France on red alert, ‘intense and long-lasting’ heatwave creating ‘heat dome’

People in France endured a late summer heatwave on Monday, with record temperatures expected in the wine-growing Rhone valley region. Additionally, a forest fire blazed in the southeast, AFP reported.

Temperatures are projected to peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the most intense heat expected in the southern parts of the country, where the mercury is already exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Health authorities have placed 50 out of 96 departments in mainland France in the second-highest heat warning level, with some areas expected to be elevated to the maximum red category in the coming days.

The highest temperature ever recorded in France was 46 degrees Celsius, registered in June 2018 in the village of Verargues in southern France.

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“Some records could be broken, notably on Tuesday in the Rhone valley with 40-42C expected,” said the national weather service Meteo France. The heatwave is described as “intense and long-lasting” and arriving “particularly late in the season.” This weather phenomenon results from a period of high pressure that has created a “heat dome” over the country.

In 2022, following a suffocating summer of record temperatures and forest fires, France, for the most part, experienced a typical holiday period this year, avoiding the intense heat that scorched southern Europe in July.

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According to Meteo France, the current high temperatures mark the hottest of the season. Many people sought refuge from the heat by heading to municipal swimming pools, fountains, or the beach.

Nathalie Chopin, speaking in the southeastern city of Lyon, remarked, “We went to the pool, so it was a cheap and easy way to fight the heat.” “It’s very hot. Otherwise, we stay in in our apartments, close the shutters and shut ourselves in,” she added.

Fire concerns

After several weeks of dry weather, local authorities in the southern Gard area of France restricted access to forests due to the elevated risk of fires. Around 260 firefighters were engaged in combatting a fire near the village of Chanousse in the foothills of the Alps in southeast France, according to the Association for the Prevention and Reporting of Forest Fires. 

The blaze has consumed around 120 hectares (nearly 250 acres) of woodland, as reported by local authorities. The elevated temperatures have also disrupted the planned restart of a nuclear power plant in Golfech in southwest France and could result in restrictions at a plant in Bugey in the Ain area, according to power group EDF.

Heatwaves frequently impact France’s riverside nuclear power plants, which draw in river water for cooling purposes before releasing it downstream. During hot spells, they are compelled to reduce their water usage to prevent excessive warming of rivers, which could adversely affect local ecosystems.

(With inputs from AFP)

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Updated: 22 Aug 2023, 07:27 AM IST

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