The UK heatwave: ‘Melted’ tarmac’ and railway lines painted white

The UK heatwave: ‘Melted’ tarmac’ and railway lines painted white

These are just a few of the stories cited by Dane Wigington

Stories about the recent heatwave that did NOT get headlines on the BBC.

UK heatwave: Airports monitor runways after ‘melted’ tarmac cancelled flights with temperatures rising today

Today has marked the hottest day on record, with provisional figures from the Met Office reaching 39.1C in Charlwood in Surrey

Airports around the country are monitoring runways for potential damage caused by the heatwave as temperatures could climb to 42°C in some parts of the UK today.

Yesterday London Luton Airport was forced to temporarily suspend flights and divert journeys to Gatwick and Stanstead as it carried out essential runway repairs caused by the heat, while the RAF had use alternative airfields amid reports that the runway at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire had “melted”.

Footage from Luton airport yesterday showed a large rectangular-shaped area on the tarmac being examined by people in high-vis vests. A spokesperson for the airport said high surface temperatures had “caused a small section [of the tarmac] to lift”.

Today has marked the hottest day on record, with provisional figures from the Met Office reaching 39.1°C in Charlwood in Surrey. Luton is expected to reach around 37C today.

But a London Luton Airport spokesperson said the airport was fully operational this morning and has a team of engineers ready on hand.

“Just as yesterday, we have a team of engineers and equipment on standby,” they said.

At Heathrow Airport staff are “keeping an eye” on customers and colleagues during the intense temperatures, a spokesperson said, adding that there are no major disruptions to operations so far.

Workers at Gatwick Airport are spraying the runways with water regularly and continuing with routine checks to ensure there are no adverse impacts from the hot weather, spokesperson Russell Guthrie said.

“This time we are doing it with an extra eye on the heat,” he said, adding that there are currently “no issues with runways, no issues with the airfield and no issues with flights”.

Manchester Airport currently has no major disruptions to flights. A spokesperson said the airport is expecting fewer people today but said it would still have near 40,000 passengers travelling from the hub.

The spokesperson advised travellers to minimise what they were taking through security to help reduce large queues and said people should sit down in air conditioned areas with a bottle of water.

Network Rail is painting tracks white to cool them down because they’re 48°C

Rails in direct sunshine can become as much as 20°C hotter than the air around them (Picture: Niklas HALLE\’N / AFP)

Network Rail engineers are painting train tracks white in a bid to them down so they don’t buckle in the heat.

Engineers have already reported finding problems at Vauxhall, in London, where rails that have become 48°C in the sun have warped.

It comes as people have been told to only travel if their journey is essential and train services across England have been cut.

Temperatures have been rising steadily all day with 37.5°C recorded at Kew Gardens, west London, at 3pm, making it the hottest day of the year so far.

The Met Office has forecasted temperatures could climb to 38°C or even a record-breaking 39°C today or tomorrow meaning there is a high chance the existing UK record, of 38.7C, recorded in Cambridge in 2019 may be broken.

Rails in direct sunshine can become as much as 20°C hotter than the air around them.

Most lines can cope when track temperatures heat up to 46°C, which normally happens when the air temperature reaches 30°C but the current heatwave is putting the network under pressure.

Rail lines are made from steel, meaning as they heat up they expand putting them at risk of ‘buckling’.

In a bid to prevent tracks from becoming too hot, Network Rail uses a number of techniques including painting certain parts of the rail white so they absorb less heat.

Painted tracks can stay 5°C to 10°C cooler than unpainted rails.

Other methods used by the rail operator include leaving small gaps between rails allowing them to expand safely and closing monitoring temperatures.

Network Rail said the number of passengers using major stations across Britain on Monday was around 20% lower than a week ago.

Many operators are running a heavily reduced timetable today and tomorrow, including Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Great Northern and Thameslink.

LNER is not running any trains from south of York and south of Leeds to London King’s Cross tomorrow.

Kevin Groves, chief spokesperson for Network Rail, said journeys that typically take two hours could take ‘more than four hours’ as emergency measures have been brought in to prevent trains derailing.

He told Sky News: ‘Certainly later on today that (buckling) is a strong possibility, which is why, from about midday today through till 8pm tonight, there will be large swathes of England and Wales that will have emergency heat-related speed restrictions placed on the rail network.’

Jake Kelly, also from Network Rail, warned of travel disruption across the country.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the return of normal services on Wednesday ‘will depend on the damage that the weather does to the infrastructure’.

KEY POINTS
  • The water levels in the River Rhine are running perilously low in the searing heat the region has been experiencing.
  • Low Rhine water levels are a massive challenge for Germany, given that around 80% of inland waterway goods transport relies on the river.
  • If low water levels are prolonged, Europe’s largest economy Germany will experience a hit to its manufacturing sector and economic growth.
A photo taken on July 18, 2022 shows a puddle of water amid the nearly dried-up river bed of the Rhine in Cologne, western Germany, as many parts of Europe experience a heatwave.A photo taken on July 18, 2022 shows a puddle of water amid the nearly dried-up river bed of the Rhine in Cologne, western Germany, as many parts of Europe experience a heatwave.
Ina Fassbender | AFP | Getty Images

The water levels in a crucial waterway in Europe’s economic heartland are running dangerously low in the searing heat the region has been experiencing, posing a big risk to the German economy and more disruption to supply chains which are already under stress.

“Amid a long spell of dry weather, water levels of the River Rhine have fallen far below average this summer,” Salomon Fiedler, an economist at Berenberg Bank, said in a note Wednesday in which he warned that the German economy was “running aground.”

“The Rhine is a crucial inland waterway, on which goods are shipped to and from the industrial heartlands of southern and western Germany,” he said, adding that “low water levels mean that river barges will have to travel with reduced freight to limit their draft or even cease operating altogether.”

As a result, the amount of goods being shipped will decline while freight rates will rise, he said, adding that “experience from past low-water periods suggests that it is very difficult in the short term to switch from river shipping to road or rail.” Furthermore, low water levels can also affect production in industrial and power plants that rely on river water for cooling, he noted.

The River Rhine is one of the European continent’s most important shipping routes and is certainly Germany’s most important waterway, with around 80% of inland waterway goods transport relying on this one river that passes through major cities and ports like Cologne, Dusseldorf, Rotterdam and Basel.

It is particularly important for transporting agricultural products, commodities like coal and oil, and chemicals production and in previous years Germany’s manufacturing sector has come under extreme pressure when water levels on the river run low.

One particular gauge of the river’s water levels at a measuring station in Kaub has just fallen below an officially defined benchmark for navigation, Fiedler noted.

“The measuring station at Kaub sits at a crucial bottleneck where the fairway is especially shallow. On Sunday, the water level at the Kaub gauge fell below the 78cm ‘equivalent water level’, an officially defined benchmark for navigation, and according to the Federal Institute for Hydrology’s most recent six-week forecast, water levels are likely to decline further in the coming weeks and stay below that benchmark for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Water levels at Kaub — seen as a key chokepoint for water-borne freight — have dropped throughout the week and stood at 71cm on Wednesday, data from Germany’s Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration showed. A normal water level would be around the 200cm mark.

Rhine-induced recession?

Low water levels on the Rhine come at a very difficult time for Germany’s economy with analysts fearing it could be sliding toward a recession as it contends with a high-inflation low-growth environment, supply chain bottlenecks and pressures brought about by the war in Ukraine, particularly in terms of energy.

In the first quarter of 2022, the economy grew just 0.2% from the previous quarter, meaning it narrowly avoided a technical recession given a contraction in the previous quarter, while the inflation rate stood at 7.6% in June, weighing on domestic demand. A flash purchasing managers’ index data for June also showed a darkening mood for Germany’s manufacturing sector and more economic woes on the horizon.

Experience of low water levels has taught us what extra negative impact these can have on the economy too; 2018 was the most recent dry year for the Rhine, with water levels reduced to just 30cm in places, making it unnavigable for larger cargo barges.

This prompted many producers to resort to using other means of transport or to use smaller or partially-loaded barges, all of which pushed freight costs up for producers. Some manufacturers were even forced to halt production, increasing costs and disrupting supply chains.

Analysis has been done by the Kiel Institute to measure the economic impact of low water levels with the research showing that in a month in which water levels are below the 78cm threshold every day, German industrial production is around 1% lower than in a month with no low-water days.

In its 2020 analysis the institute stated that “low water levels lead to transportation disruptions that cause a significant and economically meaningful decrease of economic activity” but there are concerns that the economic impact could be worse this time, with supply chains already disrupted following the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine already threatening Germany’s energy supplies and the increased use of larger barges (with deeper drafts) on the river.

“On the one hand, Germany is most likely sliding into a recession already. This would suggest that industrial production and the need for shipping would be lower anyway, reducing the sting of low water levels,” Fiedler said, but there are notable differences to previous water-borne crises.

“Supply chains were already under heavy stress and inventories depleted after two years of pandemic-related disruption. The ability of firms to absorb delays in transportation is probably more limited than normal,” he noted.

The fallout from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has added to global supply problems – especially in the commodities markets. Given that around a third of Germany’s domestic shipping of coal, crude oil and natural gas runs on rivers and canals, its waterways are crucial as Germany scrambles to replace Russian pipeline gas with coal to generate energy, Fiedler said.

A passenger ship passing close to exposed rocks when Rhine water levels dropped back in 2018.A passenger ship passing close to exposed rocks when Rhine water levels dropped back in 2018.
picture alliance | picture alliance | Getty Images

Robert Lehmann, an economist at Germany’s influential Ifo Institute research center, told CNBC that low water levels might in fact be one of the more more manageable problems Germany faces right now.

“The low water level puts further pressure on industrial production which is currently without much momentum due to the supply bottlenecks in intermediate goods,” he told CNBC on Wednesday.

“However, [the] shipment of goods across Germany is much more under pressure because of the walkout at the Port of Hamburg. As both things occur simultaneously, the effects of the low water levels might be mitigated. Overall, the effects should be manageable compared to the other, much more striking influences [on the economy]” such as inflation or supply bottlenecks, he said.

France Counts the Cost of Hail

Savoie, Bergerac, the Loire, Armagnac and Roussillon report damage to vineyards – some sources even claiming 100-percent losses.

Hailstorms battered wine regions across France last weekend, with the likes of SavoieBergerac, the LoireArmagnac and Roussillon reporting damage to vineyards – some sources even claiming 100-percent losses.

In Armagnac, viticulturists described “apocalyptic” scenes as hail cut swaths through over 4000 hectares (nearly 10000 acres) of vineyard last Friday. Olivier Goujon, head of the Armagnac regional trade body, told news agency AFP some hailstones were “bigger than golf balls”.

 Viticulturist Nelly Lacave lost the entire crop from her 8.5-ha (21-acre) vineyard. “With the early spring frost, we already had 50 percent losses. After the hail, its 100 percent. It’s an apocalyptic scene,” she said. “In the vineyard, there’s nothing left; the roof of our shed is a giant Swiss cheese and at the house, windows have have been shattered. My father, who is almost 70 years old, has never seen the like.”

Similar scenes in Bergerac, to the north, where hailstones were described by wine publication Terre de Vins as being the size of pigeon eggs. Most affected was the western sector of the appellation.

“The vines were particularly affected by hail, from Sainte-Foy-la-Grande to the border between Gironde and Dordogne going up the river on the left bank to the east of the department, passing through Saussignac and Pomport, destroying 100 percent of certain plots,” said Terre de Vins.

“The hail affected about 30 percent of the Sauvignon [Blanc] but probably 50 percent of the MalbecMerlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which had larger berries and were already well advanced,” Olivier Roches of Château Le Tap told the publication.

Head of the Bergerax-Duras Winegrowers’ Association Eric Chadourne was no more optimistic.

“After the frost in early April, we had 30 to 40 percent damage, but the vines had recovered well and we had high hopes of not losing too much volume in the 2022 harvest,” he said. “But this hail at the end of flowering is terrible and it is above all the worst period […] This storm is a massacre, a real disaster for the people of Bergerac.”

Further north in the Loire Valley, the hail had a limited and very localized effect on the vineyards. Terre de Vins reported that while Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil was spared the effects of hail, some storms did fall on Bourgueil and Chinon – the latter being most hit (along with some sectors of Saumur).

The storms were not confined to last Friday and Saturday, however, with wine news website Vitisphere.com reported localized – but heavy – hail damage in the Roussillon earlier this week.

On Monday, an unexpected hailstorm slammed into a sector of the Les Aspres subregion of Roussillon, northwest of Perpignan. According to reports, around 100 hectares (259 acres) of vineyard have been hit although crop damage is reportedly between 30 and 50 percent.

“It was very localized around Passa,” Julien Thiery, Head of Viticulture at the Pyrénées-Orientales Chamber of Agriculture, told Vitisphere.com. “We have been told the Muscats could be 90 to 100 percent affected but we will continue to monitor the vineyards to get a more precise idea of the nature of the damage.”

Meanwhile snowplows had to be deployed in parts of the Savoie region to clear piles of hailstones on the roads.

“The storm took us by surprise just before noon. The hail made a carpet so thick that it looked like snow,” Franck Berkulès, spokesperson for the Savoie wine trade body (Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Savoie), told Vitisphere.com. “The entire vineyard of the Combe de Savoie is affected, to varying degrees. Hail may have fallen very heavily in one plot, not in the next one, and then hit the one after.”

Winegrower Fabien Trosset in Arbin told the publication 20 out of 25 hectares (50 out of 62 acres) were hit with several of his plots completely destroyed. His Altesse and Roussanne, in particular, have suffered. It was a similar story in Cruet.

“Of our 360 hectares (890 acres), at least 25 are over [sic] 100 percent destroyed, with branches cut down to the second wire, with no leaves and no grapes,” the president of the Cruet cooperative, Yvan Bouvet, told Vitipshere. “Sixty hectares (150 acres) have up to 50 percent losses with many others around 30 percent.”

It hasn’t all been bad news, however. The bad weather has also bought with it some much needed rain to parts of France at real risk from drought (as reported two weeks ago).

“[…]the rain was good, it had been three months since we’d had only 25mm [one inch of rainfall],” Jean-Marc Gillet, of Domaine de la Rouletière in Touraine, told Terre de Vins.

In the southern Rhône, however, reports indicate the region is heading for major drought conditions this year with Orange getting only 200mm (7.8 inches) of rain since harvest. Regional indications show the areas around Orange and Avignon (in particular just west of Avignon, on the other side of the Rhône, around Signargues) under particular stress.

“Vines are currently growing, but on some plots a third to half of the main shoots are slowing down in growth,” said an official report published last weekend. “On some plots in tougher situations we have begun to observe defoliation.”

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