European Heatwave 2003

The heatwave was unanticipated, chaotic and unexpected. Heatwaves can be seen as shorter versions of droughts. The heatwave was considered an extreme weather event . It was caused by unusually high pressure conditions. What makes this case study interesting is that the question lies was this a first taster of climate change of was it part of nature’s cycle?

Location: The continent of Europe

Date: August 2003

What happened in a nutshell?

Europe experienced a prolonged summer anticyclone. The hot and dry conditions caused problems with levels of water, crop production and the health of the young and elderly.

Human causes…

  1. The highest temperatures were seen in the urban heat islands; they are where the most carbon is emitted and overland runoff is experienced. These factors help conditions become more severe.
  2. It is important to recognise that though humans didn’t contribute much to the causes they sure made things a lot worse with global warming and much more.

Physical causes…

  1.  The tropical continental air mass brought in an anticyclone. [In a summer anticyclone we experience clear settled conditions which can lead to long sunny days and warm temperatures.Weather is normally dry, but occasionally very hot temperatures can lead to thunderstorms.] Pressure became as high as 1030mb.
  2. In an urban heat island the area does not cool through evopotranspiration.
  3. The prolonged time period was created by a blocking high. The high pressure stuck over the UK and the normal tracks of depressions had changed. This meant that some other parts of the world experienced more depressions than usual.

Social impacts

  1. Human death toll exceeded 30,000 due to aliments such as dehydration.
  2. Nuclear plants had to shut down as cooling process was impossible because the water levels were extremely low.
  3.  Public water supplies were at dangerously low levels.
  4. Hydro-electric power became near to impossible to use.
  5. The London Eye was forced to close one day as it became dangerously hot within cabins.

Economic impacts  

  1. Farmer’s livestock and crops died and it cost them nearly £7 million.
  2.  As a result food prices rose which meant the poor were eating and drinking less.
  3. Demand for electricity increased because of increased use of air conditioning systems and other cooling devices.
  4.  Tourism in parts of UK increased helping the local economy.
  5.  Transport/infrastructure suffered e.g. trains derailed and road surfaces melted therefore the government had to increase spending in this section.

Environmental impacts 

  1. Fires broke out in forests in Europe destroying habitats and important vegetation. Furthermore, it had cost Portugal (which was affected worst by this) 1 billion euros.
  2. Total glacier volume loss in the alps was 5-10% in 2003.
  3. The Danube river in Serbia was at its lowest level ever in about 100 years.


Short-term responses

  1. Increase the number of medical staff on site to treat illnesses caused by the hot weather.
  2.  Extra ice cream vans were  brought in to help the tourists to cool off in the hot weather.
  3. Extinguish forest fires and evacuate people who live nearby to protect people.
  4. Encourage people to visit elderly friends, relatives and neighbours to check they are coping in the heatwave.
  5.  Give people advice on the tv/newspaper on the best ways to cope with effects of the heat.
  6. Bring in extra emergency refrigeration units to store large numbers of dead bodies.
  7. There was a temporary ban on hose pipe usages throughout Europe.
  8. If temperatures reached over 30° then trains and other motor vehicles would have to comply with further speed restrictions.
  9. Some people changed there working hours to make their job more bearable so for example garbage collectors worked earlier in the morning when temperatures were lower rather than in the afternoon.

Long term responses

  1. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to climate change.
  2. Install air-conditioning and alert-call systems in homes for the elderly.
  3. Build desalination plants to help increase public water supplies.
  4. Improve seasonal weather forecasts and climate predictions to help plan for future summer hot weather.

Worst affected country:

France; The French incurred the biggest temperature increase. Some places in France saw  an over 9 degrees rise whereas in the UK- maximum it was a 6 degrees rise.

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