Europe Swelters Under Devastating Heat Wave

Teenagers play volleyball in in a fountain near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

An intense heat wave has settled over Europe, with France setting the highest temperature in recorded history at 45.9 degrees Celsius (114.6 degrees Fahrenheit.)

French and Italian officials declared a "red alert" weather warning, another first, and other countries across Europe stepped up precautions, from closing schools to making sure water is provided to the homeless and anyone in need.

Hitting the 45-degree C mark was historic because it beat a temperature record set in 2003, when a heat wave killed 15,000 people in France. It's the memory of that heat wave that has many governments staying ahead of the crisis and fending off criticism they are being too conservative. So far, seven deaths have been linked to the heat wave, including the deaths of two cyclists.

Germany, France, Poland and the Czech Republic have all recorded their highest-ever June temperatures, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, firefighters in Spain have contained wildfires that have devastated 10,000 acres of Catalonia, but other fires continue to burn.

Because these temperatures are so high above the average, they increase the danger for residents, who aren't used to such soaring heat and aren't prepared for it. People have been advised to drink lots of water, stay out of the sun, and avoid strenuous activity when temperatures are hottest from midday through the afternoon.

"When it is 105 (degrees Fahrenheit) in Phoenix or Kuwait, it is not nearly as big of a deal as if it is 105 in Chicago or Paris," said CNN senior meteorologist Brandon Miller. "But when summer temperatures are routinely in the 70s, like in northern Europe or the West Coast of the U.S., many places do not have air conditioning. This can turn deadly fast if heat waves strike and last for several days."

Animal keeper Claudia Beck puts sunblock on a South American tapir
Animal keeper Claudia Beck puts sunblock on a South American tapir at the Serengeti-Park animal park in Hodenhagen, Germany, during a heat wave. MOHSSEN ASSANIMOGHADDAM/AFP/Getty Images

Though Europe does experience some heat waves, this one is occurring relatively early in the summer, and it was preceded by an ominous warning from Spanish meteorologist Silvia Laplana that "hell is coming."

Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told the Associated Press, "monthly heat records all over the globe occur five times as often today as they would in a stable climate."

He added, "This increase in heat extremes is just as predicted by climate science as a consequence of global warming caused by the increasing greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas."