LONDON (AP) – Britain broke its record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the middle of a heat wave that has scorched parts of Europe, as Britain’s national weather forecast said such heights are now a fact in a country that is poorly prepared for such extremes. .
The typically temperate nation was only the last to be affected by unusually hot, dry weather which has triggered forest fires from Portugal to the Balkans and led to hundreds of heat-related deaths. Pictures of flames raging against a French beach and scorching Brits – even by the sea – have driven home climate change concerns.
The British Met Office meteorological office recorded a preliminary reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) at Coningsby in eastern England – and broke the record set just hours earlier. Before Tuesday, the highest temperature recorded in the UK was 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019. Later in the afternoon, 29 locations in the UK had broken the record.
While the nation watched with a combination of horror and fascination, Met Office chief researcher Stephen Belcher said such temperatures in Britain were “virtually impossible” without man-made climate change.
He warned that “we could see temperatures like this every three years” without serious action on carbon emissions.
The sweltering weather has disrupted travel, health care and schools. Many homes, small businesses and even public buildings, including hospitals, in the UK do not have air conditioning, reflecting how unusual such heat is in the country better known for rain and mild temperatures.
The intense heat since Monday has damaged the runway at London’s Luton Airport, forcing it to close for several hours, distorting a main road in the east of England so that it looks like a “skate park”, police said. Large train stations were closed or almost empty on Tuesday, when the trains were canceled or running at low speeds for concern that the tracks could tense up.
London faced what Mayor Sadiq Khan called a “huge increase” in fires due to the heat. The London Fire Brigade listed 10 major fires they fought across the city on Tuesday, half of them grass fires. Pictures showed several houses engulfed in flames as smoke billowed from burning fields in Wennington, a village on the eastern outskirts of London.
Sales of fans at one dealer, Asda, increased by 1300%. Electric fans cooled the traditional assembled troops of the Household Cavalry as they stood guard in central London in heavy ceremonial uniforms. The length of the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace was shortened. The capital’s Hyde Park, usually busy with walkers, was eerily quiet – except for the long queues to take a dip in Lake Serpentine.
“I go to my office because it’s nice and cool,” said geologist Tom Elliott, 31, after taking a swim. “I ride around instead of taking the subway.”
Queen Elizabeth II continued to work as the faithful. The 96-year-old monarch held a virtual audience with the new US Ambassador Jane Hartley from the security 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 for extreme heat on Tuesday, meaning it is life-threatening even for healthy people.
Such dangers can be seen in the UK and across Europe. At least six people were reported to have drowned while trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs across the UK. In Spain and neighboring 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 temperatures in the UK reaching 40 C (104 F) is now 10 times higher than in the pre-industrial era.
The head of the UN Weather Bureau expressed hope that the heat that grips Europe will serve as a “wake-up call” for governments to do more on climate change. Other researchers used the milestone moment to emphasize that it was time to act.
“Although still rare, 40C is now a reality for British summers,” said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change. “Whether it will be a very common event or remain relatively rare is in our hands and is determined by when and at what global mean temperature we reach net zero.”
Extreme heat also broke other parts of Europe. In Paris, the thermometer peaked in the French capital’s oldest weather station – opened in 1873 – 40 C (104 F) for only the third time. 40.5 C (104.9 F) measured there by the weather service Meteo-France on Tuesday was the station’s second highest measurement ever, only topped with a bladder temperature of 42.6 C (108.7 F) in July 2019.
Droughts and heat waves associated with climate change have also made forest fires more common and more difficult to combat.
In the Gironde region of southwestern France, violent forest fires continued to spread through pine-dry pine forests, frustrating firefighting efforts by more than 2,000 firefighters and water bombers.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from homes and summer resorts since the fires broke out on July 12, Gironde authorities said.
A minor third fire broke out late Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux, further straining resources. Five campsites went up in flames in the beach zone on the Atlantic coast, where fires raged around the maritime pool in Arcachon, known for its oysters and resorts.
In Greece, a large forest fire broke out northeast of Athens, blown by strong winds. Firefighters said nine firefighting planes and four helicopters were deployed to try to stop the flames from reaching inhabited areas on the slopes of Mount Penteli, about 25 kilometers northeast of the capital. Smoke from the fire covered part of the city skyline.
But the weather forecast offered some comfort, with temperatures expected to decline along the Atlantic coast on Tuesday and the possibility of rain coming in late in the day.
Associated Press writers Sylvia Hui and Jo Kearney in London, John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, Mike Corder in The Hague, the Netherlands, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this story.
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