Britain shattered its record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Tuesday amid a heat wave that swept across swathes of Europe, with the UK’s national weather forecaster saying such rises are now a fact of life in a country unprepared for such extreme conditions. .
The typical temperate country was the latest to be engulfed in unusually hot and dry weather that caused forest fires from Portugal to the Balkans and has resulted in hundreds of heat-related deaths. Pictures of flames racing towards a French beach And the Brits’ sweltering heat – even on the seashore – has led to domestic concerns about climate change.
The Met Office’s meteorological agency recorded a provisional reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in Coningsby in eastern England – smashing the record set just hours earlier. Before Tuesday, Britain’s highest temperature on record was 38.7 degrees Celsius (101.7 Fahrenheit), recorded in 2019. By later afternoon, 29 places in the UK had smashed the record.
As the nation watched with a mixture of awe and fascination, Met Office chief scientist Stephen Belcher said such temperatures in Britain were “virtually impossible” without human-driven climate change.
He warned that “we could see temperatures like this every three years” without taking serious action on carbon emissions.
Severe weather disrupted travel, health care and schools. Many homes, small businesses and even public buildings, including hospitals, in Britain do not have air conditioning, which reflects how unusual such heat can be in a country notorious for rain and mild temperatures.
The sweltering heat since Monday has damaged the runway at London’s Luton Airport, forcing it to close for several hours, and marred a major road in eastern England, making it look like a ‘skate park’, police said. Major train stations were closed or nearly empty Tuesday, as trains were canceled or running at low speeds for fear of slipping tracks.
London has faced what Mayor Sadiq Khan called a “massive increase” in fires due to the heat. The London Fire Brigade recorded 10 major fires it was fighting across the city on Tuesday, half of which were grass fires. Pictures showed several houses in flames as smoke rose from the burning fields in the village of Winnington in the eastern suburbs of London.
Fan sales at one retailer, Asda, increased 1,300%. Electric fans cooled the traditional forces of family cavalry as they stood in central London in heavy festive attire. The time for changing of the guard ceremonies at Buckingham Palace has been shortened. The capital’s Hyde Park, usually crowded with pedestrians, was eerily quiet–except for the long lines for swimming in the Serpentine Lake.
“I’m going to my office because it’s nice and cool,” geologist Tom Elliott, 31, said after swimming. “I cycle instead of taking the subway.”
Queen Elizabeth II has always gone on to work. The 96-year-old King held a virtual meeting with the new US ambassador, Jane Hartley, from the safe haven of Windsor Castle.
Much of England, from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north, remained under the country’s first “red” warning of extreme heat on Tuesday, meaning there was a risk of death even for healthy people.
Such dangers can be seen in Britain and across Europe. At least six people have been reported to have drowned while trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs across the UK. And in neighboring Spain and Portugal, hundreds of heat-related deaths have been reported in the heat wave.
Climate experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that the probability of UK temperatures reaching 40°C (104°F) is now 10 times higher than in the pre-industrial era.
The head of the United Nations Meteorological Agency has expressed hope that the heat sweeping Europe will be a “wake-up call” for governments to do more on climate change. Other scholars have used the defining moment to stress that it is time for action.
“Although temperature is still rare, it is now a reality in British summer,” said Frederic Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London. “Whether it will become a very common event or will remain relatively rare in our hands is determined by when and when global temperature reaches net zero.”
Severe heat marred other parts of Europe, too. In Paris, the thermometer at the oldest weather station in the French capital – opened in 1873 – exceeded 40 °C (104 °F) for only the third time. The 40.5 degrees Celsius (104.9 Fahrenheit) measured there by the Meteo-France weather service on Tuesday was the station’s second-highest reading ever, topping out just 42.6 degrees Celsius (108.7 F) in July 2019.
The droughts and heat waves associated with climate change have also made wildfires more common and more difficult to combat.
In the Gironde region of southwestern France, fierce wildfires continued to spread through dry pine forests, thwarting firefighting efforts by more than 2,000 firefighters and water-bombing aircraft.
Gironde authorities said tens of thousands of people had been evacuated from their homes and summer vacation spots since the fires broke out on July 12.
A third, smaller fire broke out late Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux, raising resource taxes. Five campgrounds in the Atlantic Coast beach area caught fire as fires raged around the Arcachon Marine Basin, famous for its oysters and resorts.
In Greece, a large forest fire broke out northeast of Athens, fanned by high winds. Fire service officials said nine firefighting planes and four helicopters were deployed in an effort to stop the flames from reaching populated areas on the slopes of Mount Bentely, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of the capital. Smoke from the flames covered part of the city skyline.
But the weather forecast offered some solace, with temperatures expected to drop along the Atlantic coast Tuesday and the possibility of rain late in the day.
Associated Press writers Sylvia Howe and Joe Kearney in London, John Lister in Le Beck, France, Mike Corder in The Hague, the Netherlands, and Jamie Keeten in Geneva contributed to this story.
Follow the Associated Press’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.