Officials in Europe are restricting traffic, shutting schools, opening up pools and blanketing many areas with heat alerts amid a major heat wave that threatens to break records across the continent.
Hot air sweeping in from Africa is driving temperatures up across central and eastern Europe, pushing the mercury up to 10 C higher than normal.
Authorities in many European countries have issued hot-weather alerts. Many are also warning drivers to slow down or be careful because the heat can leave asphalt vulnerable to damage. Some trains are being forced to slow down due to blistering-hot tracks, according to officials in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Here’s how Europeans are trying to beat the heat.
French authorities are hoping to get through the ordeal with fewer deaths than the devastating heat wave of 2003, when 15,000 mostly elderly people died amid record-setting temperatures in August.
“We could see temperatures in localized areas hit record highs,” the national weather service Meteo-France said earlier this week. “This heat wave could be remarkable for how early it has come as well as its intensity.”
The weather agency reported temperatures above 40 C in the south of France on Wednesday. Most other areas, including Paris, were in the high 30s.
Meteo-France has issued orange alerts due to hot temperatures for most of the country on Thursday.
Extreme heat waves can be particularly devastating in France, where high temperatures are historically uncommon and most homes do not have air conditioning. The country’s hottest summer on record was in 2003, when temperatures were 3.2 C above seasonal norms. Last year was France’s second-hottest summer ever, according to government weather data.
“The record heat wave is a consequence of the greenhouse effect,” Francois de Rugy, France’s minister of ecology, tweeted on Monday.
Early-summer heat waves have been associated with a higher death rate, according to a 2015 report by the World Health Organization.
“In Europe, heat waves occurring in June result in relatively high mortality compared to later in the summer,” the report says.
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French meteorologist Guillaume Woznica is predicting the country will set a new one-day heat record on Friday, with temperatures expected to hit 45 C in some cities. The current record is 44.1 C, set in southern France on Aug. 12, 2003.
“The latest forecasts for Friday leave little room for doubt,” Woznica tweeted on Tuesday.
Paris is grappling with the heat wave by restricting traffic, setting up “cool rooms” at municipal buildings, installing more drinking fountains and opening up city pools for late-night swimming.
The city temporarily banned all older-model vehicles from its roads on Wednesday in an effort to curb smog, which often becomes a problem during hot weather.
Regional officials expect the ban will affect nearly 60 per cent of all vehicles in the area, including many delivery trucks and older cars with higher carbon emissions. The ban is based on emissions stickers assigned to each vehicle. Violators will be fined.
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Paris has also reduced speed limits on many of its roads and opened up free parking spots to encourage more people to take public transit.
Many schools across the country shut their doors on Wednesday amid temperatures of up to 39 C. Charities and various municipalities are offering extra help to the elderly, homeless and sick throughout the heat wave, which is expected to peak on Thursday in France.
In Germany, state officials are imposing speed limits on the famously limitless autobahn highway as a precaution against heat damage. Drivers in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt will be required to slow down to 100-120 kilometres per hour on several short stretches until further notice. The measure is meant to reduce damage to the asphalt, which can buckle or even melt in extreme heat.
Staff at the Hanover Zoo gave many of the animals blocks of ice and food to provide them with some relief.
The heat wave has sparked a handful of nudity-related incidents, as Germans strip down to get cool.
Police in eastern Germany tweeted a photo on Wednesday of a man wearing nothing but a helmet on his moped. “It’s warm,” the man told police. The incident occurred two days after another man stripped down and climbed into a supermarket freezer to beat the heat in a rural community.
Tempers flared in Munich after security guards ordered several sunbathing women to put their bikini tops back on. The women argued that they should be allowed to go topless just like men, local newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reported.
Several districts have issued fire risk alerts amid concerns about forest fires.
Northern Spain is facing the worst of the heat wave, which could extend into the weekend. Temperatures in the northern city of Zaragoza were forecast to hit 39 C on Wednesday, while other parts of the country could face up to 44 C on Saturday, according to the government weather agency AEMET.
Half of the country’s provinces are on high alert due to the heat. Many tinder-dry areas are also under warnings about potential forest fires.
Temperatures are expected to surpass 40 C in Madrid and other parts of the country over the weekend.
Poland is nearing the end of a weeks-long heat wave that has pushed daily temperatures past 35 C and strained the country’s energy grid.
Poland set a new record for summer-morning energy use on Wednesday, according to energy-operator PSE. The company says it can handle the strain, and it does not expect problems in the coming days when temperatures are anticipated to fall.
PSE was forced to restrict power consumption during a heat wave in the summer of 2015.
—With files from Reuters and the Associated Press
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