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WEATHER

Shivering Europe hopes for weekend respite as deep freeze persists

Europe's deep freeze, which has cost more than 60 lives over the past week, continued to wreak havoc early on Saturday as the shivering continent awaited a sliver of weekend respite from a brutal Siberian cold front.

Shivering Europe hopes for weekend respite as deep freeze persists
Icicles hang on a bench in a bay in the village of Attersee, Austria on Wednesday. Photo: Wolfgang Spitzbart
After heavy snowfall and deadly blizzards lashed Europe, conditions marginally improved in some regions on Friday — although temperatures generally remained sub-zero, forcing more major delays on roads, railways and at airports.
 
But Britain's Met Office said the Arctic temperatures were set to rise.
 
“After the extreme weather many of us have seen recently many will see conditions ease a little through the next few days,” it said.
 
In France, the forecast this weekend was for rain rather than the kind of heavy snowfall that has blanketed vast tracts of Europe.
 
The deadly chill has been caused by weather blowing in from Siberia. British media have dubbed the front “the Beast from the East,” while the Dutch have gone for the “Siberian Bear” and the Swedes plumped for the “Snow Cannon”.
 
Over the past week, the freezing conditions have claimed more than 60 lives, according to an AFP toll, including 23 in Poland, seven in Slovakia, six in the Czech Republic and five in Lithuania.  Other deaths were recorded in Spain, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway.
 
France has seen at least nine weather-related deaths, including four skiers killed by an avalanche on Friday in the Alps, which have seen particularly heavy snowfall. A 41-year-old Libyan man was found dead in an empty train carriage in the
western French town of Saintes. Police suspect he died of hypothermia, but could not be sure.
 
In Austria meanwhile, five migrants abandoned by smugglers were rescued from a motorway near the city of Graz on Friday, some of them walking barefoot in sub-zero temperatures, according to police.
 
Switzerland has seen the mercury plummet to records of up to -40C (-40F) in the ongoing blizzard, which has even covered usually balmy Mediterranean beaches with a blanket of snow.
 
Geneva's busy airport announced it had re-opened shortly after midday Friday “despite the unfavourable meteorological conditions”, having warned earlier it faced staying shut for a second consecutive day as snowstorms continued to lash the Swiss city. Airport authorities warned, however, of further “delays and cancellations”.
 
Italy was also still stuck in sub-zero temperatures with a number of major roads blocked because of snow and black ice as forecasters warned the country's northern and central regions would see little immediate improvement. Many schools remained closed and local authorities told people to remain indoors unless they urgently needed to travel.
 
Elsewhere in Europe, Serbia and Croatia saw some improvement but two people died overnight in Poland as temperatures plunged to a low of -27C (-16.6F). They were set to remain as low as -17C across the day in some areas even as forecasters spoke of a relative weekend thaw.
 
Folldal, a small village in central Norway, saw a record European low for recent days of -42C during the night. Even so, residents used to harsh conditions were sanguine.
 
“Life is generally ongoing,” mayor Hilde Frankmo Tveren quipped to broadcaster TV2.

WEATHER

Health warnings as Europe swelters under heatwave

Swathes of Western Europe wilted under intense heat Friday, with socially-distanced crowds seeking relief in fountains and pools as authorities warned of health and wildfire risks.

Health warnings as Europe swelters under heatwave
Children play in a fountain to cool off in the center of Lyon, on July 30, 2020, as a heat wave hits France. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

From Britain to Italy, temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) made face masks almost unbearable for many, as more cities begin requiring them outdoors to prevent surges in COVID-19 cases.

“Even in this stifling heat, it's better to put up with 38 degrees than catch the coronavirus,” said Daniela Iannelli, a 55-year-old municipal employee in Rome.

Fourteen Italian cities were placed on high alert, while France issued warnings for about one-third of the country's 101 departments.

Paris officials imposed driving restrictions to limit ozone pollution as tens of thousands of vacationers prepared to flee to cooler climes, according to the nation's traffic surveillance agency.

Earlier Friday, a dramatic wildfire fanned by high winds on France's southwestern Atlantic coast was brought under control after it destroyed nearly a dozen homes and forced about 100 people to evacuate.

The blaze broke out late Thursday in the Chiberta forest park at Anglet, whose beaches just north of Biarritz draw surfers from around the world.

It was the latest of several in southern and central France this week, kicking off the annual fire season which officials warn could be worsened by drought and dry heat.

“The heatwave requires the state to be vigilant, and everyone to be cautious,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said while visiting firefighters in Bourg-en-Bresse, southeastern France. Officials also urged families and neighbours to check in on the elderly, and retirement homes were on high alert since air-conditioners are being discouraged over fears they could foster coronavirus contagion.

An increase in COVID-19 cases prompted French officials to tighten face mask requirements in several cities this week, with many making them mandatory outdoors as well as in enclosed public spaces.

Hottest day this year

In the Netherlands, beachgoers were told to avoid the coastal resort of Zandvoort near Amsterdam, with public safety authorities saying it was too crowded to maintain social distancing.

“There are much quieter beaches on our coast and on other waters, I advise you to look for them,” the regional safety authority chairperson Marianne Schuurmans was quoted as saying by Dutch media.

Long queues of cyclists formed to take the ferry to Schiermonnikoog, one of the West Frisian islands near the German border, as temperatures in the southern Netherlands jumped to 35 Celsius.

Britain's national weather service said it was “the hottest day of the year by some way”, with the mercury climbing to 37.8 degrees at London's Heathrow Airport.

Many in the capital packed onto trains heading for Brighton on the southern coast. Austria and Bulgaria also reported their hottest day yet this year, with Vienna topping 37 degrees before a summer storm brought some relief.

The Spanish weather service said most of the country was scorching under an air mass moving north from Africa, with Madrid reporting 38 degrees while several cities in the interior saw 40 degrees or more.

As the traditional August holidays approach, swimming pools were in high demand despite face mask requirements.

In Germany, which also recorded its hottest day for 2020  with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees in parts of the south, public pools imposed limits on swimmer numbers in a bid to reduce the infection risk, with online-only ticket sales, no access to the showers or changing rooms and a 1.5-metre distance to be observed in the pools and out. Authorities also urged people to observe a safe distance between one another at rivers and lakes.

Western Europe can expect relief from the high temperatures from Saturday, forecasts show.

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