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Second Europe heatwave set to intensify and peak

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Much of Western Europe is facing record-breaking temperatures again, with the second heatwave in a month set to reach its peak on Thursday.

A red alert has been issued in northern France – with temperatures of 41C forecast in Paris.

The UK is expecting 39C heat and trains have been ordered to run more slowly to stop rail tracks buckling in the heat.

Belgian, German and Dutch temperature records could be broken for the second time in two days.

“Climate change has increased the likelihood and severity of heatwave episodes across Europe,” the UK’s national weather service said.

What sort of temperatures are we expecting?

Authorities have launched a red alert – the highest state of alert – in the Paris region and 19 other districts, and say temperatures could reach 42-43C in parts of the country.

French media say Wednesday night was “probably” the hottest-ever recorded in France.

Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands had already recorded their highest-ever temperatures on Wednesday – of 40.2C, 40.5C and 39.3C respectively.

But forecasters believe the mercury could soar even higher on Thursday, and the Netherlands could see a new record of 40C in the south-east.

Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute has issued “code red” warnings across most of the country – warning people to take extra precautions during “extremely high temperatures”.

What’s the impact going to be?

In France, officials have warned people to avoid travelling, and to work from home if possible. Children’s nurseries have also been closed.

The chief architect responsible for restoring the Notre-Dame has warned that the extreme heat could lead to the cathedral roof collapsing if the joints and masonry holding up the roof dry up.

French reports suggest five deaths might have been linked to the heatwave so far.

Comparisons have been drawn to a heatwave in August 2003, which contributed to almost 15,000 deaths in the country.

In parts of north Germany, rivers and lakes have been drying up – with warnings that fish and mussels could be “severely threatened”.

In the Netherlands, hundreds of pigs died earlier this week after a ventilator at a farm failed.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a Eurostar train from Belgium to London broke down, trapping passengers.

Hasn’t the summer already been hot?

Yes, an intense heatwave swept through areas of Europe last month, making it the hottest June on record.

France set an all-time high-temperature record of 46C, according to the WMO, and new June highs were set in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Andorra, Luxembourg, Poland and Germany.

Is climate change to blame?

While extreme weather events like heatwaves occur naturally, “research shows that with climate change they are likely to become more common, perhaps occurring as regularly as every other year”, the UK’s Met Office says.

Dr Peter Stott from the Met Office told BBC 5Live the latest heatwave is the result of both “weather and climate acting in concert.

“What we have at the moment is this very warm stream of air, coming up from northern Africa, bringing with it unusually warm weather. But without climate change we wouldn’t have hit the peaks that we’re hitting right now.”

The Met Office conducted a study last year that found that the UK was now 30 times more likely to experience heatwaves compared to the year 1750, because of “the higher concentration of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere”.

Records going back to the late 19th Century show that the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by about one degree since industrialization.

A climatology institute in Potsdam, Germany, says Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 have all been in the 21st Century.

Scientists are concerned that rapid warming linked to use of fossil fuels has serious implications for the stability of the planet’s climate.