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Rudi Kiefer: Europe's heat wave shows climate's trend toward more extremes
Rudi Kiefer

Although it’s shown in the wrong place on a Wikipedia map, Swabia or “Schwaben” is a beautiful region in southwestern Germany. Rolling hills alternate with gentle river valleys. In the towns, restaurants offer local cuisine, competing well with the usual fast-food chains.

The area was less pleasant in the second half of July when the great European heat wave hit.  Historically, summer weather is variable.  Maximum temperatures can stay down in the 50s or climb into the 80s. 

But multi-day sequences of 100-degree-plus temperatures are rare there. Stuttgart, capital of Baden-Wurttemberg State and center of Swabian culture, hit triple digits. So did Karlsruhe, farther west toward the French border, in the neighboring region of Baden. 

Karlsruhe is known for its mild climate and great number of sunny days, but not for the thermometer reaching the 40-degree Celsius mark (104 Fahrenheit). The customary cool breezes from the Rhine, on Karlsruhe’s western edge, were replaced by a furnace blast coming all the way from Africa. Many public picnic areas were closed because officials worried about the high risk of wildfires. 

At the same latitude, 49 degrees north of the equator, is the capital of France.  Over here, this latitude marks most of the U.S.-Canadian border. But Paris bore no resemblance to Canada this July. A high of 108.6 degrees on July 24 set the all-time record for the heat that settled in the densely populated metropolis. The European press compared the heat wave in western Europe to temperatures normally found in Arab capitals of the Middle East. 

During extreme weather, Europeans are used to relying on their modern networks of train transportation. But “Chaos bei der Bahn” was the situation described by Munich-based Merkur newspaper. 

Chaos reigned indeed as electric locomotives overheated and trains stalled. Seamless tracks, providing that trade-mark smooth ride on European trains, warped in the heat. Eurostar trains, main connection between France, Belgium, Germany and the U.K., were stopped for hours at a time, stranding passengers.

Extreme headlines like the ones proclaiming Vienna, Austria as “future desert city” (Der Standard) are probably over the top. But the jet stream has become more bouncy over the past decade. In winter, some media like to use its scarier “polar vortex” name. 

The fact remains that the current climatic trend is toward more extremes.  This will include weather-related surprises next winter. 

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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