Germany braces for sweltering temperatures in Europe-wide heat wave

The heat wave has shut down Hanover's airport, damaged roads and devastated crops — with higher temperatures expected. In AC-starved Germany, experts are warning people to heed the heat and even go home early from work.

Germany braced itself Wednesday for sweltering temperatures that could reach up to 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) in some places.

On Tuesday, temperatures peaked at 35.9 degrees in the northern town of Lingen, with little relief overnight as temperatures in several large cities hovered around 20 degrees.

"It cooled down a bit last night — although, 'cooled down' is a bit of an overstatement," a spokesperson for Germany's National Meteorological Service (DWD) told the news agency DPA.

The DWD has issued heat warnings for most areas of Germany on Wednesday, excluding some areas in Bavaria and eastern Germany.

As climate change continues to have an impact on the environment, scientists have warned that Germany's unusually hot summer could soon become the norm.

Parts of the runway at Hanover Airport buckled in the heat

Airport temporarily shut down

Hanover's airport resumed flights early on Wednesday morning after temporarily shutting down because of damage caused by the heat.

Planes landing in the high temperatures damaged several areas on the tarmac, prompting the airport to halt all flights on Tuesday evening. An airport spokesman said 41 departures and 44 arrivals were affected by the delays.

The heat is also causing headaches for travelers on Germany's highways. Since the high temperatures can cause concrete slabs on the roads to break, authorities have placed a speed limit of 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) on sections of the A7 and the A81 near the southern cities of Stuttgart and Ulm.

Head home early

Health and weather experts are warning people to stay hydrated and keep cool as possible in air conditioning.

Most homes, offices and schools in Germany do not have air conditioning. In situations of extreme heat, students and employees are sometimes allowed to leave work and school early to cool down as much as possible at home.

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Andreas Matzarakis, a medical meteorologist with the DWD, urged workers to take those opportunities and the heat warnings seriously.

"If your employer allows flexible working hours, try starting work early in the morning and go home in the afternoon in order to spend fewer hot hours in the office," Matzarakis wrote in an article for the newspapers of the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Unusually dry

In northeastern Germany, there has been hardly any rainfall in recent months. The country's weather service says Saxony-Anhalt received just 15 liters of rainfall per square meter — roughly a quarter of the average. Across Germany, there were just 50 liters of rainfall per square meter, half of the usual amount. Mecklenburg-West Pomerania received more sunshine than any other German state.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Unpredictable weather

The little rain that fell came down very unevenly across Germany. In May, the country's weather service warned of potential forest fires in parts of Lower Saxony. Meanwhile in southwestern Germany, some towns faced torrential rains that flooded cellars and roads, such as here in Fischbach, Rhineland-Palatinate.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Fire alert!

The danger of forest fires is extremely high right now throughout the country. The state of Brandenburg faces the biggest threat. In recent weeks, authorities have been forced to put out more than 100 fires. Recently, 100 hectares of forest and wheat crops burned to the ground in the Oder-Spree region. Brandenburg authorities reported that 90 percent of fires are inadvertently caused by humans.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Busy times for firefighters

It took 40 firefighters 13 hours to extinguish the flames sweeping through Brandenburg's Oder-Spree region. A fire in Rostock, meanwhile, was not caused by humans — but by a bird. Police say the animal caused an electricity cable to short circuit, which then set a nearby field ablaze.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Tapping into new sources

Saxony-Anhalt's firefighters, meanwhile, are so busy they needed to get creative to find new sources of water. So they headed to a nearby pool to refill their tanks. The dryness, meanwhile, not only makes fires more likely but also poses a major threat to farmers.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Early harvests, low yields

The unusually dry weather has forced many farmers to harvest their crops early. The German Farmers' Association has stated that even April was too warm and dry. The following months meant wheat crops ripened much faster than expected, though insufficient rain has produced a low yield. Sudden torrential rainfall, meanwhile, made matters worse by destroying parts of the crops.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Crop failures on the cards

Potatoes, sugar cane and corn are usually harvested in autumn. They require much more water than wheat and rapeseed. So due to the unusually dry weather, Germany's corn plants are in bad shape. The German Farmers' Association president, Joachim Rukwied, is pessimistic and fears crop failures could jeopardize the livelihoods of many farmers.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

No water in sight

There are two kind of drought: "Drought in a meteorological sense refers to a drop in rainfall within one month below the long-term average," says Stephan Tober of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research. This causes a drought in the agricultural sense, meaning that there is too little water in the ground. That's a problem for wheat and meadows on the banks of river Elbe here in Dresden.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Vegetation adapts to heat

"Extreme dry spells can cause long-term damage to trees and recovery takes a long time," says Ingolf Kühn of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research. Vegetation has a memory, so to speak, and may adapt if there are several consecutive years with little rainfall. Some German cities have now called on residents to help out in watering trees, so that some day, cacti will not replace trees.

Germany's heat wave: Shining sun and burning fields

Problems on the River Rhine

The Rhine River and its tributaries have lowered to dangerous levels, leading to restrictions in shipping. The Mannheim office of the federal Waterway and Shipping Department confirmed that, until conditions change, ships in the upper Rhine can only be loaded with 1500 tons of cargo, down from their usual weight of 3000 or more.

Farmers expecting billion-euro loss

The heat and lack of rainfall has Germany's agriculture sector extremely worried. The German Farmers' Association is expecting a loss of €1.4 billion ($1.6 billion) because of dead and dwindling crops.

German beer producers, on the other hand, have seen a boom in business during the sustained hot temperatures. They're now contending with a shortage of bottles and have urged the public to return their bottles, which are reused in Germany under a deposit system.

The heat has also caused temperatures in the Baltic Sea to rise, bringing an increased risk of being infected by the vibrio bacteria. Health officials in northern Germany warned people with wounds or compromised immune systems not to go swimming.

With extreme heat and drought conditions drying out fields and rivers, the risk of wildfires in northern Germany is extremely high.

Massive wildfires have already broken out in Sweden and Greece, where they have killed at least 74 people.

How cities and people can beat the heat

Paint the town white

One easy way to combat the harsh summer sun could be painting your roof white — an idea long embraced by Greeks. A black roof absorbs most of the sunlight that hits it, heating up the underlying home like an oven. Light-colored surfaces, on the other hand, can reflect up to 80 percent of the sun's rays, keeping inside temperatures cooler. That also means a lower carbon footprint and energy bill.

How cities and people can beat the heat

Water in the city

Bodies of water like lakes, canals and rivers can help bring down the temperature in cities, cooling the surrounding air when it evaporates. Water doesn't adjust to temperature changes quickly and so, to an extent, can maintain a certain level of heat or coldness. Urban areas short on space don't need to have a huge lake to benefit from this cooling effect — fountains can also help.

How cities and people can beat the heat

Add a little green

Planting trees is a simple way to create cool spaces in cities. Specifically, it's the shade they provide and the water they evaporate through their leaves that make the real difference. If planted strategically along streets or around buildings, they can significantly cool inside temperatures and combat the urban heat island effect.

How cities and people can beat the heat

Parks and gardens

According to a study by the Technical University of Munich, several small parks can better cool a city than one big one. That's because large parks lower temperatures in one specific place, while small parks, if evenly spread out, can impact a much wider area. Connecting city green spaces with wind corridors can also help air flow and to reduce heat.

How cities and people can beat the heat

Gardens on the roof

If you don't want to paint your roof white, green roofs, or rooftop gardens, can also have a cooling impact on urban areas. The vegetation absorbs heat through the evaporation of rain water, while at the same time insulating the building and reducing the need for air conditioning. Rooftops also make a great place to plant vegetables, from pumpkins (above) to carrots.

How cities and people can beat the heat

Spice spice baby

While you're building your rooftop garden, you also might want to consider planting some chili. That's because spicy food, believe it or not, can keep you cool. It forces you to sweat, lowering your body temperature.

How cities and people can beat the heat

Sweating through the heat

When temperatures rise above 30 degrees, it might seem sensible to eat ice cream or drink something cold. That's not what the experts advise, though. Just like spicy food, drinking hot tea will increase your body temperature and cause you to sweat, which in turn cools your body down.