UK breaks record for highest temperature as Europe sizzles

LONDON (AP) — Britain broke its record on Tuesday for the highest temperature ever recorded amid a heat wave that has scorched parts of Europe. .

The typically temperate nation was just the last to be ravaged by unusually hot, dry weather that led to forest fires from Portugal to the Balkans and has led to hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames raging towards a French beach and the brooding Brits — even on the coast — have driven home climate change concerns.

Britain’s Met Office weather agency recorded a preliminary reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in Coningsby in the east of England – breaking the record just hours earlier. Before Tuesday, the highest temperature recorded in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019. By late afternoon, 29 places in the UK had broken the record.

As the nation watched with a combination of horror and fascination, Stephen Belcher, chief scientist at the Met Office, said such temperatures in Britain were “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate change.

He warned that “we could see temperatures like this every three years” without serious action on carbon emissions.

The blistering weather has disrupted travel, healthcare and schools. Many homes, small businesses and even public buildings, including hospitals, in Britain are without air conditioning, a reflection of how unusual such heat is in the country better known for its rainfall and mild temperatures.

The intense heat since Monday has damaged the runway at London’s Luton Airport, forcing it to be closed for several hours, and distorted a main road in the east of England, making it look like a ‘skate park’, police said. Major train stations were closed or nearly empty on Tuesday as trains were canceled or ran at low speeds over concerns that the rails could collapse.

London faced what Mayor Sadiq Khan called a “huge wave” of fires due to the heat. The London fire brigade recorded 10 major fires fought in the city on Tuesday, half of which were grass fires. Footage showed several houses going up in flames as smoke rose from burning fields in Wennington, a village on the eastern outskirts of London.

Fan sales at one retailer, Asda, were up 1,300%. Electric fans cooled the Household Cavalry’s traditional mounted troops as they kept watch in central London in heavy ceremonial uniforms. The duration of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was shortened. Normally crowded with walkers, Hyde Park in the capital was eerily quiet, save for the long lines to take a dip in Serpentine Lake.

“I go to my office because it’s nice and cool,” geologist Tom Elliott, 31, said after taking a dip. “I cycle around instead of taking the subway.”

Queen Elizabeth II, once the tough one, continued to work. The 96-year-old monarch held a virtual audience with new US Ambassador Jane Hartley from the safety of Windsor Castle.

Much of England, from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north, remained under the country’s first “red” warning of extreme heat on Tuesday, meaning there is a danger to life even for healthy people.

Such dangers were seen in Britain and throughout Europe. At least six people are reported to have drowned while trying to cool off in rivers, lakes and reservoirs across the UK. Hundreds of heat-related deaths have been reported during the heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal.

Climate experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that the chances of temperatures in the UK reaching 40 C (104 F) are now 10 times higher than in the pre-industrial era.

The head of the UN weather agency expressed hope that the heat gripping Europe would serve as a “wake-up call” for governments to do more about climate change. Other scientists used the milestone moment to underline that it was time to act.

“While still rare, 40C is now a reality of British summers,” said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change. “Whether it will become a common event or remain relatively rare is in our hands and will be determined by when and at what global mean temperature we reach net zero.”

Extreme heat also confused other parts of Europe. In Paris, the thermometer in the French capital’s oldest weather station — opened in 1873 — reached 40 °C (104 F) for the third time. The 40.5 C (104.9 F) measured by the Meteo-France weather service on Tuesday was the station’s second-highest reading ever, topped only by a blistering 42.6 C (108.7 F) in july 2019.

Droughts and heatwaves linked to climate change have also made wildfires more frequent and more difficult to fight.

In the Gironde region of southwestern France, ferocious wildfires continued to spread through tinder-dry pine forests, frustrating the firefighting efforts of more than 2,000 firefighters and water bombardments.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from homes and summer vacation spots since the fires broke out on July 12, Gironde authorities said.

A smaller third fire broke out late Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux, further straining resources. Five campsites went up in flames in the beach zone of the Atlantic coast, where fires raged around the Arcachon sea basin, famous for its oysters and resorts.

In Greece, a major forest fire broke out northeast of Athens, fueled by high winds. Fire officials said nine firefighting planes and four helicopters were deployed to try to prevent the flames from reaching populated areas on the slopes of Mount Penteli, some 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of the capital. Smoke from the fire blanketed part of the city’s skyline.

But the weather forecast offered some consolation, with temperatures expected to ease Tuesday along the Atlantic coast and the possibility of rain coming in late in the day.

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Associated Press writers Sylvia Hui and Jo Kearney in London, John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this story.

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Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.