France to swelter in 40C temperatures as heat dome pushes north

Temperatures could rise above 40C in parts of south-east France forecasters have warned as a so-called ‘heat dome’ pushes north into France from the Mediterranean.

France to swelter in 40C temperatures as heat dome pushes north
Photo: Clement Mahoudeau / AFP

Temperatures reached between 35 to 38C in parts of south east France on Wednesday, and Thursday is predicted to be hotter still, according to Météo France.

READ ALSO: ‘Very severe risk’: South of France braces for wild fires

“Thursday will be the hottest day of the week, with [average temperatures between] 28C to 32C in the northern half of the country – 22C to 24C near the Channel – and 32C to 34C in the southern half, rising locally 36C to 38C in the lower Rhône Valley and Provence,” said Meteo France. 

The hot daytime conditions could end dramatically, as localised thunderstorms bubble up and some areas are on alert for storms.

This rise in temperatures this week is due to a heat dome in the Mediterranean. A high pressure system is gradually shifting between the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and North Africa, where heatwave alerts are already in place.

READ ALSO Climate change – why we need to get used to summer floods and storms in France

On Friday, “hot and summery weather, with predominantly clear skies”, is expected, although clouds could develop in the south-west of the country. At the end of the week, “temperatures may drop by one or two degrees, but they will remain at the level of seasonal norms,” according to Météo France’s latest bulletin.

A sunny weekend, with possible thunderstorms at the end of the day, from the Auvergne to the Alps and the Jura, is forecast for much of France, with cloudier conditions in the north-west.

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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.