The UK recorded temperatures rising above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time in its 350 years of climate records. The searing heatwave is unprecedented in a country that’s used to much cooler summer weather and is a bellwether of more extremes to come.
The heat is so bad that it’s buckled an airport runway, forcing London Luton Airport to temporarily suspend flights on Monday. Rail services across parts of the UK ground to a halt as tracks also buckled or overheated, and overhead cables failed and even caught on fire. Over 48 hours, England and Wales grappled with twice as many wildfires as it did throughout the entire month of July last year. Parched grass turned to tinder, sparking blazes that threatened homes around London today.
The UK’s very first “Red Extreme” heat warning kicked in for parts of England yesterday, and temperatures soared even higher today. A scorching 40.2 Celsius was recorded at Heathrow airport near London at 12:50 and was soon beat by a temperature reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius some 225 km (140 miles) further north in Coningsby. Those numbers still have to be verified, but the UK says at least 29 places have documented temperatures breaking the UK’s previous record high of 38.7 C set in 2019.
The heat was so extreme that broadcaster Sky News literally turned into sky news, putting together a 10-plus-hour livestream of the Sun as it made its way across the sky.
Some relief is on the way, in the form of thunderstorms rolling through parts of the UK today and tomorrow. As the week winds down, the Met Office expects cooler air to bring temperatures down “closer to normal” for this time of year. In London, that means temperatures in the 20s. (That’s 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit for American readers).
Still, the effects of this week’s brutal heatwave are warning of how many places — including typically cooler regions like the UK — will have to adapt to a warming climate. “Here in the UK, we’re used to treating a hot spell as a chance to go and play in the sun. This is not that sort of weather,” Penny Endersby, chief executive of the Met Office, said in a recorded video message last week. “Our lifestyles and our infrastructure are not adapted to what is coming.”
Other parts of the world are also sweltering. Record-breaking temperatures are forecast for the Central US this week, placing tens of millions of people under heat alerts. More than 1,100 people have already died from the heat in Spain and Portugal in the past week. Spain, Portugal, and France have all grappled with out-of-control wildfires during the extreme heat.
From space, a European weather satellite was able to capture a rare, nearly cloudless picture of almost all of the continent on Monday as the sun beat down on residents without much filter.