A child runs under water sprinklers during a heat wave in Vienna, Austria July 23, 2019.  REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
FILE - A child runs under water sprinklers during a heat wave in Vienna, Austria, July 23, 2019.

PARIS - Much of Europe is again sweltering under soaring temperatures — and struggling with extreme dryness and forest fires. Summer heatwaves are becoming the new normal across the region. But as governments cope with the coronavirus pandemic, some experts fear this environmental red flag is not getting the attention it deserves.  

Not so long ago, a rainy, cold August in Paris might surprise tourists, but not Parisians. That now seems like ancient history. Temperatures hit nearly 40 degrees Celsius last week — or more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. And after a brief cooling lull at this start of this one, they’re supposed to climb again.  

FILE - A picture taken on July 31, 2020, in Maisons-du-Bois-Lievremont, eastern France, shows a house next to a bridge crossing over the dry Doubs river as a heatwave hits France.

It’s a similar story across much of France—where about two-thirds of the country’s 101 administrative departments face water restrictions after excessive dry weather. Rainfall is at its lowest level in more than 60 years.  

Other European countries, including Spain, Italy and Britain are also seeing sizzling temperatures. 

Tourists wait in line to sit on a bench on a cliff overlooking the Cantabrian sea in Loiba, northwestern Spain, Aug. 2, 2020.

Some weather experts link the dry and hot weather directly to climate change. Others are more nuanced.  

"We see climate change is definitely a motor… making these events more frequent and also much more violent and heavy,” said Klaus Röhrig, climate and energy policy coordinator at Brussels-based NGO Climate Action Network Europe.   

Röhrig has also been trying to stay cool in Belgium’s capital — and he’s worried about the implications of a future of higher temperatures. He says sounding the alarm in European capitals coping with the coronavirus pandemic has gotten harder. But extreme weather and health events are interlinked — both, for example, are putting pressure on health care systems.

Hot, dry European summers have been a pattern in recent years. 2019 saw another record-breaking heatwave and drought across parts of the region. Animal and plant life are under stress.  

FILE - An aerial view shows dead spruce trees suffering from drought stress in a forest near Iserlohn, western Germany, April 28, 2020.

A new study by Potsdam University and the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ finds recent droughts in central Europe have seriously depleted groundwater resources that forests depend on, leaving a major deficit despite winter rains.  The study looked at five countries: Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Eva Boergens, one of the researchers of the study, says, “If we look at the last years, 2018 and 2019, and compare them to the last 20 years where we have data, they are by far the driest years in the whole time. And we have also data from 2020 until June, and it seems like the drought is ongoing and this year is as worse [bad] as last year.” 

Boergens, says forests can cope with one year of drought, but not successive ones. And, at least in her native Germany, she says there does not seem to be a sense of urgency.  

“We don’t see much actions against the drought. At least this year we had some rainfall already. So, people tend to say like ‘oh yeah it’s fine again,’ but it’s [water stored underground] still missing,” she said.

Another study by the University of Basel also finds dry weather and heat are inflicting long-term damage on European forests, especially pine and beech trees. Last year, the European Union Environmental Agency said warming weather is already triggering a major decline in biodiversity.