People in Whitstable, Kent, took to the beach Tuesday as Britain recorded its highest temperature in history. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
July 20 (UPI) -- Cooler weather returned to the United Kingdom on Wednesday, one day after a historic and unprecedented heat wave sent temperatures to levels never before seen in the country.
The extraordinary heat forced travel disruptions and contributed to an outbreak of house and building fires around London, which Mayor Sadiq Khan said resulted in the busiest day for the London Fire Brigade since World War II.
"London's green spaces are still dry and pose a threat," Khan wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "Please do not put each other in danger -- that means no barbecues and being mindful about cigarettes and glass. Please do your part to relieve the pressure on our emergency services and keep each other safe."
The U.K. surpassed 104 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever Tuesday when a temperature of 104.4 degrees was recorded at London's Heathrow Airport. That high was eclipsed a short time later farther north in the village of Coningsby, England, when the temperature hit 104.5 degrees F, according to the U.K. Met Office, the country's official weather service.
The record was initially set Tuesday in the village of Charlwood, England, located in the southeastern part of the country, when the temperature reached 102.4 degrees F.
The previous all-time record in the U.K. prior to Tuesday was established when a temperature of 102 degrees F was recorded in Cambridge Botanic Garden on July 25, 2019. At least 34 total observation sites climbed higher than the 2019 record by late Tuesday, according to the Met Office.
Khan pointed to the extreme heat as a "direct consequence" of the ongoing climate emergency the world faces.
"We need to be dealing with the causes of this crisis now, or it is only going to get drastically worse," he said.
London's Ambulance Service said it received about one emergency call every 13 seconds on Monday and Tuesday, with Tuesday resulting in a "ten-fold increase in incidents related to heat exposure compared to last week, and an 8% increase in people fainting." The service said Wednesday it received more than 13,000 emergency calls during the excessive heat.
The U.K. Met Office issued a red extreme heat warning for the first time ever late last week for parts of southern and central England, while an amber extreme heat warning covered a larger area that included parts of Wales and Scotland. Red is the highest level of weather alert on the country's tiered warning system.
In a country where air conditioning is not widespread, Britons flocked to the beaches and spent time jumping into fountains, lakes and rivers to cool off this week. Brighton Beach, located on the southeastern coast of England, was mobbed as thousands flocked to the coast to seek relief.
The cooler weather on Wednesday was thanks to clouds and storms passing through the country, but temperatures were still forecast to hit above normal in some areas, including London. Temperatures in London typically climb to around 70 degrees F during the middle of July, but the English capital was forecast to reach 80 degrees F on Wednesday.
"We see heat waves in the U.K. like other countries, but to see temperatures go above 40 degrees Celsius, I never thought I would see that here in the U.K. in my lifetime," Liz Bentley, chief executive of Britain's Royal Meteorological Society, said in an AccuWeather Prime interview Tuesday as the heat wave culminated.
Bentley added that "climate change definitely has a fingerprint over this particular heat event in western Europe."
Officials were forced to shut down London's Luton Airport for a time Monday because its only runway had "melted," according to The Guardian. Royal Air Force flights out of Brize North air base in Oxfordshire were also halted due to a warped runway.
The heat also brought a decline in air quality in the U.K. as high pressure over the country trapped pollutants in the lower layers of the atmosphere, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
Individual all-time records were also set in Wales and Scotland this week. In Wales, temperatures reached 98.8 degrees F in Hawarden, located in the northern part of the country, exceeding the previous record high of 95 degrees F, which was set Aug. 2, 1990, in Hawarden Bridge, Flintshire.
The Scottish high-temperature record was smashed on Tuesday when Charterhall, located near the border with England, soared to 95 degrees F. If confirmed, this temperature would eclipse the previous maximum high-temperature record in Scotland of 91 degrees F set Aug. 9, 2003.
Ireland and Northern Ireland avoided the worst of the extreme heat. The position of the jet stream over the U.K. played a large role in sparing them from the brutal temperatures that plagued much of England this week. Although the dome of high pressure that gripped much of Europe still brought temperatures between 10 and 15 degrees F above average to parts of Northern Ireland and Ireland, it did not extend far enough north to bring the worst of the heat, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
Even though the heat eased in Ireland and the U.K., dangerously high temperatures persisted elsewhere in Europe.
"AccuWeather meteorologists continue to highlight that while the hot spell has now eased across the U.K. and Ireland, as we had accurately forecast, dangerous extreme heat will continue further south and east into the weekend -- notably across parts of Germany, Poland, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria," AccuWeather chief meteorologist Jonathan Porter said. "Additionally, heat will persist across Portugal, Spain, southern France to Northern Italy over the coming days. Lives will continue to be threatened by the extreme heat."
The heat that scorched the U.K. was part of a massive, deadly heat wave that baked Europe for more than a week. The heat expanded across the Iberian Peninsula and portions of southeastern Europe before surging across the U.K. on Monday and Tuesday. More than 1,000 deaths were blamed on the heat in Spain and Portugal, according to ABC News. Temperatures soared well above 100 degrees F in Portugal with the town of Pinhão reaching 116 degrees F on Friday.
Record highs were also set in the Netherlands and France. The daily record high was broken in Maastricht, Netherlands, on Tuesday when the station spiked to 103 degrees F. Many locations across France soared higher than 104 F throughout the week, setting all-time July records. The coastal town of Biscarrosse, France, reached up to 108 degrees F on Monday, breaking the town's all-time record.
Thousands of people in southwestern France were forced to flee as dangerous wildfires erupted. Over 39,000 French residents have been evacuated from their homes this week, with 8,000 people from the Gironde region alone, due to nearby wildfires that reportedly consumed over 44,800 acres. A least 2,000 firefighters were diligently working to extinguish the flames across the region earlier this week.
"This is just the latest in a series of significant heat waves that have been experienced in Europe over recent years," Gerald Fleming, a longtime meteorologist for RTÉ Television, Ireland's national broadcaster, told AccuWeather. "It seems now that high temperature records are being broken every few years."
Fleming pointed to the densely populated areas around southern England and said those locations have the added problem of being subjected to the urban heat island effect during periods of extreme heat.
"Climate change is now directly affecting the temperate zones of the developed world, the affluent world," Fleming said. "We are getting just a small taste of the climate challenges that the developing world is trying to cope with."