LONDON — Britain was bracing for what could be its hottest day on record Monday or Tuesday, with forecasters warning the 105-degree temperatures risked deaths and crippled infrastructure.
Meanwhile, wildfires continued to rage across continental Europe, with authorities battling to control blazes across France, Greece, Italy and elsewhere. In Spain and Portugal, more than 1,000 deaths have been attributed to their brutal, week-long heatwave.
While wildfires have become depressingly familiar in some parts of the world, most of Britain is just waking up to the reality of extreme weather that’s exacerbated by manmade climate change.
The Meteorological Office, the United Kingdom’s national weather service, has issued its first ever “Red Warning” for extreme heat, urging people to avoid exercise, travel or even going outside if possible. There was a 50% chance the UK could record its hottest temperature to date, currently 101.6 Fahrenheit in July 2019, it said.
Meanwhile, the UK Health Security Agency announced its first “Level 4” heat warning — the highest possible — which it describes as a “national emergency.” Government ministers discussed contingency plans at a special interdepartmental meeting last week.
“The extreme heat we are forecasting right now is absolutely unprecedented,” Met Office boss Penny Endersby said in a rare public service broadcast last week. “Here in the UK, we are used to treating a hot spell as a chance to go and play in the sun — this is not that sort of weather. Our lifestyles and infrastructure are not adapted to what is coming.”
Authorities are urging drivers to stay off the roads in the middle of the day, while some local governments are deploying gritting trucks to spray sand on the asphalt to try to stop it melting.
Network Rail, which manages the country’s train infrastructure, asked people not to travel, warning the heat could buckle the tracks meaning speed restrictions were in place.
Utilities companies said they were monitoring for potential blackouts and water shortages.
The UK has had warm weather before, but scientists say these blistering temperatures are becoming more common because of greenhouse gases humans are pumping in the atmosphere.
And while these are not uncommon levels of heat in other parts of the world, including regions of the United States, much of Britain is not materially, culturally nor psychologically equipped to cope.
Many houses were built in the 1800s and have thick brick walls that soak up heat in the day and retain it at night. Air conditioning is uncommon outside of offices and other public spaces. And rarely does the temperature reach 90 degrees on this gray and drizzly north Atlantic rock, whose most southern mainland point is on the same latitude as Winnipeg, Canada.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism