Heatwave alert level in south of France raised to RED for the first time

A swathe of southern France saw the heatwave alert level raised from orange to red on Thursday with officials saying "all members of the public should be concerned, even if they are in good health." Temperatures are set to top 40C in the south on Friday.

Heatwave alert level in south of France raised to RED for the first time
Photo: AFP / Météo France

The country's national weather service Météo France raised the alert level from orange to red for the southern departments of Herault, Gard, Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhone.

The move marks the first time since the warning system was brought in in 2004 that parts of the country have been on red alert for the a heatwave, called a canicule in French.

The warning level has been raised because temperatures in the south are forecast to reach as high as 44C on Friday.

The mercury is set to rise to 42C in Montpellier on Friday and touch 43C in Arles and Avignon.

Some 74 other departments around France, basically most of the rest of the country apart from Brittany and the far north, remain on Orange alert.


The red level alert, which is for a “dangerous weather phenomenon” comes with some warnings for the public to take the upmost precaution.

Météo France said “all of us are threatened, even healthy people”.

It adds: “the danger is greater for seniors, people with chronic illness or mental health issues, people who take regular medications and people who are isolated.”
Those who work outside are told to take care and watch out for the signs of heat stroke, which include: fever over 40C, hot, red and dry skin, headaches, nausea, drowsiness, intense thirst, confusion and convulsions.
This was the weather map from Méteo France for Friday afternoon.

Also on Friday the country's rail provider SNCF announced it would allow passengers to cancel train tickets booked over the coming days free of charge, due to the heat.

The cancellations must be done in advance and apply to all train travel.


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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.