Heatwave in the UK and Europe

Heatwave in the UK and Europe

A man cools himself in a fountain on Trafalgar Square in London, England, on Tuesday 19 July.
A man cools down in a fountain on Trafalgar Square in London, England, Tuesday 19 July (Neil Hall / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock)

Temperatures in the UK exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time on Tuesday, making it the country’s hottest day ever.

Prior to 2019, the UK had only seen a city exceed 37.8 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) once in August 2003.

Since then, it has happened four times in four years. So what was once thought of as impossible, or perhaps a one-in-100-year-old heating event, now happens almost annually.

Stephen Belcher, the UK Met Office’s chief researcher, and Professor Paul Davies, the Meteorologist’s chief meteorologist, said there are three things that make these conditions possible.

The first is a so-called “wavenumber 5 pattern”, Belcher, Davies and the Met Office said in a blog post on Tuesday. The wave number 5 pattern describes “the difference in surface temperature from their average values.” It shows that there is a wave-like pattern around the northern hemisphere with five high-pressure areas, they explained, adding that these are the places that are likely to experience heat waves. The wave number 5 pattern also explains why it is possible to have simultaneous heat waves around the world, said Met Office researchers.

The Met Office says that climate change, the second factor, also plays a role. Belcher and Davies wrote in the blog post that temperatures in the UK are “unique in recorded history”.

“In a climate unaffected by human influence, climate modeling shows that it is virtually impossible for temperatures in the UK to reach 40 ° C,” the Met Office said in the blog.

Belcher and Davies said that climate change is mainly driven by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Warmer conditions are a result of these gases being combined with atmospheric circulation patterns – such as the wave number 5 pattern, according to the Met Office.

The third factor contributing to the extreme heat is environmental and soil conditions, Belcher and Davies said.

“It has been a dry year over many parts of England. When the sun shines on the ground, dry soil cannot release energy through the evaporation of moisture, which means that more of the sun’s energy goes to heating the air, which strengthens the temperatures in Britain, “said the blog, adding that climate scientists call this soil moisture feedback.

“These three elements have come together in the UK: the global wave number 5 pattern driving high temperatures, in the presence of an already warmed climate due to climate change, further reinforced by feedback on soil moisture,” the Met Office added.

The consequences: Britain is sadly unprepared for the consequences of the climate crisis. It struggles to deal with floods when they occur. In the heat, the nation is tense.

So many fires ignited in London on Tuesday that the city’s fire department declared a “major incident” and was stretched beyond its capacity. At least four people have drowned as people flocked to beaches, rivers and lakes just to try to cool off. Even a runway at an airport on the outskirts of London had to be shut down when it melted in the heat.

CNN’s Brandon Miller contributed reporting to this post.

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