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European Heat Wave of 2003

The summer of 2003 was one of the hottest ever in Europe; this lead to a health crisis in certain countries as well as considerable impact on crops.

Table of contents
1 Country-by-country
2 Effects on crops
3 Causes of the Heat Wave and the deaths



An estimated 10,000, mostly elderly, people died in France from heat, according to the country's largest funeral service. Many bodies were not claimed for many weeks because relatives were on holiday. A refrigerated warehouse outside Paris was used by undertakers, because they didn't have enough space in their own facilities. On September 3, 66 bodies still left unclaimed in the Paris area were inhumated.

The shortcomings of the nation's health system that could allow such a death toll are a matter of controversy in France. The administration of president Jacques Chirac and prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has laid the blame on

The opposition as well as many of the editorials of the local press have blamed the administration.


An estimated 2,000 died in Italy, where temperatures varied between 38 and 40 Celsius degrees in most cities for weeks.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the highest temperature since records began in 1911 (100.4 F) was recorded at London's Heathrow airport on Sunday, August 10, 2003. This was surpassed later the same day at Gravesend, Kent, with a temperature of 38.1 Celsius (100.6F). 907 people were estimated to have died because of the heat by 15th August.


There were extensive forest fires in Portugal. Five per cent of the countryside and ten per cent of the forests were destroyed, an estimated 400,000 hectares. Eighteen people died in the fires.



Effects on crops

Crops have suffered from drought in southern Europe, but in the north, they have actually done very well. The
French wine vintage is expected to be one of the best ever.


The following shortfalls in wheat harvests occurred as a result of the long drought.

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 grape; also, the heat dehydrates the grapes, making for more concentrated juice. By mid-august, the grap certain vineyards had already reached its 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 believed that the wines from 2003, although in scarce quantity, will have exceptional quality.

Causes of the Heat Wave and the deaths

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 in recorded history in Australia during the previous Austral summer, and massive floods in the USA) and attributed to global warming.

A contributing cause to the deaths was that most European homes do not have air conditioning, simply because it was not needed before the 2003 summer.