Europeans cooled off in public fountains Wednesday as a new heat wave spread across parts of the continent and was already breaking records.

Belgium and Germany registered their highest-ever temperatures, while the Netherlands saw its hottest day in 75 years.

Paris and other parts of France could see temperatures exceeding 40 C on Thursday, along with Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.

The heat is putting pressure on authorities to help protect the elderly and the sick. Air conditioning is not common at homes, offices, schools or hospitals in European cities.

Shattering heat records

Temperatures in France especially are likely to be 15 C higher than normal, with Paris likely to break its all-time hottest record mark of 40.4 C. Surrounding areas around Paris may hit 41 or 42 C, weather experts said. France hit its all-time heat record of 46 C last month. 

The Dutch meteorological institute tweeted that Wednesday’s heat wave broke a record that stood for nearly 75 years of the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Netherlands. The Dutch weather service Weerplaza said that the southern city of Eindhoven reported a temperature of 39.3 C Wednesday afternoon.

A thermometer shows the temperature of over 40 C in Volklingen, Germany, on July 24. (Harald Tittel/AFP/Getty Images)

Belgium measured its highest temperature since records were first kept in 1833. In sun-baked Kleine Brogel in northeastern Belgium, temperatures rose to 39.9 C. The weather forecaster of the Royal Meteorological Institute said that it was “the highest ever Belgian temperature.”

The German Weather Service said a record high of 40.5 C for the country was recorded in Geilenkirchen and put the entire country on heat alert. The previous record of 40.3 C was set in 2015.

A struggle to stay cool

France in particular has taken measures to try to ensure that the catastrophe caused by the 2003 heat wave, when around 15,000 people died due to the heat, isn’t repeated. 

A colour-coded heat alert system warns people when temperatures are expected to rise to dangerous levels in their area. The alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month’s heat wave, when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature.

There are also public service announcements on television, radio and in public transportation systems about risks of high temperatures, telling people to drink water and watch out for isolated elderly people. 

People cool off at the Trocadero Fountains next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, as the temperature reaches record highs. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Netherlands, local authorities have taken an unusual precaution — with trucks scattering salt on the roads like they usually do in the winter, to cool off asphalt that is baking in the heat.

Across London, authorities started handing out water and sunscreen to homeless people and opened day centres for them to rest and shower. In the Lewisham district of the British capital, garbage collectors will start working as early as 5 a.m. in the morning to beat the heat.

Climate change?

This is the second heat wave that is likely to break records in two months in Europe. It is a relatively short event in contrast to the big waves of 2003 and 2010 which lasted much longer.

Heat waves are happening more frequently in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia, experts say. As the world warms, scientists say there will be more and hotter heat waves, but attributing single events to climate change involves precise computer modelling and calculations.

A team of European climate scientists did a quick, non-peer reviewed analysis of Europe’s June heat wave and found man-made warming made it at least five times more likely.

The heat wave will end in a few days. On the weekend, temperatures are expected to fall. However, quite often end of a heat wave brings storms, including lightning and heavy flooding.