Extreme heat in UK further disrupts air traffic as airport runway melts

Parts of the UK are literally melting from extreme heat. On Monday, Luton Airport, about 50 kilometers north of London, had to suspend flights as the extreme heat damaged part of the runway, causing the already existing tumultuous travel season.

The airport tweeted Monday that the high temperatures had identified a “surface defect” on the runway, later saying that the high surface temperatures had caused a small portion of the surface to rise. Monday was another day of what the UK Meteorological Office identified as “extreme heat,” which they attribute to “exceptional, perhaps record-breaking temperatures.” The Luton area, according to the office, saw temperatures as high as 35º Celsius — or 95 degrees Fahrenheit — on Monday.

The runway was back up and running in a matter of hours, but the impact of the heat is just the latest in a string of air travel around the world. Just last week, London’s Heathrow Airport had to… cap airline passengers to meet the rising demand for travel and staff shortages. The past weeks, thousands of flights have been cancelled in the US, with hundreds of thousands seeing delays. Millions of people have been affected.

And the latest issue in Luton points to a much bigger problem: the numerous significant tolls extreme heat can take on infrastructure.

London’s East Midlands Railway also issued a warning on Monday urging people not to travel on Tuesday due to extreme temperatures, which are expected to reach 38 degrees Celsius or more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the area.

Although July is the hottest month for the Midlands, the highest daily temperature is around 23.5C, according to the Met Office.

In its warning, the railroad said the tracks are typically 20 degrees warmer than the air, meaning extreme temperatures “can cause the track to buckle and bend” — a major safety concern given the trains’ speeds of up to 125 miles per hour. Many of the services were canceled on Tuesday, while the speed of some trains was reduced to just 20 miles per hour in some areas. Thameslink trains were also significantly limited.

The warnings also come as the UK hit its hottest day on record shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday with a temperature of 40.2 degrees Celsius – more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit – at Heathrow. The temperature, if confirmed, will beat the previous record set in 2019 by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The extreme temperatures indicate a continued lack of climate resilience when it comes to infrastructure.

A heat wave in the U.S. Pacific Northwest last year forced municipalities to hose down their bridges to prevent them from locking up and failing to function in extreme heat as days of triple-digit temperatures caused roads to buckle and crack. And this summer, experts warned that the U.S. electrical grid may not be able to keep up with the excessive sweltering heat.

And as the world continues to pump out fossil fuel emissions and contribute to global warming, these temperatures are likely to become much more frequent. Met Office scientist Nikos Christidis said in a statement that climate change is already impacting the likelihood of extreme temperatures in the UK

“The chances of seeing 40-degree Celsius days in the UK could be as much as 10 times greater in the current climate than in a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” Christidis said. “The likelihood of crossing 40 degrees Celsius anywhere in the UK in any given year has also increased rapidly, and even with current emissions reduction commitments, such extremes could happen every 15 years in the climate of 2100.”