Record-breaking heatwaves killed about 1,500 people in France

Macron 19

Mr Emmanuel MACRON, President of France. Copyright: European Union Event: Special meeting of the European Council – July 2019

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Rosamond Hutt, Senior Writer, Formative Content

In late July, a heatwave engulfed Europe, breaking temperature records in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. It was the second episode of extreme heat to hit the continent since June.

France measured its highest-ever temperature of 46°C at Verargues, near Montpellier, in June. Then, in July, Paris broke its own record with a new high of 42.6°C.

The two heatwaves caused about 1,500 more deaths than usual in France for the time of year, according to health minister Agnes Buzyn. Half of those who died were aged over 75.

The toll was far lower than in the summer of 2003, when about 15,000 people died during a heatwave that lasted 20 days.

There were 18 days of extreme heat during June and July, Buzyn told French radio. Preventive measures had reduced mortality “by a factor of 10”, she said.

Rank of annual maximum temperatures in 2019 compared to 1950-2018.
Image: WWA

The French national weather service issued red alerts – the highest level – in several areas. Events were called off, “cool rooms” were set up in public buildings, pools opened for late-night swimming, more drinking fountains were installed and authorities made regular checks on elderly and vulnerable people.

Meanwhile firefighters battled to contain forest fires raging in southern France. In June, Catalonia in the northeast of Spain, had its worst wildfire in 20 years. Blazes also wreaked havoc in Greece.

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Fingerprints of climate change

July “at least equalled if not surpassed the hottest month in recorded history”, and followed the hottest June ever, according to data from the World Meteorological Organization.

An analysis by World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international group of scientists who examine the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events, found climate change made the scorching temperatures in July more likely to occur and more intense.

The WWA said climate change had made the heatwave in France and the Netherlands 10 times more likely, in Germany eight times more likely and in the UK, where the hot spell didn’t last as long, at least two times more likely.

The study also found temperatures during the July heatwave were likely between 1.5°C to 3°C hotter due to climate change.

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