UK breaks record for highest temperature as heat rises

LONDON (AP) — Britain broke its record for the highest temperature ever on Tuesday amid a heatwave that gripped swaths of Europe — and the national meteorologist predicted it would become even hotter in a country ill-prepared for such extremes.

The typically temperate nation was just the latest to be hit by unusually hot and dry weather that gripped the continent since last week, sparking wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans and leading to hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames rushing towards a French beach and the British are suffocating – even by the sea – have raised concerns about climate change.

Britain’s Met Office recorded a provisional reading of 40.2 degrees Celsius (104.4 degrees Fahrenheit) at Heathrow Airport, beating the record set an hour earlier. Before Tuesday, the highest temperature recorded in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), a record set in 2019.

The nation watched the mercury rise with a combination of horror and fascination. With several hours of intense sunshine ahead, the record could go even higher.

“Temperatures are expected to rise further today,” the forecaster said after the first record slump.

The sweltering weather has disrupted travel, healthcare and schools in a country unprepared for such extremes. 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.

The streets of London saw less traffic as many followed advice to stay out of the sun, and trains traveled at low speeds for fear the tracks would warp or not run at all. The British Museum – which has a glass-roofed atrium – planned to close early. And the Supreme Court closed to visitors after an air conditioning problem forced it to move hearings online.

Many public buildings, including hospitals, are not even air-conditioned, showing how unusual such extreme heat is in the country, best known for rain and mild temperatures.

The capital’s Hyde Park, normally busy with walkers, was eerily quiet – save for long queues to swim in the park’s 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 metro.”

London’s King’s Cross station, one of the country’s busiest rail hubs, was empty on Tuesday, with no trains on the usually busy east coast line linking the capital to the north and Scotland. London Luton Airport closed its runway for several hours on Monday due to heat damage.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain’s transport infrastructure, some of which dates back to Victorian times, “simply wasn’t built to withstand this kind of weather – and it will be many years before that we can replace infrastructure with the kind of infrastructure that could.”

The dangers of extreme heat were on display in Britain and across Europe. At least six people have reportedly drowned across the UK in rivers, lakes and reservoirs trying to cool off. Meanwhile, nearly 750 heat-related deaths were reported in Spain and neighboring Portugal during the heat wave.

The highest temperature previously recorded in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), a record set in 2019. Tuesday’s reading was provisional, meaning they are produced as close to the real-time with final readings issued after data quality control, the Met Office said.

The head of the UN weather agency expressed hope that the heat would serve as a “wake-up call” for governments and voters to do more to tackle climate change. World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Petteri Taalas said heat waves are only expected to increase.

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. In fact, that once-unthinkable mark seemed possible — even likely — on Tuesday.

“This record temperature is a harbinger of things to come,” said Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics. “The increase in frequency and intensity of heat waves and other extreme weather events is the result of climate change, and these impacts will continue to grow” unless the world drastically reduces emissions.

Drought and heat waves linked to climate change have also made wildfires more difficult 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.

More than 37,000 people have been evacuated from homes and summer vacation spots since the fires broke out on July 12 and have burned 190 square kilometers (more than 70 square miles) of forest and vegetation, officials said. Gironde authorities.

A third, smaller fire broke out on Monday evening in the Médoc wine region north of Bordeaux, further taxing firefighting resources. Five campsites caught fire in the area of ​​​​the beaches of the Atlantic coast where the fires raged, around the maritime basin of Arcachon famous for its oysters and its seaside resorts.

But the weather forecast offered some consolation, with scorching temperatures expected to ease along the Atlantic coast on Tuesday and the possibility of rain late in the day.

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Associated Press writer John Leicester from Le Pecq, France, contributed to this story.

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Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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