London: Millions of people in Britain stayed home or sought shade on Monday (London time) during the country’s first-ever extreme heat warning, as the hot, dry weather that has scorched mainland Europe for the past week moved north, buckling rail lines and forcing two airports to close their runways.
Flights to and from London Luton airport were temporarily disrupted after the extreme heat caused a defect in its runway, prompting airlines to delay or divert their planes. The runway has reopened.
Aerial view of Gyllyngvase Beach on July 18, 2022 in Falmouth, England.Credit:Getty
The red heat alert covers a big chunk of England and is to last through Tuesday, when temperatures may reach 40 degrees for the first time, posing a risk of serious illness and even death among healthy people, according to the Met Office, the UK’s meteorological agency.
The extreme heat warning stretches from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north.
The temperature on Monday reached 38.1 degrees at Downham in eastern England, just shy of the highest-ever recorded in Britain — 38.7 degrees, a record set in 2019. The country isn’t at all prepared to handle such heat — most homes, schools and small businesses in Britain don’t have air conditioning.
Wales provisionally recorded its highest-ever temperature, the Met Office said: 37.1 degrees at Hawarden in northeastern Wales.
At least four people were reported to have drowned across the UK in rivers, lakes and reservoirs while trying to cool off.
Sales of electric fans, hoses, air conditioning units and sprinklers are soaring, retailers said.
Sainsbury’s, Britain’s No. 2 supermarket group which also owns the Argos general merchandise business, said sales of fans last week rose 1876 per cent versus the week before, while sales of air conditioning units were up 2420 per cent and sales of paddling pools were up 814 per cent.
Department store group John Lewis said sales of fans and air conditioning units were up 709 per cent year-on year.
People swim in the elevated pool, called Sky Pool, in London on Monday.Credit:AP
The London Luton airport, located around 35 miles north of central London, is used by airlines including EasyJet, Wizz Air, Ryanair and TUI.
A second airport was also affected by the heat. RAF Brize Norton, a major air force base northwest of London, also closed its runway. The air force said “aircraft are using alternative airfields in line with a long established plan.”
Temperatures are expected to rise further as the warm air moves north on Tuesday, Met Office CEO Penelope Endersby said.
“So it’s tomorrow that we’re really seeing the higher chance of 40 degrees and temperatures above that,” Endersby told the BBC. “Forty-one isn’t off the cards. We’ve even got some 43s in the model, but we’re hoping it won’t be as high as that.”
A man leaps into the River Cam in Cambridge as the temperature continues to rise.Credit:Getty
Hot weather has gripped southern Europe since last week, triggering wildfires in Spain, Portugal and France. Almost 600 heat-related deaths have been reported in Spain and Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 degrees last week.
Climate experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that the likelihood of temperatures in the UK reaching 40 degrees is now 10 times higher than in the pre-industrial era. Drought and heat waves tied to climate change have also made wildfires harder to fight.
Officials in southern France’s Gironde region announced plans to evacuate an additional 3500 people from towns threatened by the raging flames. More than 1500 firefighters and water-bombing planes are trying to douse the flames in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests.
In Britain, train operators asked customers not to travel unless absolutely necessary, saying the heat was likely to warp rails and disrupt power supplies, leading to severe delays. Some routes were running at reduced speed or shutting down entirely in the afternoon amid peak temperatures.
Medical appointments were cancelled to relieve strains on the National Health Service. Some schools closed while others set up wading pools and water sprays to help children cool off. Most British schools have not yet closed for the summer.
The extreme heat even led Parliament to loosen its strict dress code. The Speaker of the House of Commons said male lawmakers could dispense with jackets and ties for the week.
The high temperatures are even more of a shock since Britain usually has very moderate summer temperatures. Across the UK, average July temperatures range from a daily high of 21 degrees to a low of 12 degrees.
But nightfall on Monday will bring little relief from the heat, with the Met Office forecasting temperatures of 29 degrees at midnight in London. Monday night will be “very oppressive” and it will be difficult to sleep, Chief Meteorologist Paul Davies said.
“Tomorrow is the day where we are really concerned about a good chance now of hitting 40 or 41 degrees, and with that all the health conditions that come with those higher temperatures,” he said.
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