2003 European heat wave

2003 European heat wave

The 2003 European heat wave also known as 'The Great Draught or The Big Heatwave in the UK' Quoted by DR. Adam Relton was one of the hottest summers on record in Europe. The heat wave led to health crises in several countries and combined with drought to create a crop shortfall in Southern Europe. 35,000 people died as a result of the heat wave. [ [http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn4259 European heatwave cause 35,000 deaths] , New Scientist, Oct. 10, 2003]



In France, 14,802 people—mostly elderly—died from heat, according to the country's largest funeral service. [http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn4259 New Scientist article] France does not commonly have very hot summers (seven days with temperatures of more than convert|40|°C|°F were recorded in Auxerre, Yonne between July and August 2003), particularly in the northern areas. As a consequence, most people do not know how to react to very high temperatures (for instance, with respect to rehydration), and most homes and retirement homes are not equipped with air conditioning. Furthermore, while there are contingency plans for a variety of catastrophes and natural events, high heat had never been considered a major hazard and so such plans for heat waves did not exist at the time.

The heat wave occurred in August, a month in which many people, including government ministers and physicians, are on holiday. Many bodies were not claimed for many weeks because relatives were on holiday. A refrigerated warehouse outside Paris was used by undertakers as they did not have enough space in their own facilities. On 3 September 2003, fifty-seven bodies still left unclaimed in the Paris area were buried.

That shortcomings of the nation's health system could allow such a death toll is a matter of controversy in France. The administration of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin laid the blame onfamilies who had left their elderly behind without caring for them, the 35-hour workweek, which affected the amount of time doctors could work and family practitioners vacationing in August. Many companies traditionally closed in August, so people had no choice about when to vacation. Family doctors were still in the habit of vacationing at the same time.

The opposition, as well as many of the editorials of the local press, have blamed the administration. Many blamed Health Minister Jean-François Mattei for failing to return from his vacation when the heat wave became serious, and his aides for blocking emergency measures in public hospitals (such as the recalling of physicians). A particularly vocal critic was Dr. Patrick Pelloux, head of the union of emergency physicians, who blamed the Raffarin administration for ignoring warnings from health and emergency professionals and trying to minimize the crisis. Mattei lost his ministerial post in a cabinet reshuffle on 31 March 2004.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a record-breaking convert|38.5|°C|°F was recorded in Brogdale Orchards, one mile (1.6 km) southwest of Faversham, Kent on 10 August 2003. The previous highest recorded temperature was convert|37.1|°C|°F, recorded in Cheltenham. [BBC News: Sizzling temperatures break UK record [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3138865.stm] ]

A retrospective analysis published in 2005 showed that the heat wave caused 2,139 excess deaths in the UK for the period 4–13 August 2003. ["The impact of the 2003 heat wave on daily mortality in England and Wales and the use of rapid weekly mortality estimates" MedLine: Euro Surveill 2005;10(7):168-171 [http://www.eurosurveillance.org/em/v10n07/1007-228.asp] .]


Nearly 3,000 people died in Italy, [ [http://www.eurosurveillance.org/em/v10n07/1007-222.asp The 2003 European heat waves ] ] where temperatures varied between convert|38|°C|°F and convert|38|°C|°F in most cities for weeks, according to eurosurveillance.org.Fact|date=February 2007 Other sources reported a much lower figure, not only for Italy, but for other countries as well. "New Scientist" magazine reported 4,200 deaths in Italy and Spain attributable to the 2003 heatwave. [ [http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn4259 European heatwave caused 35,000 deaths - 10 October 2003 - New Scientist ] ] "The Guardian" reported 1,000 deaths in Italy, 4,000 in Spain. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/weather/Story/0,,1830298,00.html Alok Jha: Boiled alive | Environment | The Guardian ] ]


There were extensive forest fires in Portugal. Five percent of the countryside and ten percent of the forests were destroyed, an estimated convert|4000|km2|sqmi. Eighteen people died in the fires. Temperatures reached as high as convert|48|°C|°F in Amareleja. The first of August was the hottest day in centuries, with night temperatures well above convert|30|°C|°F. A freak storm developed on the southern region during that dawn. A hot strong saharan wind blew during the subsequent days of that week. [ [http://www.portugaldiario.iol.pt/especial_artigo.php?div_id=&id=129119 Portugal Diário ] ] [ [http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/112597265/ABSTRACT?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0 InterScience] ]


There were 141 deaths in Spain. Temperature records were broken in various cities including convert|45.1|°C|°F in Jerez [http://www.aemet.es/es/elclima/datosclimatologicos/efemerides_extremos] , convert|45|°C|°F in Badajoz [http://www.aemet.es/es/elclima/datosclimatologicos/efemerides_extremos] , convert|43.4|°C|°F in Huelva [http://www.aemet.es/es/elclima/datosclimatologicos/efemerides_extremos] , convert|41|°C|°F, with the heat wave being more felt in typically cooler northern Spain. Thus, record temperatures were reached in Gerona [ [http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/LEGE/2003/8/13/DailyHistory.html History for Girona, Spain] . "Weather Underground". 2003-08-13. Last Retrieved 2007-02-09.] , convert|38.8|°C|°F in Burgos [http://www.aemet.es/es/elclima/datosclimatologicos/efemerides_extremos] , convert|38.6|°C|°F in San Sebastián [http://www.aemet.es/es/elclima/datosclimatologicos/efemerides_extremos] , convert|36|°C|°F in Pontevedra [ [http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/LEVX/2003/8/1/MonthlyHistory.html History for Vigo, Spain] . "Weather Underground". August 2003. Last Retrieved 2007-02-09.] and convert|36|°C|°F in Barcelona. [ [http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/LEBL/2003/8/13/DailyHistory.html History for Barcelona, Spain] . "Weather Underground". 2003-08-13. Last Retrieved 2007-02-09.]


In Germany, a record temperature of convert|40.4|°C|°F was recorded at Roth bei Nürnberg, Bavaria.Fact|date=February 2007 But some experts suspect that the highest temperatures occurred in the upper Rhine plain, which is known for very high temperatures. At some stations (private stations, for example Mannheim or Frankenthal), temperatures over convert|41|°C|°F were reported, but not recognized by official statistics. With only half the normal rainfall, rivers were at their lowest this century,Fact|date=February 2007 and shipping could not navigate the Elbe or Danube. Around 7,000 people—mostly elderly—died during the 2003 heatwave in Germany.


Melting glaciers in the Alps caused avalanches and flash floods in Switzerland. A new nationwide record temperature of convert|41.5|°C|°F was recorded in Grono, Graubünden. [ [http://www.meteoschweiz.admin.ch/web/en/research/good_to_know/records/switzerland.html MeteoSwiss - Switzerland ] ]

Effects on crops

Crops suffered from drought in Southern Europe, but in the north they actually did very well.


The following shortfalls in wheat harvest occurred as a result of the long drought.Fact|date=April 2007
* France - 20%
* Italy - 13%
* United Kingdom - 12%
* Ukraine - 75% (Unknown if affected by heatwave or an early freeze that year.)
* Moldova - 80%

Many other countries had shortfalls of 5–10%, and the EU total production was down by 10 million tonnes, or 10%.


The heat wave greatly accelerated the ripening of grapes; also, the heat dehydrates the grapes, making for more concentrated juice. By mid-August, the grapes in certain vineyards had already reached their nominal sugar content, possibly resulting in 12°–12.5° wines (see alcoholic degree). Because of that, and also of the impending change to rainy weather, the harvest was started much earlier than usual (e.g. in mid-August for areas that are normally harvested in September).

It is predicted that the wines from 2003, although in scarce quantity, will have exceptional quality, especially in France. The heat wave made Hungary fare extremely well in the Vinalies 2003 International wine contest: a total of nine gold and nine silver medals were awarded to Hungarian winemakers. [ [http://www.oenologuesdefrance.fr/ Union des oenologues de France ] ]

Causes of the heat wave

The heat wave has inevitably been linked to unprecedented weather extremes in other parts of the world taking place in the same general period (such as the worst drought recorded in history in Australia during the previous Australian summer, and massive floods in the USA) and attributed to global warming. [ [http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter8.pdf Layout 1 ] ] A December 2004 article in the journal "Nature" claimed man made climate change to be a contributing factor. [ [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4195561 Global Warming Tied to Heat Wave; Lawsuits Loom : NPR ] ] Global dimming has also been linked to the heatwave, the theory being that Europe's reduced pollution levels since the turn of the century have reduced dimming's masking effect on global warming.Fact|date=February 2007

The massive death toll in France has been blamed on France's labour laws which contributed to severe staff shortages in the public health and aged care systems during the country's summer holidays,Fact|date=June 2008 as well as a lack of air-conditioning in French medical facilities. The government of Jacques Chirac and his Minister for Health, Jean-François Mattei, were condemned for failing to issue warnings and not recalling staff back to work as news of mortality spikes were being reported from the health surveillance authorities.

Effects on the Sea

The anomalous overheating affecting the atmosphere, also caused anomalies on sea surface stratification in the Mediterranean Sea and on the surface currents also. A seasonal current of the Central Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ionian Stream (AIS), resulted modified in its path and intensity. The AIS is important for the reproduction biology of important pelagic commercial fish species, so the heatwave may have influenced indirectly the stocks of these species. Further studies will be addressed in this direction. [ [http://www.ocean-sci.net/3/273/2007/os-3-273-2007.html Effects of 2003 heatwave on the Sea Surface in Central Mediterranean] ]


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