People across France had to endure the scorching effects of a late summer heatwave this Monday, as meteorologists predicted record-breaking temperatures in the renowned wine-producing Rhone valley region. Adding to the challenges, a forest fire raged in the southeast, as reported by AFP.
The forecast indicated that the peak of this heatwave was anticipated on Tuesday and Wednesday. The brunt of the intense heat was expected to grip the southern parts of the country, where temperatures had already climbed beyond 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Given the severity of the situation, health authorities took action by raising the heat warning level to the second-highest category in 50 out of the 96 mainland departments of France. Furthermore, some areas were projected to be upgraded to the highest red category over the upcoming days.
Notably, the highest temperature ever recorded in France was an astonishing 46 degrees Celsius, noted back in June 2018 in the village of Verargues in the southern region. The national weather service, Meteo France, commented that “Some records could be broken, notably on Tuesday in the Rhone valley with 40-42°C expected.” This extraordinary heatwave was described as “intense and long-lasting,” an unusual occurrence so late in the season. This weather phenomenon is attributed to a prolonged period of high pressure that has given rise to a formidable “heat dome” enveloping the country.
Reflecting on the previous year, which had seen stifling summer conditions along with record temperatures and rampant forest fires, France found a semblance of respite during the holiday season. The country managed to avoid the extreme heat that had gripped southern Europe in July.
According to the experts at Meteo France, the current sweltering temperatures mark the zenith of the season. Coping strategies included seeking solace in municipal swimming pools, fountains, and of course, the beach. In Lyon, Nathalie Chopin shared, “We went to the pool, so it was a cheap and easy way to fight the heat.” She went on to explain that when the heat became unbearable, many opted to stay indoors, drawing the shutters close and seeking shelter from the scorching sun.
A significant concern during this heatwave was the heightened risk of forest fires due to weeks of dry weather. In the southern Gard area of France, local authorities took the preventive step of limiting access to forests. Reports indicated that around 260 firefighters were on the frontlines, battling a fire near the village of Chanousse in the foothills of the Alps in southeastern France, according to the Association for the Prevention and Reporting of Forest Fires.
This fire had already consumed roughly 120 hectares (almost 250 acres) of woodland, a substantial area as noted by local authorities. Additionally, the soaring temperatures had unexpected repercussions, impacting the planned restart of a nuclear power plant in Golfech, located in southwest France. The power group EDF expressed concerns that there could also be restrictions at a plant in Bugey in the Ain area, given the prevailing conditions.
France’s riverside nuclear power plants were particularly vulnerable to heatwaves, as they relied on river water for cooling before releasing it downstream. In response to the excessive warmth, these plants had to curtail their water usage during hot spells to prevent adverse effects on local ecosystems stemming from overly heated rivers.