LONDON — Record-breaking and potentially life-threatening temperatures were expected across Western Europe on Thursday, a day after Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands surpassed their record highs.
The northwestern German city of Geilenkirchen reached 40.5 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, the nation’s weather service reported. The Netherlands and Belgium reached 38.6 and 40.2 degrees Celsius (101.5 and 104 Fahrenheit) on the same day, and officials warned that Thursday could be worse.
“It’s really shocking to have this heat in Brussels,” said Francesca Van Daele, a student of political science at the Free University of Brussels-VUB. “Our urban planning is not really made for heat waves like this.”
The Belgian authorities issued a code red alert this week for the first time since the weather warning system was put in place 20 years ago.
Scientists say the hottest summers in Europe in the past 500 years have all come in the past 17 years. Several of the heat waves have been linked to human-caused climate change. In the years ahead, they say, many more are likely to scorch a temperate zones.
The predicted high in Paris was 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit), far above the record, 40.4 degrees Celsius, set in July 1947, according to the French national weather service. Some 20 million people in northern France were expected to be affected by temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), and A record 20 subdivisions were placed on red alert, the highest level.
Early Thursday in Britain, the No. 1 trending term on Twitter was #hottestdayoftheyear, as the Met Office warned that temperatures were expected to break the national record, 38.5 degrees Celsius (101.3 Fahrenheit).
Liz Bentley, the chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said by phone on Wednesday that the heat wave that had been building across Europe all week worried her.
“It is very unusual for us to have these temperatures,” she said, adding that as the heat became more common, Britain would need to adapt its transportation system and its residences, where air-conditioners are uncommon.
The Met Office placed five of England’s nine regions, including London, on a rare Level 3 heat health watch — one short of a national emergency.
In a Twitter post on Thursday, London’s ambulance service advised Britons to stay hydrated, avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, wear sunscreen and avoid traveling by train if they feel unwell.
Owen Landeg, the chief environmental public health scientist at Public Health England, warned that extremely high temperatures were most likely to affect older people, those with underlying health conditions and very young children.
“The extreme heat means that our bodies, especially our hearts and lungs, have to work harder to maintain a normal temperature,” he said on Wednesday in a statement. “This is why our advice focuses on reminding people to keep an eye on those who are most at risk.”
Almost 3,000 people were admitted to British hospitals “because of heat-related ailments” like heatstroke and sunburn in the 2017-18 operating year, the National Health Service said on Wednesday.
The British authorities also warned that travel disruptions were likely on Thursday.
“Disruption into London today,” Network Rail, which manages most of the British rail network, said on Twitter on Thursday. “In a #heatwave steel tracks expand and buckle under stress, causing further delays.”
In Germany, officials expected higher temperatures in the west on Thursday, and all but the northeastern coastal region was under a heat warning, with officials urging people to drink enough fluids and avoid going outdoors in the afternoon hours.
The famed Wagner opera festival is set to open as scheduled on Thursday in the southern city of Bayreuth, where temperatures are expected to reach 34 degrees Celsius (93.2). But it could be even hotter inside the 19th-century opera house, where air-conditioning was rejected over fears that it would negatively alter the acoustics and endanger the singers’ voices. Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to in the crowd for the opening performance of “Tannhäuser,” which is more than four hours long.
In Spain, the forecast is for temperatures to fall across the country Thursday night, with rain in the northwest. The same was expected in Portugal, where no major fires were burning.
In Austria, the national railway service began painting stretches of track in white, in hopes of preventing them from getting so hot that they bend. Similar projects were taking place in parts of Germany and Switzerland.
Trains across Belgium came to a halt on Wednesday after an overhead power wire broke down, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded outside in scorching temperatures for hours.
A Eurostar train broke down Wednesday morning in Tubize, Belgium, en route to London from Brussels. Despite the heat, passengers were not allowed to open windows or leave the train for three hours because of safety concerns.
“Everything was suddenly down. No air conditioning, no electricity,” said Paul De Grauwe, a Belgian economist who was on the train. “I have never been so hot in my life.”
Such high temperatures are rare in Belgium, but are becoming more typical, experts say. In the 1990s and 2000s, heat waves of this magnitude occurred once every three or four years, but Belgium has experienced two heat waves in the past two months alone.
“Heat waves are extreme weather events, but research shows that with climate change, they are likely to become more common, perhaps occurring as regularly as every other year,” Nicky Maxey, a spokeswoman for the Met Office in Britain, said in an email.
She said that a Met Office study into the heat wave that Britain experienced last summer showed it was 30 times more likely for a heat wave to occur now than in 1750 “because of the higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
After peaking on Thursday, temperatures are expected to cool quickly, Frank Saunders, the chief meteorologist at the Met Office, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Conditions will feel much more comfortable for western parts of the U.K. by the time we get to Friday,” he said.