Week after week, in the summer of 2003, the sun beat down on western Europe, causing heat waves, drought, forest fires — and more than 35 000 deaths. It was the hottest summer in Europe in almost 500 years, and high-temperature records were shattered in many countries.
In Germany, rivers dried up and shipping was brought to a standstill. In France, nuclear reactors, usually cooled by river water, couldn’t get the water they needed — river levels dropped too low. The reactors had to be shut down.
Between June and August 2003, many crops were lost, especially in southern Europe. More than 25 000 forest fires burned. Portugal was especially hard hit.
Heat waves have never been considered a major hazard, like floods or earthquakes, but they’re likely to increase in number and severity as Earth’s climate warms. Experts predict heat-related deaths could double in less than 20 years.
August 2003 was the hottest August on record in the entire northern hemisphere (that includes North America). Experts believe the increase in temperature during the 20th century is likely the largest and most rapid in the past 1000 years.
The average global temperature is rising, and scientists warn that the world must cut the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming.