UK breaks all-time record high as intense heat sends temps past 100 F
Unprecedented temperatures were recorded in England Tuesday as London's Fire Brigade declared a "major incident" due to a surge of fires across the capital.
A new all-time record high was set in the United Kingdom Tuesday, and the brutally hot weather helped exacerbate a growing outbreak of house fires across London.
The London Fire Brigade was forced to declare a major incident Tuesday in response to a huge surge of fires across the capital. On Tuesday, the fire brigade experienced its busiest day since World War Two was under “immense pressure,” according to London Mayor Sadiq Khan. The mayor urged residents around the region not to take risks and to “stay safe in the heat.”
"We probably haven't seen weather-related incidents on this scale before," Jonathan Smith, assistant commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, told Sky News. Elsewhere in England, video posted to Twitter showed wildfire flames encroaching on the A2 motorway near Kent, and a large fire engulfed homes in the village of Wennington.
The U.K. Met office said that the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the U.K. was set multiple times Tuesday, including in the English capital. London’s Heathrow Airport reported a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40.2 Celsius) shortly before 1 p.m. local time Tuesday.
Not only was the reading of 104 F (40.2 C) a new all-time record in the U.K., but officials said it was also the first time in recorded history that the country had eclipsed 40 degrees Celsius.
The heat continued to ramp up Tuesday afternoon and a few hours later, at 4 p.m. local time, the Met Office announced that a station in Coningsby, England, had eclipsed Heathrow’s reading and hit 104.5 F (40.3 C). If confirmed, Coningsby would provisionally hold the record for highest temperature on record in the U.K., a mark that was broken three times in one day.
"We see heat waves in the U.K. like other countries, but to see temperatures go above 40 degrees Celsius, I never thought I would see that here in the U.K. in my lifetime," Liz Bentley, chief executive of Britain's Royal Meteorological Society, said in an AccuWeather Prime interview Tuesday.
The previous all-time record in the U.K. prior to Tuesday was established three years ago when a temperature of 102 F (38.7 C) was recorded in Cambridge Botanic Garden on July 25, 2019.
The record was first set Tuesday in the village of Charlwood, England, located in the southeastern part of the country, when the temperature reached 102.4 F (39.1 C). At least 34 total observation sites climbed higher than the previous U.K. record by late Tuesday afternoon, according to the Met Office.
Temperatures in London typically climb to around 70 F (21 C) during the middle of July.
Air quality deteriorated across much of the U.K. Tuesday afternoon as high pressure trapped pollutants in the lower layers of the atmosphere. Air quality levels in the mid-afternoon hours Tuesday ranged from fair to poor across the area.
The diminished air quality worked to increase the strain on vulnerable populations already dealing with extreme heat.
An air quality snapshot taken on Tuesday, July 19, shows air quality levels ranging from fair (yellow) to poor (orange) across much of the U.K. (AccuWeather)
All-time record highs were also broken in the U.K. Monday, as the deadly heat wave that had already smashed records in much of Europe since last week intensified in the region.
Monday night was the hottest night on record in multiple parts after searing daytime heat levels failed to drop sufficiently overnight. Kenley, England, bottomed out at 78 F (25.8 C) Monday night and set a new record for highest daily minimum temperature for both England and the U.K. The previous record stood at 75 F (23.9 C) from Brighton, England, on Aug. 3, 1990.
Elsewhere Monday night, Aberporth, Wales, recorded a low temperature of 76 F (24.5 C) and broke the Welsh record for highest daily minimum temperature. The Welsh record had previously stood for more than 70 years, dating back to July 29, 1948.
The Scottish high-temperature record was smashed on Tuesday when Charterhall, located near the border with England, soared to 95 F (34.8 C). If confirmed, this temperature would eclipse the previous maximum high temperature record in Scotland of 91 F (32.9 C) set on Aug. 9, 2003.
"This heat wave has been made possible by a very dry winter over Iberia and other parts of southern Europe, and prior heat waves in May and June which have left the ground dry and baking hot," Gerald Fleming, a longtime meteorologist for RTÉ Television, Ireland's national broadcaster, told AccuWeather.
The brutal heat has been blamed for more than 1,000 deaths last week across Spain and Portugal after temperatures soared well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in both countries. The intense heat is also roasting France, where wildfires have forced thousands to flee in the southwestern parts of the country.
Even with a slight reprieve forecast later in the week, the soaring temps aren't going completely away this summer. Experts strongly predict certain parts of Europe will experience more sweltering heat waves of this magnitude during the rest of the season and for years to come.
"This is just the latest in a series of significant heat waves that have been experienced in Europe over recent years," said Fleming. "It seems now that high temperature records are being broken every few years."
He added that it's a signal of the changes the planet is undergoing – those made more evident in the populous regions of the world.
“Climate change is now directly affecting the temperate zones of the developed world, the affluent world,” Fleming said. “We are getting just a small taste of the climate challenges that the developing world is trying to cope with.”
Bentley agreed, saying that "climate change definitely has a fingerprint over this particular heat event in western Europe."
Fleming noted that the U.K. and more specifically southern England has the "added problem of being densely populated and therefore subject to a significant Urban Heat Island effect" during such intense heat waves.
Two major all-time heat records smashed Monday occurred in Liverpool, England and Hawarden, Wales. In Liverpool, the 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 F) reading set a record that stood since a high of 34.5 C (94.1 F) on Aug. 2, 1990. The Hawarden Monday high of 37 C (98.8 F) also broke its Aug. 2, 1990, all-time mark, which was 35.2 C (95.4 F).
It was so hot in the U.K. that officials had to shut down London's Luton Airport when its lone runway "melted" -- passengers on one incoming flight from Italy were told they were being diverted because of “bits of tarmac melting” on the runway, The Guardian reported. Just after 6 p.m local time, the runway reopened to arriving and departing flights, according to the BBC.
That was also the case at the Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire, which halted flights out of Brize Norton air base Monday because a runway reportedly warped due to the scorching heat.
The worst of the heat has remained centered on Western and Central Europe, with the U.K. and France the epicenter of some of the most extreme conditions Tuesday, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
In Wales, the Met Office said Monday was the hottest day on record in the country. Temperatures reached 98.8 F (37.1 C) in Hawarden, located in the northern part of the country, exceeding the previous record high of 95 F (35.2 C) which was set back on Aug. 2, 1990, in Hawarden Bridge, Flintshire.
The highest temperature in the U.K. Monday was recorded in Santon Downham, where it topped out at 100 F (38.1 C), according to the Met Office. Several other cities around the country including Cavendish and Cambridge exceeded 99 F (37.2 C) Monday.
Heat waves are a deadly hazard in the United States and southern Canada but are often even deadlier in Europe, where air conditioning simply does not exist in most houses and communities. The ongoing heat wave could challenge or surpass the 2003 heat wave that enveloped Europe in record heat, killing over 30,000 people both directly and indirectly, according to Roys.
In addition to the danger to life, the extreme heat is expected to bring transportation to a halt across portions of the U.K.
People in England and Wales were told not to travel unless absolutely necessary during the worst of the heat this week, with many rail lines already undergoing cancellations, according to The Independent. Steel rail tracks are susceptible to buckling and other damage amid extreme temperatures. Any trains that do run this week will have to do so at reduced speeds, resulting in significant delays.
Network Rail, which runs Britain's train system, said the extreme heat was "causing the overhead line equipment that powers electric trains to sag."
"The forecast temperatures are well above those which our infrastructure is designed, and safety must come first," Sam MacDougall, operations director for Network Rail, told Axios.
Schools were being shut or closed early due to the searing heat being forecast.
On Tuesday, July 20th, roughly 14,500 properties in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and the North East in England lost power after extreme temperatures caused electrical equipment to overheat.
By midweek, the worst of the heat will begin to ease across Western Europe, but temperatures will still remain above average for at least the rest of the week, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. It may take residents and infrastructure several days or even weeks to recover from the strain exerted by this historic heat wave.
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