LONDON (AP) — Britain shattered its record for the highest temperature on record Tuesday amid a heat wave in Europe, England’s national weather forecaster said, a fact of life in a country unprepared for such extremes. .
The normally temperate nation was hit hard by unusually hot, dry weather It has fueled wildfires From Portugal to the Balkans and leading to hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames racing towards the French coast And Britain’s furor — even at the seaside — has driven domestic concerns about climate change.
The UK Met Office weather agency recorded 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 late afternoon, 29 places in the UK had broken the record.
Stephen Belcher, chief scientist at the Met Office, said such temperatures in Britain were “almost impossible” without human-driven climate change, as the country watched with a mixture of horror and fascination.
“We could see temperatures like this every three years” without serious action on carbon emissions, he warned.
The hot weather has disrupted travel, healthcare and schools. Many homes, small businesses and public buildings in Britain, including hospitals, lack air conditioning, reflecting how unusual such heat is in a country known for rain and mild temperatures.
Scorching heat has damaged the runway at London’s Luton Airport since Monday, forcing it to close for several hours and bending a major road in eastern England to look like a “skatepark”. Major train stations were closed or nearly empty on Tuesday as trains were canceled or run at reduced speeds, causing tracks to bend.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan faced what he called a “huge surge” in fires due to the heat. The London Fire Brigade listed 10 major blazes it was battling across the city on Tuesday, half of which were grass fires. Pictures show homes engulfed in flames as smoke billows from burning fields in the village of Wennington, on the eastern outskirts of London.
Fan sales at one retailer, Asda, increased by 1,300%. Electric fans cooled the traditional mounted troops of the Household Cavalry in heavy ceremonial uniform as they stood guard in central London. The length 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 – apart from long queues for a dip in the snake lake.
“I go to my office because it’s nice and cool,” geologist Tom Elliott, 31, said after his swim. “I cycle instead of taking the tube.”
Ever steadfast, Queen Elizabeth II worked. 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, was under the country’s first “red” alert for extreme heat on Tuesday, meaning even healthy people are at risk of death.
Such dangers are seen in Britain and across Europe. At least six people have been reported drowned while trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs in Spain and neighboring Portugal, with hundreds of heat-related deaths reported in the heat wave.
Climatologists warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that temperatures in the UK are now 10 times more likely to reach 40 C (104 F) than in pre-industrial times.
UN The head of the Met Office has said he hopes the scorching heat in Europe will act as a “wake-up call” for governments to do more on climate change. Other scientists used the landmark moment to underscore that it was time to act.
“Although still rare, 40C is now a reality of British summers,” said Friedrich Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London. “Whether this becomes a more common occurrence or remains relatively rare is in our hands, and is determined by when and at what global average temperature we reach net zero.”
Extreme heat also warmed the rest of Europe. In Paris, the thermometer at the French capital’s oldest weather station – opened in 1873 – hit 40 C (104 F) for the third time. The 40.5 C (104.9 F) measured there by weather service Meteo-France on Tuesday was topped only by a blistering 42.6 C (108.7 F) in July 2019.
Droughts and heat waves associated with climate change have made wildfires more common and harder to fight.
In the Gironde region of southwestern France, a fierce forest fire continued to spread through dry pine forests, defying efforts by more than 2,000 firefighters and water bombers to put out the blaze.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and summer vacation spots since the fire broke out on July 12, Gironde officials said.
A third small fire broke out late Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux, further taxing resources. Five campsites burned in the Atlantic Coast coastal zone, where the Arcachan sea basin, popular for oysters and resorts, burned.
In Greece, a large forest fire broke out northeast of Athens, fanned by strong winds. Fire service officials said nine firefighting planes and four helicopters were deployed to prevent the flames from reaching residential areas on the slopes of Mount Bendeley, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of the capital. Part of the city’s skyline was engulfed in flames.
But weather forecasts offered some comfort, with temperatures expected to drop along the Atlantic on Tuesday and a chance of rain late in the day.
Associated Press writers Sylvia Huey and Joe Kearney in London, John Leicester in Le Becque, France, Mike Carter in The Hague, Netherlands and Jamie Keaton in Geneva contributed to this story.
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