Tour de France cyclists competed in scorching temperatures and a French nuclear power plant prepared to shut down yesterday as western Europe baked in a new heatwave already breaking longstanding records.
Overheating tourists in Paris and Berlin plunged into fountains and ornamental ponds to keep cool while zoo keepers in the Netherlands handed out food caked in ice to look after thirsty animals.
The southwestern French city of Bordeaux saw its highest ever temperature since records began of 41.2° Celsius (106.16° Fahrenheit), beating the previous high of 40.7C registered in August 2003, weather service Meteo-France said.
Forecasters predicted new temperature highs in a string of countries, including Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands, where the mercury is set to reach 40C for the first time tomorrow.
The same day could also mark the all-time record temperature for the French capital Paris, whose current record has stood at 40.4C for over 70 years.
Meteo-France currently has a record 81 of the country’s 96 mainland departments on an orange weather alert, meaning citizens should be highly vigilant.
As the Tour de France reached its final week in the southeast of the country, ice foot baths and extra water points were on hand to avoid dehydration.
“In the third week of the Tour de France, I think heat like this could make the difference,” said Davide Bramati, head of sport for team Deceuninck, whose cyclist Julian Alaphilippe is currently leading the world-famous race.
French energy company EDF said it would temporarily shut down the two reactors at its Golftech nuclear power plant this week in the southern Tarn-et-Garonne department, in a bid to limit the heating of water used to keep reactors cool.
Reactor number 2 shut down yesterday evening, and number 1 would be shut down today, with both due to stay shut until July 30.
France is gearing up for a surge in electricity use this week, but the national electricity board said on Monday that there will be enough supplies.
The government outlawed animal transportation “for economic reasons” between 1pm and 6pm in areas affected by heat alerts.
Unlike the scorching heatwave at the end of June, the current blast of hot air is most severe in parts of northern Europe completely unaccustomed to such temperatures.
In Britain – where temperatures could exceed the all-time record of 38.5C tomorrow – asthma sufferers were warned of a “toxic cocktail” of hot, humid weather and rising pollution levels.
This “could be extremely hazardous for the 5.4mn people in the UK with asthma, triggering deadly asthma attacks,” said Andy Whittamore, clinical leader at charity Asthma UK.
In the Netherlands – where most of the country was hit by a “code orange” alert yesterday – the government activated its “national heat plan”, issuing advice for hospitals, retirement homes and even obese people.
In Bordeaux, a host of charities accused the local prefecture of “putting more than 300 people out on the street” after evicting migrants from squats in May and July.
The heatwave has also caused water shortages in dozens of regions across France, with a drought raising concerns for farmers producing crops from potatoes to grapes.
In the Vosges mountains of eastern France, farmers have been forced to let their cattle graze pastures on what are ski slopes in winter in order to feed them.
The new heatwave also amplified concerns that human activity is heating the planet at a dangerous rate.
The June 26-28 heatwave in France was 4C hotter than an equally rare June heatwave would have been in 1900, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) team said this month.
One study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology said the deadly, weeks-long heatwave across northern Europe in 2018 would have been statistically impossible without climate change.