UK breaks its record for highest temperature as Europe sizzles in heat wave

·4 min read

The United Kingdom crushed its record for highest temperature Tuesday as a scorching heat wave broiled much of mainland Europe, leading to hundreds of heat-related deaths and fierce wildfires.

Flames racing toward a French beach and Britons sweltering – even at the seaside – drove home concerns about climate change.

The Meteorological Office, U.K.'s weather office, announced that a temperature of 40.3 Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) was provisionally recorded Tuesday at Coningsby in eastern England. A temperature of 39.1 C (102.4 F) was provisionally recorded earlier in the day in the English village of Charlwood in Surrey.

Those temperatures were just part of a record-setting day across the U.K.: "At least 29 observation sites across England have provisionally broken the previous all- time maximum U.K. record of 38.7 degrees C this afternoon," the Met Office said in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.

"Well, I wasn't expecting to see this in my career, but the U.K. has just exceeded 40 degrees Celsius," Met Office Chief Scientist Stephen Belcher said in a Twitter video.

The previous record high temperature in the U.K. was 38.7 C (101.7 F) in 2019, according to the Met Office.

Tuesday's highs will be "unprecedented," Met Office forecaster Rachel Ayers said, predicting temperatures could rise as high as 104 or 105.8 F in parts of England in the afternoon.

PREVIOUS REPORTS: Hundreds dead as extreme heat wave broils Europe; UK could break record

UK issues first Red warning

The Met Office issued the U.K.'s first Red warning for exceptional heat. At this warning level, illness may occur even among the "fit and healthy," not just high-risk groups.

The warning covered Monday and Tuesday for parts of central, northern, eastern and southeastern England, the office said.

A lesser Amber Extreme heat warning was in place for much of England, Wales and southern Scotland through Tuesday. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may see broken temperature records, the Met Office said.

Temperatures are expected to decrease to levels more typical for this time of year by the middle of next week, according to the Met Office.

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Britain's Supreme Court closes

As the U.K. sweltered during the heat wave, Britain's Supreme Court shuttered and hearings moved online because of an air-conditioning problem. The British Museum planned to close early.

In a country known for rain and mild temperatures, many public buildings don't have air conditioning. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain’s transportation infrastructure "just wasn’t built to withstand this type of temperature – and it will be many years before we can replace infrastructure with the kind of infrastructure that could."

Heat wave leads to deaths elsewhere in Europe

The hot, dry weather has been scorching large swaths of Europe since last week. Wildfires were reported from Portugal to the Balkans. At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit this month.

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A man refreshes himself at a fountain in Trafalgar Square in central London on July 19. Britain shattered its record for highest temperature, according to the country's weather office.
A man refreshes himself at a fountain in Trafalgar Square in central London on July 19. Britain shattered its record for highest temperature, according to the country's weather office.

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Is climate change to blame?

U.K. scientists said extreme weather events, including heat waves, are increasing in frequency, duration and intensity as a result of climate change.

Nikos Christidis, climate attribution scientist at the Met Office, said studies showed the likelihood of extremely hot days in the U.K. increasing, particularly in southeast England. The chances of seeing 104-degree days in the U.K. could be as much as 10 times more likely in this climate compared with a natural climate unaffected by human influence, he said in a Met Office statement.

Belcher, the Met Office's chief scientist, said climate change made such temperatures possible.

"For me, it's a real reminder that the climate has changed and will continue to change," he said in a video on Twitter.

Ben Clarke, a researcher in extreme weather attribution at the University of Oxford, said in a statement that "the most extreme heat wave events have become far more likely and intense due to climate change – the heat on Monday and Tuesday was extremely rare before significant human emissions of greenhouse gases, and I would estimate, based on past attribution studies, that it has been made hundreds to thousands of times more likely – probably at least ten times as likely in just the past 20 years."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern. Follow Doyle Rice at @usatodayweather.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Europe heat wave: UK temperature record broken, Red warning issued