Last week Friday, the village of Gallargues-le-Montueux located in southern France outside of Montpellier topped 114.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature ever recorded in continental France.
That sweltering heat broke the previous record of 113.2 degrees, which was set just hours before in the village of Villevieille. And those weren’t the only hot spots. Brian Kahn at Earther reports that at least 12 weather stations in France detected temperatures above 111.4 degrees Fahrenheit, the previous hottest temperature set in 2003.
According to Agence-France Presse, the temperature spike makes France the seventh European nation to ever break the 113-degree-Fahrenheit mark, joining Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Macedonia.
France was not the only nation dealing with extreme heat last week. Andorra, Luxembourg, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany all set record temperatures for the month of June. Germany lowered the speed limit on parts of the Autobahn, worried about buckling roads. And the heat set off the worst wildfires Spain has seen in 20 years with three major blazes burning throughout the nation. (One blaze started when improperly stored chicken manure combusted due to the heatwave.)
At least seven people died in France due to the heat with at least two fatalities in Spain and two in Italy. But that’s a far cry from 2003, when an estimated 70,000 people died in Europe, including 15,000 people in France, during a devestating heatwave, reports Sasha Ingber at NPR. After that, the French government implemented a series of measures to help protect people from the heat, including a warning system. The French weather service issued its highest warning for four regions of the country last week, leading to the closure of 4,000 schools. Public cooling rooms were also opened in cities across the country and public parks and pools stayed open for extended hours.
Though the French people seem to have weathered the heat fine, French wine is suffering. After three years of drought, many vineyards in France's southern wine country were already experiencing stress. The extreme heat pushed some over the edge, with vines withering and drying out in the oppressive temperatures. “I’ve been a winegrower for 30 years. I have never seen a vine burnt by a sudden onset of heat [until now],” Jerome Dempsey tells AFP.
On Sunday, the heatwave's grip finally broke in much of France and other parts of Europe—though it is expected to persist in Germany and parts of Eastern Europe for a day or two longer.
So what led to the massive early summer temperature spike? In an earlier article, Earther's Brian Kahn explains that the heat wave was caused by a weather phenomenon called a rex block. The weather pattern happens when stationary high pressure system over Greenland and a low pressure system over the North Atlantic contorts the jet stream, cutting off cooler air from northern latitudes from reaching Europe. The jet stream has also dipped down toward Africa, transporting hot air from the Sahara across the Mediterranean.
Karsten Haustein, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford who is affiliated with the World Weather Attribution Network, which tries to figure out how much weather events are tied to climate change, tells Carolyn Gramling at Science News that it’s hard to say how much this event is due to climate change. He says that some researchers believe the fluctuations in the jet stream may be linked to warming temperatures in the Arctic. In general, however, he says heat waves like this one are twice as likely to occur due to climate change.