Warnings issued as heatwave hits France

Temperatures in sizzling France are set to peak on Monday as the mercury reaches as high as 37°C, making it the hottest day of the recent heatwave. Authorities are asking people to take precautions against the heat but insist they are prepared.

Warnings issued as heatwave hits France
A woman cools off on water sprays on Sunday during the 12th edition of Paris-Plage. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

The Provence region in the south east and south-western France will get the brunt of the scorching weather, with temperatures reaching between 35°C and 36°C  on Monday.

But with Paris and Lyon expected to see highs of 35 °C it will likely fell hotter in the busy cities. Monday could be a day to avoid the Paris Metro.

Every time France is hit by a heatwave it triggers memories of the summer of 2003 when 15, 000 people, mostly elderly, died as a result of the sweltering conditions.Following that deadly summer a “plan canicule” (heatwave plan) was created to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

Although the conditions are not forecast to be so severe this year authorities in France are on alert.

France’s Health Minister Marisol Touraine sought to reassure the French public telling weekly newspaper Journal de Dimanche that: “It’s not just because there is an effective ‘heatwave plan’ that people, especially politicians, should forget about everyday precautions we can take,” stressing that she would remain “very vigilant”.

Touraine added that France’s elderly population are not the only ones at risk urging “all those who work outside to protect themselves against periods of intense heat”.

Michèle Delaunay, the minister responsible for France’s elderly, said on Friday that the heatwave plan had “largely progressed” since the deadly heatwave of 2003.

“But everyone must feel responsible for the outcome if the heatwave lasts for many days,” she added, urging people to knock on the doors of their elderly neighbours.

Philippe Métayer, a spokesman for the country's weather service Meteo France urged the fragile, ill and elderly people, as well as young children to avoid exerting themselves during the hottest periods of the day.

People are advised to drink water regularly, even when not thirsty, in order to remain hydrated. It is also wise to avoid any physical exersion and try to cool down as often as possible by taking cold showers.

The general advice is to keep the air conditioning on during the day and get the windows open at night.

SEE ALSO: Looking to keep cool in Paris this summer? Check out The Local's Ten Things to do in Paris on a shoestring this summer.

There was no sign of anyone complaining about the heat on Saturday in Paris as the annual artificial beach party “Paris Plages” opened for business for its 12th year running.

“We’ve had a preposterous winter that lasted six months and no spring at all…We’ve been constantly cold and had to turn up our heating so we’re not going to complain after eight or ten days of heat,” one Paris beachgoer told French daily Le Parisien this weekend.

However the heat has proved problematic for France’s main train operators.

On Sunday Le Parisien reported that train operators RER and SNCF were subject to speed limitations in Ile-de-France, the northern region of Picardy and the western Pays de la Loire region, which resulted in numerous delays.

The high-speed TGV rail service was also delayed, although the heatwave is not thought to be the sole cause.

Pollution and mosquito warnings

On Monday Airparif, a company that analyzes air pollution, has issued pollution warnings in Paris’s surrounding Ile-de-France region. As a result, the capital’s police force has warned children and those sensitive to the heat to avoid intense physical activity and urged motorists to reduce their speed.

On Tuesday there will be some relief with temperatures expected to fall in western France, according to Météo France, and more “reasonable” temperatures expected until the end of the week.

As well as the heat and pollution the French were also being warned about mosquitoes, whose numbers have swelled under the baking summer sun.

According to the website “Vigilance Moustiques” there are three times as many Mosquitoes in France than in June, leaving 46 departments in France on “Orange Alert”.

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Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.