Germany hits record June heat; limits speeds on autobahns
BERLIN (AP) - Germany saw a new national temperature record for June on Wednesday as torrid weather gripped large parts of western and central Europe. Authorities in Germany imposed speed limits on some autobahns amid fears of buckling road surfaces, and some French schools staying closed as a precaution.
German weather agency Deutscher Wetterdienst said a preliminary reading showed the mercury reached 38.6 degrees Celsius (101.5 Fahrenheit) in Coschen, near the Polish border. That's a tenth of a degree Celsius higher than the previous national record for June, set in 1947 in southwestern Germany.
And it's about to get even hotter.
Authorities have warned that temperatures could top 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in parts of the continent over the coming days as a plume of dry, hot air moves north from Africa.
The transport ministry in Germany's eastern Saxony-Anhalt state said it has imposed speed limits of 100 kph or 120 kph (62 mph or 75 mph) on several short stretches of highway until further notice.
Those stretches usually have no speed limit, but officials fear they might crack in the heat and endanger drivers.
Professor Hannah Cloke, a natural hazards researcher at Britain's University of Reading, said the heat along with a build-up of humidity is a "potentially lethal combination."
"Children, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk," she said.
In France, some schools were closed because of the heat. The Paris area is expected to see temperatures up to 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) later this week, with similar heat levels baking much of the country from the Pyrenees in the southwest to the German border in the northeast.
Such temperatures are rare in France, where most homes and many buildings do not have air conditioning.
In Paris, authorities banned older cars from the city for the day as the heat aggravates pollution problems.
Regional authorities estimated the measure, targeting vehicles including gasoline cars from 2005 or older and diesel cars from 2010 or older, affects nearly 60% of vehicles circulating in the Paris region. Violators face fines.
French charities and local officials were providing extra help for the elderly, the homeless and the sick this week, remembering that some 15,000 people, many of them elderly, died in France during a 2003 heat wave.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cited the heat wave as evidence of climate destabilization and vowed to step up the government's fight against climate change.
The scorching heat was felt on the streets of Vienna, too.
"We're slightly below 35 degrees (Celsius) right now," said Wolfgang Fasching, driver of one of the city's traditional horse-drawn carriages. "At 35 degrees we go home because then the horses in Vienna get time off due to excessive heat."
With temperatures in Milan forecast to hit 40 C, an aid group said it was preparing to distribute 10,000 bottles of free water to the homeless and other needy people.
About half of Spain's provinces are on alert for high temperatures, which are expected to rise as the weekend approaches.
The northeastern city of Zaragoza was forecast to be the hottest on Wednesday at 39 C, building to 44 C on Saturday, according to the government weather agency AEMET.
Some tourists sought relief in Madrid's green spaces. "It is pretty hot right now, we are dealing with it by trying to stay in the shade here in the park," said Victoria Poliak from San Diego, California.