NEW DELHI: Britain shattered its record for highest temperature ever registered on Tuesday amid a heat wave that has seared swaths of Europe, as the UK’s national weather forecaster said such highs are now a fact of life in a country ill-prepared for such extremes. The UK Met Office registered a provisional readings of 40.2C at Heathrow Airport and 40.3 C at Coningsby in eastern England – breaking the record set just hours earlier of 39.1C in Surrey. Before Tuesday, the highest temperature recorded in the UK was 38.7C, set in 2019. By later afternoon, 29 places in Britain had broken the record.
The sweltering weather has disrupted travel, healthcare and schools. Many homes, small businesses and even public buildings, including hospitals, don’t have air conditioning, a reflection of how unusual such heat is in the country better known for rain and mild temperatures. Sales of fans at one retailer increased by 1,300%.
Stephen Belcher at the Met Office said he had not expected to see such temperatures in Britain in his career. “Research conducted at the Met Office has demonstrated that it’s virtually impossible for the UK to experience 40C in an undisrupted climate but climate change driven by greenhouse gases has made these extreme temperatures possible,” he said. Experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that the likelihood of temperatures in the UK reaching 40C is now 10 times higher than in the pre-industrial era.
London was faced with what Mayor Sadiq Khan called a “huge surge” in fires because of the heat. The London fire brigade declared a “major incident” and urged people not to have barbeques or bonfires due to fire risk. It listed 10 big blazes it was fighting across the city, half of them grass fires. Images showed houses engulfed in flames as smoke billowed from burning fields in Wennington, a village on outskirts of London.
The intense heat since Monday has damaged the runway at London’s Luton airport, forcing it to shut for hours, and warped a main road in eastern England, police said. Major train stations were shut or near-empty, as trains were cancelled or ran at low speeds out of concern rails could buckle. Trains are particularly affected by high heat because the infrastructure – rails and overhead wires – is not built to cope with extremely hot weather. “Some of our railways stretches back 200 years,” transport secretary Grant Shapps said. Network Rail tweeted pictures showing bends and kinks in the tracks. The London Underground, most of which does not have air conditioning, has also suspended some of its service.
Most of the UK remained under the first “red” warning for heat on Tuesday, meaning there is danger of death even for healthy people. At least 6 were reported to have drowned while trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Amid all the sweltering, there was a promise of relief: Temperatures were forecast to plunge to the high 20s Celsius by Wednesday.