London set to bake in more 40-degree days as planet warms

Record-setting temperatures in the UK join dangerous heat waves this summer across the world in places ranging from Texas to China  and western Europe.
Image: Bloomberg

Temperatures in London and the south of England might hit a record-setting 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) next week, hotter than the forecast in Madrid, Rome or Marseille. The English may have to get used to the sweltering heat.

Record-setting temperatures in the UK join dangerous heat waves this summer across the world in places ranging from Texas to China  and western Europe. Britain’s track record of extreme heat events follows the rising level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As long as the world continues to burn more coal, oil and natural gas to power homes, vehicles and industry, the likelihood of more frequent heat waves only increases.

Heat waves in the UK are a relatively recent phenomenon. An official definition has only been around for a few years and the Met Office recently raised the threshold for declaring a heat wave as British temperatures reach new heights. All of the country’s 10 warmest years have occurred since 2002, according to data from the Met Office going back to 1884. England’s current temperature record — 38.7°C set at the Cambridge Botanic Garden on July 25, 2019 — is likely to be surpassed next week.

The Met Office has warned that next week’s heat may be deadly. Extreme temperatures can be particularly risky for elderly people, young children and people with respiratory issues. In recent years, heat has killed an increasing number of people in the UK. Public Health England estimates there were 2,556 excess deaths across a series of three heat waves in 2020, the highest number since 2004, when the country introduced a plan to mitigate the effects of hot days. Notably, 2020 also was the first time there were deaths among people younger than 65.

As the risk of overheating rises, people in England will need to take extra precautions to stay safe. At home, some rooms are more at risk of overheating than others. Conservatories that are made up of large panels of glass magnify the heat. Converted loft spaces in the top floor of buildings also are at particular risk of reaching uncomfortable or even dangerous temperatures.

The National Health Service “has known for a long time that climate change was increasing the risks of serious harm to the health of the public, but we really didn’t think we’d be having to prepare for this kind of extreme heat so soon,” said Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. “If we do not act as a matter of urgency, this sort of dangerous weather episode will become a regular occurrence.”

© 2022 Bloomberg

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