread, deadly heatwave for nearly a week.

France, Spain to get reprieve from heatwave but Germany swelters on
Children play next to a water atomizer in Strasbourg, eastern France. Photo: AFP

Hot-weather warnings were lifted across north and west France, days after the country posted all-time high temperatures as it sizzled along with Italy, Spain and some central European nations.

Six days of intense heat fuelled huge blazes and pollution peaks, and officially claimed four lives in France, two in Italy and another two in Spain, including a 17-year-old harvest worker, a 33-year-old roofer and a 72-year-old homeless man.

The mercury was set to start dropping for France and Spain from Sunday, but still rise in Germany, with temperatures as high as 39 degrees Celsius in some places before cooling down from Monday.

On Saturday night in Spain, firefighters were battling high flames in strong winds and blistering heat soon after they managed to contain another inferno in nearly 72 hours.

A fire that started Friday in the central Spanish town of Almorox burnt at least 1,600 hectares, spilling over into the Madrid region and forcing the evacuation of a village, emergency services said.

In France, fires have razed about 600 hectares and dozens of houses in the Gard department in the country's south.

This is the same region where a new French record of 45.9 degrees Celsius was set Friday, prompting the Meteo France weather service to issue its highest alert level of red for the first time.

Winegrowers in the south of France said their precious crops have been badly burnt.

“Some vines seem to have been hit with a blowtorch,” Jerome Despey said, while Catherine Bernard likened it to the effects of a hairdryer.

“I've been a winegrower for 30 years. I have never seen a vine burnt by a sudden onset of heat like yesterday,” Despey added.

France is the seventh European country to ever register a plus 45-degree temperature, along with Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Macedonia, Meteo France said.

France remains haunted by the memory of the devastating heatwave of August 2003 in which nearly 15,000 people were estimated to have died.

“I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of citizens — there are avoidable deaths in every heatwave,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

Meteorologists point to a blast of hot air from northern Africa for the scorching early European summer.

Scientists warn that global warming linked to human fossil fuel use could make such heatwaves more frequent.

In Germany, the national weather service said temperatures were more than four degrees higher in June than an international reference period of 1981-2010.

The stifling heat caused air quality to nosedive in some European cities, prompting local authorities to take anti-pollution measures.

In Paris, Lyon and Marseille, authorities have banned the most polluting cars from the roads in recent days.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Record-breaking winter temperatures warm Europe

Europe has seen "extreme" warm winter weather in recent days, experts have said, with 2023 already posting record temperatures for January across the region.

Record-breaking winter temperatures warm Europe

As temperatures rise globally because of human-caused climate change, scientists say heatwaves and spells of warmer-than-average weather are becoming more common throughout the year.

After experiencing searing summer heat and a drought unprecedented in centuries, a wave of warm weather across Europe this winter has melted the snow from ski slopes in the Alps and Pyrenees, and seen temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) even in normally-freezing central
regions.   

Several European countries saw record-breaking heat on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Hundreds of weather stations across Europe have recorded all-time highest daily temperatures for the months of December or January, it said this week.

Freja Vamborg, Senior Scientist at Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), said the current winter heatwave is an “extreme” heat event in Europe in terms of how far temperatures have deviated from what is expected at this time of year.   

Here Vamborg answers some key questions about the heatwave:

What caused these high temperatures?

“On the 1st of January there was a strong flow of air from the southwest across the affected area, which would have brought warmer air further north and penetrated unusually far east, reaching even to Belarus. Minimal snow cover was very probably another relevant factor.”

“The circulation of any given weather situation and climate change are not two independent things. Climate change itself also has an impact on the circulation, and will also impact how warm those moving air masses are. This is what makes it so complex to disentangle just simply a weather event, from
the level to which climate change influenced such an event.”

How is climate change involved?

“With increasing global temperatures, heatwaves and warm spells are becoming more frequent and intense — this is not restricted to the summer months.”

“While the warming trend in Europe is on average stronger in the warmer seasons, winters are also becoming warmer as a result of global temperatures.”

“Northern Europe has warmed more strongly in winter than in summer, while in the south the warming trend is more apparent in summer.”

What is the impact of these high winter temperatures?

“A couple of things can be mentioned for warm temperatures during the winter months. While it means less need for heating of housing and other infrastructures, low snow cover affects the winter tourism industry.”

“Possible impacts on natural ecosystems, include early return from hibernation, which may have negative impacts if followed by much less mild/freezing conditions.”

“The overall impact will be different depending on the longevity and intensity of the event.”

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