Paris in July is normally a comfortable place to be, with high temperatures around 70 degrees, sunny days, and an occasional rain shower in the afternoon – which is why many people carry tiny umbrellas all the time.
But in recent years there have been all-too-frequent exceptions, with potentially fatal consequences in a country that doesn’t use much air conditioning. This year we’re experiencing a particularly nasty heat wave, or canicule, that pushed the daily high to 103 earlier this week. Today it’s milder — only 92 — and should cool down over the next few days, especially if we get the rain that’s forecast for tomorrow.
The New York Times’s Timothy Egan wrote this week of the unusual weather in his city. In a piece headlined “Seattle on the Mediterranean,” he points out that Seattle is farther north than Maine or Montreal, and had eight days of 85 degree highs or more last month. Last weekend, Walla Walla hit 113 degrees.
Paris, at 49 degrees north latitude, is even further north than Seattle, and the weather’s been warmer.
The quickest and most intuitive reaction to a heat wave is, of course, to wear less, and they do – even proper matrons have pared back to clothes you’d normally never see in Paris.
The City Government Fights Back
France’s government, led by the activist city government of Paris, has substantially beefed up its efforts to protect the people most likely to be affected by the canicule. Those are mainly young children, the elderly, the handicapped, and others that for one reason or another feel most threatened. A lack of adequate support contributed to the deaths of 15,000 people in the last major heat wave, in 2003.
This year, Paris has entire battery of measures in force. They include:
– A daily phone call to people enrolled in its Chalex register, a voluntary list of people whose health could be threatened by the heat. If the city’s callers find a problem, they dispatch a social worker and a volunteer physician.
– Cooler refuges are opened at the times of highest heat.
– Reminders are posted everywhere to stay inside, out of the sun, and protect yourself. Employers are urged to reschedule their outdoor workers to keep them out of the worst heat.
– 1,200 water fountain are available around the city, and a map is available on the excellent municipal web site, Paris.fr.
– 5,000 containers of water were furnished to the homeless, along with maps directing them to the nearest fountain.