LONDON (AP) — Millions of people in Britain stayed indoors or sought shade Monday during the country’s first extreme heat warning as hot, dry weather scorched mainland Europe. It has moved north over the past week, bending railroad tracks and forcing two airports to close their runways.
A red heat warning covers a large part of the UK and will last until Tuesday, when temperatures could reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time, posing a risk of serious illness and even death among healthy people. The Met Office, the UK’s meteorological agency.
The extreme heat warning extends from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north.
The temperature in Downham, east England, reached 38.1 C (100.6 F) on Monday, just shy of the highest ever recorded in Britain – 38.7 C (101.7 F), a record set in 2019. The country is not ready to handle it. Such heat – most homes, schools and small businesses in Britain do not have air conditioning.
Wales temporarily recorded a temperature of 37.1 C (95.5 F) at Haverton in north-east Wales.
At least four people have reportedly drowned while trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs across England.
Flights were grounded at London’s Luton Airport as engineers repaired the runway after “high surface temperatures raised a small area”. RAF Bryce Norton, a major air force base northwest of London, also closed its runway due to the heat. The Air Force said, “Aircraft use alternate airfields in accordance with a long-established plan.”
Temperatures are expected to rise further on Tuesday as warm air moves north, Met Office chief executive Penelope Endersby said.
“So tomorrow we’re actually seeing temperatures of 40 degrees (104 F) and higher,” Endersby told the BBC. “Forty-one is not in the cards. The model has even got some 43s, but we’re hoping it won’t be that many.
Hot weather has been wreaking havoc across southern Europe since last week, fueling wildfires in Spain, Portugal and France. Almost 600 heat-related deaths have been reported in Spain and Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 C (117 F) last week.
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. Droughts and heat waves are linked to climate change They have also made it difficult to fight forest fires.
Authorities in the Gironde region of southern France have announced plans to evacuate another 3,500 people from towns. More than 1,500 firefighters and water bombers are trying to extinguish the blaze in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests.
In Britain, train operators urged customers not to travel non-essentially, saying the heat could corrode rails and disrupt power supplies, leading to severe delays. Some routes were operating at reduced speeds or were closed throughout the afternoon amid record high temperatures.
Medical appointments were canceled to relieve pressure on the National Health Service. Some schools were closed, while others set up pools and water sprinklers to help cool children. Most British schools have not yet closed for the summer.
The sweltering heat led Parliament to relax its strict dress code. The Speaker of the Commons said male lawmakers could forgo jackets and ties for the week.
The high temperatures are even more shocking as Britain generally has very mild summer temperatures. Across the UK, average July temperatures range from daily highs of 21 C (70 F) to lows of 12 C (53 F).
But Monday night will bring some relief from the heat, with the Met Office forecasting a midnight high of 29 C (84 F) in London. Chief Meteorologist Paul Davies said Monday night would be “very oppressive” and sleep would be difficult.
“We’re really worried about tomorrow now being a good chance we’ll hit 40 or 41 C and all the health conditions that come with those high temperatures,” he said.
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