Heatwave to hit start of French holiday season

With 51 départements now on alert for the heatwave - almost half of the country - the extreme heat is promising to disrupt the start of the French summer holiday season, particularly on the railways.

Heatwave to hit start of French holiday season
Rail passengers forced to walk along the tracks after a power outage at Paris's Gare Saint Lazare. Photo: Nicolas Mely/Twitter

While sun seekers might be enjoying the record-breaking heatwave it’s causing havoc for travellers around France and Paris commuters, just as the summer holiday season is about to begin.

Rail chiefs are warning of delays on trains around the country claiming the heat was affecting power cables. And with Friday marking the start of the holidays, traffic monitoring associations are warning that it will get hot on French roads, particularly around Paris.

Thousands of commuters in Paris faced travel misery in scorching temperatures on Wednesday when services had to be suspended on one of the main lines out of the city’s Saint-Lazare station at the height of rush hour.

The problem was caused by the heat causing electrical faults on the overhead lines. Passengers were forced to walk along tracks to safety and hordes of frustrated commuters packed on station platforms in the sweltering heat.

There was also reports of 500 passengers being stuck on a train from Orleans to Paris for four hours when two wagons overheated. Passengers complained that they were not given water dispute the air conditioning having broken down.

There were also reports of passengers forcing doors open on RER trains in Paris after becoming frustrated by delays.

French rail chiefs SNCF have warned that as long as temperatures remain high then the delays will continue as trains will be forced go slower

With half of the country on alert and the heatwave set to continue well into the weekend, the start of the summer holiday season could be severely disrupted.

Sunbathers in Bordeaux make the most of the high temperatures. AFP)

“When it’s 40C, you need to take even more precautions because safety is the priority above all. There will be delays.” said SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy.

SNCF said once temperatures rise above 35C it starts to deform power cables, which need to be completely straight for the electrical system to work. 

It promises to be tough on the country's roads too with traffic monitoring organisation Bison Futé warning that Friday and Saturday will see severe traffic jams around the Paris region as the capital's inhabitants head out of the city. 

A total of 51 départements across France are now on alert for the heat – roughly half the country as the temperatures are set to remain high for the coming days.

The heatwave has seen record temperatures across parts of northern of France, with the mercury in Paris reaching 39.7 – the highest since 1947.

Weather agency Météo France warns that it the heatwave could last into the beginning of next week.

Here's the weather outlook for Thursday afternoon.

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Sweltering France posts traffic jam record

France saw a record level of traffic jams on Saturday, with cars stuck in gridlock on roasting roads spanning 820 kilometres during the country's heatwave.

Sweltering France posts traffic jam record
A picture taken on August 8, 2020 near the toll gate of Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines shows cars stuck in traffic jam on the A10 highway: Martin BUREAU / AFP

France's traffic authorities said the peak was reached just after noon, easily beating both last Saturday's record of 760 kilometres (470 miles) and the previous record of 762 kilometres set on August 3 of last year.

The country has been sweltering through a heatwave since Thursday, with temperatures pushing towards 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in several areas.

In the southwest, Brive-la-Gaillarde broke its record with 40.8C on Friday, as did Cognac with 39.8C, while Nantes in the west posted a new record of 39.6C.

No relief is expected until Wednesday, with the soaring temperatures compounding the pressure as the country's coronavirus outbreak worsens, the number of daily infections hitting 2,288 on Friday.

Authorities reminded sweltering citizens that masks must continue to be worn where they have been mandated, despite the heat.

Roland and Helene, retirees in suburban Paris, said they go out in the morning “to get some fresh air,” but then spend the rest of the day hiding in their apartment. “We fear the heat a lot,” Helene said.

French weather forecaster Météo France on Friday upgraded the orange weather warning to red for northern parts of the country as temperatures reached 37C. The red warning means a potential danger to life or health.

Placed on a red warning were Paris and the départements of Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-d'Oise, Val-de-Marne and Yvelines.

The départements of Eure and Seine-Maritime in Normandy were also put on red alert.

Last year was France's hottest on record, and the Meteo France weather agency has warned that global warming could double the number of heatwaves by 2050.