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Police horse, Zorro, drinks water from a bucket during hot weather on Whitehall in London, Britain, July 18, 2022.JOHN SIBLEY/Reuters

Britain is in the midst of an unprecedented heat wave that’s expected to send temperatures soaring above 40 degrees this week and cause havoc for rail lines, schools and other public services. And scientists are warning that this kind of extreme heat could become the norm for the U.K. because of climate change.

The Meteorological Office, or Met, has issued its first ever red weather warning for extreme heat. Temperatures across much of central England, an area stretching from London to Manchester and York, could go as high as 43 on Tuesday.

“We hoped we wouldn’t get to this situation but for the first time ever we are forecasting greater than 40 C in the U.K.,” said Nikos Christidis, a climate scientist at the Met.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the U.K. was 38.7 on July 25, 2019, in Cambridge. On Monday, the temperature hit 38.1 in Surrey.

How does the human body respond to rising temperatures? This one-of-a-kind lab in Ottawa is trying to find out

Several schools closed on Monday and hundreds of train services across the country were cancelled after Network Rail warned that the heat wave could cause tracks to bend or buckle. Parts of the London Underground have also been affected, with at least 15 lines faced with delays, and some hospitals cancelled surgeries because operating rooms were too hot.

Flights were suspended for a few hours at London’s Luton Airport as engineers repaired the runway “after high surface temperatures caused a small section to lift.” RAF Brize Norton, a major air force base northwest of London, also closed its runway because of the heat. “Aircraft are using alternative airfields in line with a long established plan,” the air force said.

Britain is just the latest European country to experience soaring temperatures this summer. Searing heat has caused hundreds of deaths and wildfires in Portugal, Spain and France. In Lousa, Portugal, the thermometer topped 46 last week, while in southwestern France thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes because of raging forest fires. Heat alerts have been posted throughout France and Spain as temperatures stayed around 40 for days.

“Every heat wave that we are experiencing today has been made hotter and more frequent because of human-induced climate change,” said Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London. “We know this now after decades and centuries of climate research.”

Dr. Otto told a press briefing on Monday that recent heat waves in Canada, the United States, India and Europe have been far more intense than in the past. “We know how greenhouse gas molecules behave. We know that there are more in the atmosphere. The atmosphere is getting warmer and that means we’re expecting to see more frequent heat waves, hotter heat waves,” she said.

  • People sit covering their heads from the sun after a scaled down version of the Changing of the Guard ceremony took place outside Buckingham Palace, during hot weather in London.Matt Dunham/The Associated Press

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Studies have shown that “the likelihood of extremely hot days in the U.K. has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century,” Dr. Christidis said. He added that “the chances of seeing 40 C days in the U.K. could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence.”

Hannah Cloke, a natural-hazards researcher at the University of Reading, said that while temperatures across the U.K. are expected to cool later this week, the heat is likely to return. “I think that there is a strong risk of further heat waves across the world for the rest of the summer,” she said. “For Europe and the U.K. that’s pretty concerning.”

She and other scientists said the public doesn’t appreciate how deadly rising temperatures can be. “When we talk about heat waves they are really silent killers. I think that the scale of mortality is just not very well appreciated,” she said. “Severe heat waves will get worse so we can no longer tolerate poor design in our buildings and our cities. We need to think about shading, trees, public cooling spaces.”

Much of Eastern Hemisphere

in the grip of a heatwave

Much of Europe has been baking this summer as temperatures

soar past record highs and wildfires break out across France,

Spain and Portugal. Britain is bracing for 40 degrees on Tues-

day and scientists warn that climate change means similar

heat waves will become increasingly common. This map from

NASA, produced by combining observations with a version of

the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS), shows surface

air temperatures across most of the Eastern Hemisphere

on July 13, 2022.

Seville, Spain:

42.2˚C

Shanghai, China:

37.6˚C

Ahvaz, Iran

46.5˚C

Air temperature (˚C)

≤0

15

30

45≥

the globe and mail, Source: earthobservatory.

nasa.gov

Much of Eastern Hemisphere

in the grip of a heatwave

Much of Europe has been baking this summer as temperatures

soar past record highs and wildfires break out across France,

Spain and Portugal. Britain is bracing for 40 degrees on Tues-

day and scientists warn that climate change means similar

heat waves will become increasingly common. This map from

NASA, produced by combining observations with a version of

the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS), shows surface

air temperatures across most of the Eastern Hemisphere

on July 13, 2022.

Seville, Spain:

42.2˚C

Shanghai, China:

37.6˚C

Ahvaz, Iran

46.5˚C

Air temperature (˚C)

≤0

15

30

45≥

the globe and mail, Source: earthobservatory.

nasa.gov

Much of Eastern Hemisphere in the grip of a heatwave

Much of Europe has been baking this summer as temperatures soar past record highs and wildfires break

out across France, Spain and Portugal. Britain is bracing for 40 degrees on Tuesday and scientists warn that

climate change means similar heat waves will become increasingly common. This map from NASA, produced

by combining observations with a version of the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS), shows surface air

temperatures across most of the Eastern Hemisphere on July 13, 2022.

Seville, Spain:

42.2˚C

Shanghai, China:

37.6˚C

Ahvaz, Iran

46.5˚C

Air temperature (˚C)

≤0

15

30

45≥

the globe and mail, Source: earthobservatory.nasa.gov

Eunice Lo, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, told the briefing that over the past 10 years heat waves have been responsible for 2,000 extra deaths each year. “We definitely need to be aware of extreme heat,” she said.

But getting the public to equate heat waves with climate change is a challenge, said Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth. Hot weather is often just regarded as a fact of life in summer and people often point to previous heat waves, he said. “Part of the problem is that climate change is still regarded as a problem for the future. The problem is, it isn’t for the future, it’s for the here and now.”

The British government has been scrambling to respond to the weather warning. That’s partly because the governing Conservative Party is tied up in a race to find a successor to Boris Johnson, who has resigned as leader. Mr. Johnson is staying on as Prime Minister until a successor is chosen on Sept. 5 and he has appointed an interim cabinet.

With a report from the Associated Press

Spain and France are battling large wildfires with thousands evacuated from some regions. People headed to the beach as temperatures in England climbed into the high 30s, with a record-breaking temperature of 43 degrees forecast for Tuesday.

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