PARIS: Even ice cream, Italian gelato or Popsicles couldn’t help this time.
Temperature records that had stood for decades or even just hours fell minute by minute Thursday afternoon and Europeans and tourists alike jumped into fountains, lakes, rivers or the sea to escape a suffocating heat wave rising up from the Sahara.
On a day that no one on the continent will ever forget, two potential drug dealers in Belgium even called the police, begging to be rescued from the locked container they managed to get themselves trapped in.
It was nearly impossible to keep up with the falling records as temperatures climbed higher and higher under a brutal sun — in Paris and London, in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands — all places where air conditioning is not typically installed in homes, cafes or stores. Even office air conditioning systems strained under the hot,
dry air that was trapped between two stormy weather systems.
“There is likely the DNA of climate change in the record-breaking heat that Europe and other parts of the world are experiencing. And it is, unfortunately, going to continue to worsen,” said Marshall Shepherd, professor of meteorology at the University of Georgia.
Electric fans sold out across Paris — and traditional folding fans made a comeback on the city’s stuffy Metro. Trains were cancelled in Britain and France, with authorities in both nations urging travellers to stay home. Messages to “Hydrate yourselves!” blared from the radio and TV, and water bottles were handed out with abandon.
Still, the atmosphere was buoyant, as people sought to stay cool yet embrace the moment.
Katy James, visiting Paris from Chicago, was one of the lucky ones with an air-conditioned room but she was still out in the streets, enjoying the atmosphere.
“We’ve had such a good time. The Parisians have been so accommodating. We’ve been getting water where ever we go. We got to play in the fountain. This was amazing,” James said.
France’s heat alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month’s heatwave, when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature of 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit). On Thursday, about one-fifth of French territory was under a red alert, stretching from the English Channel through the Paris region and down to Burgundy, affecting at least 20 million people.
“The science behind heatwave attribution is very robust — the first extreme weather event to be definitively linked to global warming was the 2003 European heatwave,” said NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel. “We know that as the climate warms, heat waves become more likely and more severe.”
So as tourists frolicked in fountains, authorities and volunteers in Paris and London fanned out to help the elderly, the sick and the homeless, opening cooling centres to let people rest, recover or shower.
“They are in the street all day, under the sun. No air conditioning, no way to protect oneself from the heat,” said Ruggero Gatti, an IT worker who joined other Red Cross volunteers handing out water bottles, soup and yoghurt to the homeless in the Paris suburb of Boulogne.
Across the Channel, the heat damaged overhead electric wires between London’s St. Pancras train station and Luton Airport, blocking all train lines. East Midlands Trains posted a message to passengers on Twitter, saying simply “DO NOT TRAVEL.”
The sheer levels of heat on Thursday afternoon were nothing short of astonishing:
In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, some communities painted vital rail tracks white in hopes that the light colour would bring down the temperature a few degrees and the tracks would not get warped by the heat. German railways Deutsche Bahn said passengers who had booked tickets for Thursday or Friday and wanted to delay their trips could do so without charge.
In Cologne in western Germany, volunteers handed out free water while others sunbathed on the dried-up banks of the Rhine River. In Bavaria’s prisons, inmates were getting cold cucumber soup, fruit and yoghurt for lunch and more water than normal.
In Austria, a 2-year-old died of dehydration Wednesday in the country’s Styria region after he climbed into an overheated parked car without his family noticing.
Social media had fun with a photo showing that even Queen Elizabeth II, one of the world’s wealthiest women, needed relief from the heat. An image of the monarch meeting new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday appeared to have a Dyson fan in the background, a tower-like design that stood out against the delicate gilt-edged decor at Buckingham Palace.
As intense as it was, the heat in Europe is expected to be short, with temperatures forecast to drop on Friday and Saturday.