LONDON (AP) – Britain broke its record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Tuesday amid a heatwave that has scorched swathes of Europe, as the UK’s national weather forecaster said such highs are now a fact of life in a country , which is ill prepared for such extremes .
The typically temperate nation has only recently been hit by unseasonably hot, dry weather that caused forest fires from Portugal to the Balkans and resulted in hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames racing towards a French beach and the heat of Brits – even by the sea – has driven concerns about climate change home.
The British weather agency Met Office registered a provisional reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in Coningsby in eastern England, breaking the record set just a few hours earlier. Before Tuesday, the highest temperature recorded in the UK was 38.7C (101.7F), set in 2019. By later afternoon, 29 locations 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 were “virtually impossible” in the UK without human-caused climate change.
He warned that “we could see temperatures like this every three years” without taking serious action on CO2 emissions.
The muggy weather has disrupted travel, healthcare and schools. Many homes, small businesses and even public buildings, including hospitals, in the UK have no air conditioning, a reflection of how unusual such heat is in the country better known for rain and mild temperatures.
Intense heat since Monday has damaged the runway at London’s Luton Airport, closing it for several hours and deforming a main road in eastern England into what looks like a “skate park”, police said. Major train stations were closed or almost empty on Tuesday as trains were canceled or running at low speeds over concerns that the rails could buckle.
London faced what Mayor Sadiq Khan described as a “huge wave” of fires because of the heat. London Fire Brigade listed 10 major fires they were battling across the city on Tuesday, half of them grass fires. Pictures showed several houses on fire as smoke billowed from burning fields in Wennington, a village on the eastern outskirts of London.
Sales of fans at one retailer, Asda, rose 1,300%. Electric fans cooled the Household Cavalry’s traditional mounted troops as they stood guard in central London in heavy ceremonial uniforms. The duration of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace has been reduced. The capital’s Hyde Park, usually full of walkers, was eerily quiet – apart from the long queues to take a dip in the Serpentine Lake.
“I go to my office because it’s nice and cool,” said geologist Tom Elliott, 31, after the swim. “I ride my bike instead of taking the subway.”
Queen Elizabeth II was always steadfast and kept working. The 96-year-old monarch held a virtual audience with the new US Ambassador, Jane Hartley, from the security of Windsor Castle.
A huge swath of England, from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north, remained under the country’s first “red” extreme heat warning on Tuesday, meaning even the healthy are at risk of death.
Such dangers could be seen in Britain and across Europe. At least six people have reportedly drowned trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs across the UK. Hundreds of heat-related deaths have been reported in the heatwave in Spain and neighboring Portugal.
Climate experts 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 40C (104F) than they were in the pre-industrial era.
The head of the UN weather agency expressed hope that the heat sweeping Europe would serve as a “wake-up call” for governments to do more on climate change. Other scientists used the milestone moment to emphasize that it was time to act.
“Although still rare, 40°C is now a reality in UK summers,” said Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change. “Whether it becomes a very common event or remains relatively rare is up to us and will be determined by when and at what global mean temperature we reach net zero.”
Extreme heat also affected other parts of Europe. In Paris, the thermometer in the oldest weather station in the French capital – opened in 1873 – rose to over 40 °C for only the third time. The 40.5 °C (104.9 °F) measured there by the weather service Meteo-France on Tuesday was the second highest reading of the station, which was only exceeded by 42.6 °C (108.7 °F) in July 2019.
Droughts and heatwaves associated with climate change have also made wildfires more frequent and more difficult to fight.
Wildfires continued to spread through cinder-dry pine forests in the Gironde region of south-west France, thwarting efforts by more than 2,000 firefighters and depth-bomb planes.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from homes and summer resorts since the fires broke out on July 12, Gironde authorities said.
A smaller third fire broke out in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux late Monday, further straining resources. Five campsites went up in flames in the Atlantic coast’s beach zone, where flames raged around the Arcachon sea basin, famous for its oysters and resorts.
A large forest fire broke out northeast of Athens in Greece, fueled by strong winds. Fire service officials said nine firefighting planes and four helicopters were deployed to prevent the blaze from reaching populated areas on the slopes of Mount Penteli, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of the capital. Smoke from the fire covered part of the city skyline.
However, weather forecasts offered some consolation as temperatures eased on Tuesday along the Atlantic Seaboard and the possibility of late-day rain was expected.
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.