LONDON (AP) — Britain broke its record for the highest temperature ever on Tuesday amid a heatwave that has ravaged swaths of Europe, as Britain’s national meteorologist said said such summits are now a reality in a country ill-prepared for such extremes.
The typically temperate nation was only the latest to be hit by unusually hot and dry weather who started forest fires from Portugal to the Balkans and resulted in hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames rushing towards a French beach and Britain’s suffocation – even by the sea – has rekindled concerns about climate change.
Britain’s Met Office meteorological agency recorded a provisional reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in Coningsby, eastern England, beating the record set hours earlier. Before Tuesday, the highest recorded temperature in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019. Later in the afternoon, 29 places in the UK had broken the record.
As the nation watched in a combination of horror and fascination, Met Office chief scientist Stephen Belcher said such high temperatures in Britain were “virtually impossible” without human-induced 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 Britain do not have air conditioning, reflecting how unusual such heat is in the country best known for rain and temperatures sweet.
Intense heat since Monday has damaged the runway at London Luton Airport, forcing it to close for several hours, and warped a main road in the east of England, leaving it looking like a ‘skatepark’, a said the police. Major train stations were closed or nearly empty on Tuesday as trains were canceled or were running at low speeds over fears the tracks could warp.
London has faced what Mayor Sadiq Khan called a “huge increase” in fires due to the heat. London firefighters listed 10 major fires they were battling across the city on Tuesday, half of which were grass fires. Footage showed several houses engulfed in flames as smoke billowed from burning fields in Wennington, a village on the eastern outskirts of London.
Ventilator sales at one retailer, Asda, rose 1,300%. Electric fans cooled the traditional mounted troops of the Household Cavalry as they stood guard in central London in heavy ceremonial uniforms. The duration of the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace has been shortened. The capital’s Hyde Park, normally busy with walkers, was eerily quiet – save for the long queues to swim in the Serpentine Lake.
“I go to my office because it’s nice and cool,” geologist Tom Elliott, 31, said after taking a bath. “I ride a bike instead of taking the subway.”
Always faithful, Queen Elizabeth II continued to work. The 96-year-old monarch held a virtual audience with new US Ambassador Jane Hartley from the safety 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 there is life-threatening danger even for the healthy people.
Such dangers could be seen in Britain and throughout Europe. At least six people have reportedly drowned trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs across the UK. In Spain and neighboring Portugal, hundreds of heat-related deaths were reported during the heat wave.
Climate experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing the likelihood of temperatures in the UK reaching 40C (104F) is now 10 times higher than in the UK pre-industrial era.
The head of the United Nations weather agency has expressed hope that the heat gripping Europe will serve as a “wake-up call” for governments to do more to tackle climate change. Other scientists used the landmark moment to emphasize that it was time to act.
“While still rare, 40C is now a reality of British summers,” said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change. “Whether this becomes a very common occurrence or remains relatively infrequent is in our hands and is determined by when and at what global average temperature we hit net zero.”
The extreme heat also scorched other parts of Europe. In Paris, the thermometer at the French capital’s oldest meteorological station – opened in 1873 – exceeded 40 C (104 F) for just the third time. The 40.5 C (104.9 F) measured there by the Météo-France meteorological service on Tuesday was the second highest reading ever recorded by the station, topped only by a searing 42.6 C (108.7 F ) in July 2019.
Drought and heat waves linked to climate change have also made wildfires more common and harder to fight.
In the Gironde region of southwestern France, ferocious wildfires continued to spread through dry pine forests, frustrating the firefighting efforts of more than 2,000 firefighters and aircraft water bombers.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from homes and summer vacation spots since the fires broke out on July 12, Gironde authorities said.
A third, smaller fire broke out in the Médoc wine region north of Bordeaux on Monday evening, further taxing resources. Five campsites caught fire in the area of the beaches of the Atlantic coast where fires raged around the maritime basin of Arcachon famous for its oysters and its seaside resorts.
In Greece, a major forest fire broke out northeast of Athens, fanned by strong winds. Fire officials said nine firefighting planes and four helicopters had been deployed to try to keep the flames from reaching populated areas on the slopes of Mount Penteli, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) to the north -east of the capital. Smoke from the fire covered part of the city’s skyline.
But the weather forecast offered some consolation, with temperatures expected to drop along the Atlantic coast on Tuesday and the possibility of rain 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, Netherlands, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this story.
Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.
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