Britain shattered its record for the highest temperature ever registered 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 typically temperate nation was just the latest to be walloped by unusually hot, dry weather that has triggered wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans and led to hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames racing towards a French beach and Britons sweltering – even at the seaside – have driven home concerns about climate change.
The UK Met Office weather agency registered a provisional reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) at Coningsby in eastern England – breaking the record set just hours earlier. Before Tuesday, the highest temperature recorded in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019. By later afternoon, 29 places in the UK had broken the record.
As the nation watched with a combination of horror and fascination, Met Office chief scientist Stephen Belcher said such temperatures in Britain were “virtually impossible” without human-driven 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, healthcare and schools. Many homes, small businesses and even public buildings, including hospitals, in Britain don’t have air conditioning, a reflection of 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 shut for several hours, and warped a main road in eastern England, leaving it looking like a “skatepark”, police said. Major train stations were shut or near-empty Tuesday, as trains were cancelled or ran at low speeds out of concern rails could buckle.
London faced what Mayor Sadiq Khan called a “huge surge” in fires because of the heat. The London Fire Brigade listed 10 major blazes it was fighting across the city Tuesday, half of them grass fires. Images 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 retailer, Asda, increased by 1,300 per cent. Electric fans cooled the traditional mounted 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, normally busy with walkers, was eerily quiet – except for the long lines to take a dip in the Serpentine lake.
Ever the stalwart, Queen Elizabeth II carried on working. The 96-year-old monarch held a virtual audience with new US ambassador Jane Hartley from the safety of Windsor Castle.