By Enyichukwu Enemanna
The United Kingdom weather office on Tuesday said Britain has shattered its record for highest temperature ever registered, with a provisional reading of 39.1 degree Celsius (102.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in Charlwood, England.
The highest temperature previously recorded in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), a record set in 2019.
This comes as the country battles heat wave that also scorched mainland Europe for the past week.
Travel, health care and schools were disrupted in a country not prepared for such extremes.
Parts of England are under a “red” alert, a warning for extreme heat that poses a risk of serious illness and even death among healthy people.
Hot weather has gripped large parts of the continent since last week, leading to wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans, causing hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames racing toward a French beach and Britons sweltering — even at the seaside — have driven home concerns about climate change.
Not long ago, Britain’s Supreme Court closed to visitors after a problem with the air conditioning forced it to move hearings online. The British Museum planned to close early.
Many public buildings, including hospitals don’t have air conditioning, a reflection of how unusual such extreme heat is in the country better known for rain and mild temperatures.
The UK’s Met Office weather agency said provisional figures showed the temperature remained above 25 C (77 F) overnight in parts of the country for the first time. Met Office forecaster Rachel Ayers said Tuesday’s highs would be “unprecedented.”
“The temperature will be very hot throughout the day, before rising as high as 40 C, maybe even 41 C in isolated spots across England during the afternoon,” she said.
That would break the record of 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019. The temperature Monday almost got there: 38.1 C (100.6 F) at Santon Downham in eastern England.
A huge chunk of England, from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north, remained under the country’s first warning of “extreme” heat Tuesday, meaning there is danger of death even for healthy people.
Many people coped with the heat wave by staying put. Road traffic was down from its usual levels on Monday. Trains ran at low speed out of concern rails could buckle, or did not run at all.
London’s Kings Cross Station, one of the country’s busiest rail hubs, was empty on Tuesday, with no trains on the busy east coast line connecting the capital to the north and Scotland. London’s Luton Airport had to close its runway because of heat damage.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain’s transport infrastructure, some of it dating from Victorian times, “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.”
At least five people were reported to have drowned across the U.K. in rivers, lakes and reservoirs while trying to cool off.
Climate experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that the likelihood of temperatures in the U.K. reaching 40 C (104 F) 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.