“The south of France is going to become tropical,” says Freddy Cerda, mayor of Gallargues-le-Montueux.
Extreme heat is gripping Europe in a foretaste of climate change
If you live in France but would like to live in the tropics, you might just be in luck. “The south of France is going to become tropical,” says Freddy Cerda, mayor of Gallargues-le-Montueux, a picturesque village in southern France.
The mayor issued this prognosis after the mercury soared to 45.9 degrees Celsius on June 28 as part of an extreme heatwave that has been sweeping Europe.
Needless to say, parts of southern Europe turning tropical in the summer because of very high temperatures is hardly good news even to holidaymakers. In addition to France, Portugal, Spain and Italy have also been experiencing record high temperatures, putting lives at risk across much of Europe. Even in Germany, hardly known for Mediterranean weather temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius in some places.
The temperature on June 28 in Gallargues-le-Montueux was the highest ever recorded in France. The previous record was 44.1 Celsius, which was set during a similar heatwave in 2003 that claimed the lives of an estimated 14,000 people in France alone. All told, up to 50,000 people may have died of heat-related causes during a continent-wide heatwave that year.
The summer is just starting yet several people have already died because of the extreme heat in southern Europe, including a 17-year-old harvest worker, a 33-year-old roofer and a 72-year-old homeless man. The authorities called on citizens to take precautions to avoid suffering heatstroke and other potentially deadly conditions. Some 4,000 schools were closed last Friday in France while the opening hours of parks and public swimming pools have been extended.
“Healthy people in general are okay in hot weather as long as they take some precautions, but when it starts getting to about 40 degrees Celsius even healthy people are at risk,” observes Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.
Soaring temperatures have also been damaging crops in southern France and elsewhere, all the way to Bulgaria and Greece. “Some vines seem to have been hit with a blowtorch,” a winegrower in the south of France reported. Added another: “I’ve been a winegrower for 30 years. I have never seen a vine burnt by a sudden onset of heat like yesterday.”
Fires, too, started blazing uncontrollably in the heat, damaging forests and crops alike.
Europeans had better brace themselves for more of the same as climate change is expected to set ever newer records across the continent. In the past 500 years the five hottest summers in Europe have all taken place in this new century, and that’s exempting this current summer. Climate change, experts say, is already remaking the climate in Europe.