UK weather heats up as Europe smashes records
Many European cities are not designed to deal with the triple-digit temperatures slashing records across the continent this week.
Air conditioning is not particularly common in public buildings and homes across temperate Europe, nor is it widespread on transportation systems. Fewer than 5% of all European households have been air-conditioned, according to a 2017 report.
That means coping with sweltering temperatures takes some creativity.
Authorities have activated emergency plans that include setting up public cooling rooms and extending hours at swimming pools and parks.
The number of online searches for fans and AC has spiked in recent days, as people try to find some relief.
Queen Elizabeth was seen beating the heat wave with a metallic Dyson fan (worth several hundred dollars). Some eagle-eyed observers spotted the cooling device in a photo of the Queen meeting with the newly minted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Buckingham Palace.
Britons are braving the hottest July day the country has ever seen.
Temperatures rose to 36.9 Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday in Heathrow, London, home to the country's busiest airport.
The Met Office, the national weather service, said the UK could still see an all-time record if temperatures climb further.
Have some sympathy for those struggling in the heat in the Netherlands today because the country just broke its temperature record for the second time in two days.
Dutch residents were treated to a sweltering 39.3 C (102.7 F) on Wednesday, breaking a 75-year record, according to the national weather forecasting institute.
That record was surpassed less than day later when a Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute station in Deelen measured a new high of 40 C (104 F) on Thursday at 1:55 p.m. (7:55 a.m. ET). Since then, temperatures have continued to rise -- it is now 41.7 C.
Temperatures reached a record-breaking 41C (105.8F) in Paris, according to Météo France, the French national meteorological service.
The previous record was set more than 70 years ago in 1947, when the mercury rose to 40.4C.
Europe is currently battling its second heat wave of the summer with Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands also experiencing their hottest days ever this week.
Heat waves are becoming increasingly more common -- thanks to the climate crisis.
"Heat waves are on the rise," Stefan Rahmstorf, co-chairman of Earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and professor at Potsdam University in Germany, said in a statement.
Rahmstorf connected recent heat waves to climate change by comparing them with 500 years of records.
"The hottest summers in Europe since the year 1500 AD all occurred since the last turn of the century: 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016, 2002," Rahmstorf said.
Heat waves are some of the most direct manifestations of climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Europe is certainly not the only place feeling the heat.
Deadly heat waves are going to be a much bigger problem in the coming decades, becoming more frequent and occurring over a much greater portion of the planet because of climate change, according to a study published two summers ago in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Train tracks in the UK could buckle under Thursday’s extreme heat, the owner of most of Britain’s railway network has warned.
The temperature of the steel tracks is set to exceed 50 Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in and around London, according to Network Rail.
Trains have been made to run at a slower speed as a precaution.
Britain's railway tracks are able to cope with up to 27 Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit), the average summer rail temperature in the UK.
But air temperatures are forecast to possibly reach a record of 39 Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) in England on Thursday, meaning the steel from the tracks could expand “and rails can bend, flex and, in serious cases, buckle.”
During a visit to a holiday center in Gentilly, near Paris, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that "our bodies are not adapted” to high temperatures.
French authorities have installed mist showers, extended hours at public swimming pools, opened cool rooms in designated public buildings and are keeping some parks open all night, to help people cope with the heat.
“What we are doing is reminding our citizens of the messages of caution and telling them that at these times, we try to find comfort when swimming," Philippe said
But he also warned of the high risk of drowning. More than 40 drowning deaths were registered during the week of the first heat wave peak at the end of June -- an unusually high number "closely related to heat waves."
During the record 2003 European heat wave, more than 14,000 people died in France alone.
French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said that heat wave plans have improved since 2003, with precautionary measures increasing every year.
"We now have the feeling that in collective places, prevention messages are well known," Buzyn said.
Extreme temperatures can be deadly.
While dehydration is a common concern as it gets warmer, the most dangerous consequence of high temperatures is heat stroke -- which can cause confusion, dizziness, fainting, seizures and even death, in extreme cases.
The condition, known as hyperthermia or heat illness, hits when your body temperature rises above 104°F (40C). Usually, we can cool ourselves off by sweating, but that becomes ineffective as humidity rises above 75%. Our bodies can only let off heat when the outside environment is cooler than our internal body temperature of 98.6°F.
Left untreated, extreme heat stroke can trigger a dangerously fast heart rate and cause bodily enzymes to stop functioning. Ultimately, multi-organ system failure and death can occur.
European public health bodies are trying to prevent a repeat of last year, when heat waves resulted in deaths in Spain and Portugal and drought conditions in Germany and Sweden.
How to stay cool:
Initial signs of heat stroke -- cramping and dizziness -- can be managed by getting out of the heat and drinking plenty of fluids.
More serious symptoms, like collapsing from the heat, require medical attention.
Ice baths, wet sheets and large fans are often used in hospital to cool a patient's body temperature rapidly.
But doctors suggest people should stay hydrated, wear lighter clothing and avoid being outdoors in the heat to avoid reaching that stage.
While temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit might not seem high to hotter regions, they are way above seasonal averages for much of Europe.
Many European cities are not designed to deal with such temperatures. Air conditioning is less common and public transportation systems often struggle.
But this could be the new normal: climate scientists warn that these extreme heat waves are becoming more frequent and increasingly severe because of the climate crisis.
Climate scientists predicted that rising global temperatures caused by increases in greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and gas would contribute to more heat waves, according to Stefan Rahmstorf, a climatologist and professor at Germany's Potsdam University.
France's meteorological body Météo-France echoed this link in June -- and warned that the number of extreme heat waves is expected to double by 2050.
Meanwhile, a group of European scientists concluded that the June heat wave had been made at least five times more likely because of climate change.
"It's important to stress the 'at least'. It's likely to be much higher but this is hard to quantify. Our best estimate is that it's 100 times more. We give the most conservative estimate," said Friederike Otto of Oxford University, who contributed to the research.
It's not just heat waves, and it's not just Europe.
Countries around the world are experiencing extreme weather catastrophes that threaten to render entire regions unliveable -- India is swinging between extreme drought and fatal flooding, 157 million Americans were gripped by a stifling heat wave last week, and the Arctic is facing "unprecedented' wildfires.