French urged to keep masks on outside as 13 départements placed on heatwave alert

France's national health agency urged people to keep their face-mask on out in public if social-distancing was impossible even as a scorching heat was set to hit the country, with several cities bracing for temperatures up to 40C.

French urged to keep masks on outside as 13 départements placed on heatwave alert
Photo: Météo France and AFP
The national weather agency Météo France said a spike in temperatures would hit the country on Friday, with local temperatures set to reach 41C in some areas.
“New spike in temperatures at the end of the week, higher than Monday,” the weather agency said in a tweet. Monday saw temperatures soar up towards 40C in some areas.

Thirteen départements in the southeast were placed on orange heatwave alert (the second highest level) on Thursday afternoon (see map below).
Météo France warned on their website that the highest temperatures on Thursday and Friday would be “close to the records set in July 2019” during the heatwave.
In the southwest of France, where the weather has been scorching hot and dry all week, temperatures were set to hit between 36C and 40C on Thursday, with local temperatures up to 41C.
On Thursday evening dozens of residents of a town near Biarritz had to be evacuated after a wildfire tore through homes.
Further northeast the weather will be nearly equally hot, with Méteo France predicting thermometers to show between 34C and 38C.

Temperatures in the Île-de-France greater Paris region would approach 40C, around 15C higher than the average temperatures of the season.
The hot weather has also seen pollution levels spike, so on Friday the Paris region has introduced pollution controls – only vehicles with CritAir strickers 0, 1 and 2 are allowed inside the city between 5.30am to 8pm.
Extra speed limits are also in place as well as discounted public transport offers.

How to cool down with the coronavirus?
But escaping the heat will be more difficult this years than previous years, with the coronavirus still circulating actively around the country.
On Wednesday evening, the national health agency called for the population to remain vigilant after 1,392 new cases were identified in 24 hours, the biggest increase in a month.
The jump in new cases continued a trend of a steady increase from previous weeks, which has seen experts warn about a potential second wave of infections.
To prevent further spread, health authorities told the French not to use public air conditioned rooms to cool down during the heat, and urged people to keep their protective face mask on outside in public even if it was hot – when social distancing was not possible.
“If you are in a street where you are not sure to keep a distance, I recommend wearing a mask,” Health Minister Olivier Véran told French media on Wednesday.
“When you are all alone in a public place or a park, it makes less sense,” he said.
The health ministry also has asked people to remember to drink a lot of water during the hot spell, avoid alcohol and to throw away their face mask as soon as it is exposed to humidity (a wet mask does not protect against the virus).

The picture below shows the national health advice for “cooling down safely during Covid-19.” Among the advice is ensuring that a fan has “good filters” and is not recycling air, and not using fans in enclosed spaces.
Source: French health ministry

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Just how hot is this week’s May heatwave in France?

Temperature records are tumbling as France swelters in an early summer hot spell - and forecasters predict more highs will be reached before any respite.

Just how hot is this week's May heatwave in France?

In the northern département of Manche, a département unaccustomed to high temperatures, the mercury reached 26C in La Hague on Tuesday, breaking a record for May dating back to 1922. The highest temperature on Tuesday across France was 32.8C recorded in Agen. But that record is not expected to last long.

Keraunos, the observatory for tornadoes and violent thunderstorms, warned that France could see a new national temperature record close to 37C between Friday and Sunday, some +17C higher than normal for the time of year.

According to national forecaster Météo France, temperatures were expected to hit 34C in Toulouse on Wednesday, beating the May record of 33.1C in the Pink City set in 2001, while Bordeaux was expected to see similarly high temperatures. Forecasters predicted 31C in Paris, compared to around 22C normally, while in the far north of the country, 29C was expected in Lille.

According to François Jobard, forecaster for Météo France, “since at least 1947, there has never been a ‘heat wave’ in May, because the hottest day in May remained well below 25.3 ° C (22.9°C: May 28, 2017). In fact, until now, this threshold has never been reached before a June 20…”

The reason for the unseasonably high temperatures? Since the beginning of May, France has been blocked under an anticyclone. “We are already seeing an anomaly of more than 2.7 degrees higher than average,” a Meteo France spokesperson told Franceinfo. 

Forecasters fear temperatures across the whole of the month could end up being 3C above normal. The hottest May on record was in 2011, when average temperatures were 1.85C higher than the average.

A European Commission report said the hottest May day since measurements began was expected on Wednesday, particularly in the Rhone valley.

Despite storms forecast for Wednesday in the north and west of the country, which are set to spread across France over the weekend, Météo France forecaster Gaétan Heymes said in a Tweet that it is “almost certain that this month will be drier than normal. Beating the 2011 drought record remains largely possible…”

That will mean nine of the past 10 months – December is the odd one out – have been drier than normal.

Meteorologists say the abnormal temperatures risk becoming more frequent in the coming years as a result of climate change.

“Heatwaves are set to become more frequent and tend to set in earlier in the spring than before,” Météo France said.