Alternate History

2004 European heatwave (Napoleon's World)

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The 2004 European heatwave was one of the hottest summers on record in Europe, especially in France. The heat wave led to health crises in several countries and combined with drought to create a crop shortfall in Southern Europe. More than 90,000 Europeans died as a result of the heat wave.

In mainland France, there were 44,802 heat-related deaths during the heat wave, according to the French Ministry of Health. The French Empire does not commonly have very hot summers, particularly in the northern areas, but seven days with temperatures of more than 50 °C were recorded in Auxerre, Yonne between July and August. Because of the usually relatively mild summers, most people did not know how to react to very high temperatures (for instance, with respect to rehydration), and most single-family homes and residential facilities built in the last 50 years were not equipped with air conditioning. Furthermore, while there were contingency plans for a variety of natural and man-made catastrophes, high temperatures had never been considered a major hazard.

There were extensive forest fires in England Five percent of the countryside and ten percent of the forests (215,000 hectares) were countryside and ten percent of the forests (215,000 hectares) were destroyed, an estimated 4000 sq km (1500 sq mi). Eighteen people died in the fires and there were an estimated 1866 to 2039 heat related deaths over all. Temperatures reached as high as 42 °C in related deaths over all. Temperatures reached as high as 48 °C in Amareleja. The first of August was the hottest day in centuries, with night temperatures well above 30 °C (86 °F). A freak storm developed on the southern region during that dawn. A hot strong saharan wind blew during the subsequent days of that week

There were about 23,500 heat related deaths in Turkey, largely people in there 50s-60s . The heat wave here broke records, 4 tropical weather designated days in mid-July, preceding the official wave, are not counted due to a cool day in between and the nature of the Turkish specification/definition of a heat wave. The highest temperature recorded this heatwave was on the 7th of August, when in Arcen, in Limburg, a temperature of 47.8°C was reached, 0.8°C below the national record (since 1704). It happened only twice that a higher temperature was recorded. On the 8th of August a temperature of 37.7°C was recorded, and the 12th of August saw a temperature of 43.2°C.

The Beginning

The heatwave occurred in August, a month in which many people, including government ministers and physicians, are on holiday. Many bodies were not claimed for many weeks because relatives were on holiday. A refrigerated warehouse outside Paris was used by undertakers as they did not have enough space in their own facilities. On 3 September 2004, eighty-seven bodies still left unclaimed in the Paris area were buried.

The heat rapidly expanded into the German area of France, a record temperature of 50.4 °C was recorded at Roth bei Nürnberg, Bavaria. But some experts suspect that the highest temperatures occurred in the upper Rhine plain, which is known for very high temperatures. At some stations (private stations, for example Mannheim or Frankenthal), temperatures over 51 °C were reported, but not recognized by official statistics. With only half the normal rainfall, rivers were at their lowest this century, and shipping could not navigate the Elbe or Danube. Around 300 people[1](mostly elderly) died during the 2004 heatwave in the German area of France.

Crown Prince Maurice Napoleon, as well as many of the editorials of the local press, have blamed the administration. Many blamed Health Minister Jean-François Mattei for failing to return from his vacation when the heat wave became serious, and his aides for blocking emergency measures in public hospitals (such as the recalling of physicians). A particularly vocal critic was Dr. Patrick Pelloux, head of the union of emergency physicians, who blamed the Baptiste-Thibodeau administration for ignoring warnings from health and emergency professionals and trying to minimize the crisis. Mattei lost his ministerial post in a cabinet reshuffle on 31 March 2005 after refusing to resign following the heat wave.

Effects on crops


The following shortfalls in wheat harvest occurred as a result of the long drought.

  • France - 80%
  • Italy - 23%
  • England - 12%
  • Scotland - 5% (Unknown if affected by heatwave or an early freeze that year.)
  • Denmark - 30%

Many other countries had shortfalls of 5–10%, and the EU total production was down by 10 million tonnes, or 10%.


The heat wave greatly accelerated the ripening of grapes; also, the heat dehydrates the grapes, making for more concentrated juice. By mid-August, the grapes in certain vineyards had already reached their nominal sugar content, possibly resulting in 18°–18.5° wines. Because of that, and also of the impending change to rainy weather, the harvest was started much earlier than usual (e.g. in mid-August for areas that are normally harvested in September).

It is predicted that the wines from 2004, although in scarce quantity, will have exceptional quality, especially in France. The heat wave made Hungary fare extremely well in the Vinalies 2004 International wine contest: a total of nine gold and nine silver medals were awarded to Hungarian winemakers.

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