Dangerous June Heat Wave Envelops Western Europe

June 25, 2019, 2:40 PM EDT

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Above: A zookeeper (unseen) spills water on Asian elephants on June 25, 2019 at the zoo of Berlin. Temperatures hit 33°C (91.4°F) in the German capital on Tuesday. Europeans are baking in what forecasters are warning will likely be record-breaking temperatures for June with the mercury set to hit 40°C (104°F) as summer kicks in on the back of a wave of hot air from North Africa. Image credit: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images.

A ferociously hot airmass from the Sahara Desert has moved northward into Western Europe and will bring a dangerous heat wave unprecedented for June for the remainder of the week. All-time national heat records for June are likely to fall in multiple countries, and some nations may challenge all-time heat records set during the great heat wave of 2003, which killed over 70,000 people.

As of 11 am EDT Tuesday (5 pm local time in France), the temperature in Paris had soared to 32.4°C (90.5°F), making Tuesday the first of a string of five days likely to have high temperatures in excess of  90°F. The WU forecast for Paris calls for high temperatures of 93 – 98°F Wednesday through Saturday.

As of 11 am EDT Tuesday, Carpentras, France had recorded a high temperature of 38.4°C (101.1°F). This falls 3°C short of the highest fully reliable June temperature in France of 41.5°C (106.7°F) on June 21, 2003 at Lézignan-Corbières, according to Etienne Kapikian (Météo-France). Other June readings as high as 42.2°C are less reliable, Kapikian said. The June heat record for France is likely to fall on Wednesday or Thursday in southern portions of the nation.

Wildfire danger is predicted to steadily increase during week, reaching the “Extreme” level by the weekend over portions of France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic, according the Copernicus Emergency Management Service. The European Union is already well above recent norms for hectares burned & number of fires ignited in 2019.

An unusually early heat wave

Much like the eastern U.S., Europe tends to get its hottest temperatures of the year later in the summer, in July and especially toward August. All-time national records, some of which may be challenged this week, include:

  • Austria: 40.5°C (104.9°F), August 8, 2013
  • Belgium: 38.8°C (101.8°F), July 2, 2015
  • Czech Republic: 40.4°C (104.7°F), August 20, 2012
  • Denmark: 36.4°C (97.5°F), August 10, 1975
  • France: 44.1°C (111.4°F), August 12, 2003
  • Germany: 40.3°C (104.5°F), July 5 and August 7, 2015
  • Liechtenstein: 37.4°C (99.3°F), August 13, 2003
  • Luxembourg: 39.9°C (103.8°F), August 8, 2003
  • Netherlands: 38.6°C (101.5°F), August 23, 1944
  • Switzerland: 39.7°C (103.5°F), July 7, 2015

Some of these all-time June records are even more likely to tumble:

  • Austria: 38.6°C (101.48°F), June 20, 2013
  • Belgium: 38.7°C (101.7°F), June 27, 1947
  • Czech Republic: 38.2°C (100.8°F), June 22, 2000
  • Denmark: 35.5°C (95.9°F), June 29, 1947
  • France: 41.5°C (106.7°F), June 21, 2003
  • Germany: 38.5°C (101.3°F), June 27, 1947
  • Luxembourg: 36.1°C (97.0°F), June 22, 2017
  • Netherlands: 38.4°C (101.1°F), June 29, 1947
  • Switzerland: 37.3°C (99.1°F), June 21, 2003

Early-season heat waves are especially dangerous

Heat waves are especially dangerous when they occur early in the summer, before people have had time to adapt to the seasonal heat. A 2015 report from the World Meteorological Organization and World Health Organization on heatwaves and health notes:

“Heatwave timing appears to have a notable effect on the level of mortality. Heatwaves occurring early in the summer have been shown to be associated with greater impacts on mortality in the same population than later heatwaves of comparable or higher temperatures (Hajat et al., 2002; Kinney et al., 2008; Anderson and Bell, 2011). The impact of high temperatures later in the summer is sometimes diminished after an early heatwave.

“In Europe, heatwaves occurring in June result in relatively high mortality compared to later in the summer, while most high-mortality events in southern Asia appear to occur early in the summer before the summer monsoon."

Heat wave forecast
Figure 1. Heat forecast from Tuesday, June 25, 2019 from The Weather Company. The most widespread anomalous heat, with temperatures more than 12°C (22°F) above average (pink colors), are predicted on Wednesday and Thursday.

Europe’s heat wave history

The hottest summers since 1500 AD in Europe were 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016, 2002. Europe’s deadliest heat-wave catastrophe occurred in the first two weeks of August 2003. Great Britain saw its first 100°F readings in more than 300 years of recordkeeping, and all-time national heat records were also set in France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Leichtenstein.

According to statistics from EM-DAT, the 2003 European heat wave was the deadliest in world history, with over 70,000 deaths. Hardest-hit were Italy (20,089 deaths), France (19,490 deaths), and Spain (15,090 deaths). Below is the list of top ten deadliest heat waves in world history as compiled by EM-DAT (which uses direct deaths for their statistics, and not excess mortality): 

The 10 Deadliest Heat Waves in World History
1) Europe, 2003: 71,310
2) Russia, 2010: 55,736|
3) France/Belgium, 2015: 3,685
4) India/Pakistan, 2015: 3,477
5) Europe, 2006: 3,418
6) India, 1998: 2,541
7) U.S. and Canada, 1936: 1,693
8) India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, 2003: 1,472
9) U.S., 1980: 1,260
10) India, 2002: 1,030

A landmark 2004 study led by Peter Stott (University of Reading) found that human-produced climate change made heat waves on par with the European disaster of 2003 about four times more likely to occur.

Bob Henson contributed to this post, and thanks go to Maximiliano Herrera for providing European national weather records.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Dr. Jeff Masters

Dr. Jeff Masters co-founded Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology at the University of Michigan. He worked for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990 as a flight meteorologist.


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