U.K. breaks record for hottest day ever as heat wave sparks national emergency

·Producer
·6-min read

LONDON — The U.K. broke its record for the hottest day ever on Tuesday as a heat wave continues to scorch Europe.

The heat wave that settled over southern Europe last week moved north, bringing with it boiling temperatures that are breaking records and causing a national emergency in the U.K.

A man walks past a movie theater in central London.
A movie theater marquee in London suggests an escape from extreme temps as the U.K. hit its hottest day on record on Tuesday. (Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)

According to provisional figures, temperatures of 40.2°C (104.4°F) were documented at Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, in the south of England, surpassing the previous record of 38.7°C (101.7°F) in 2019.

Putting the boiling temperatures into a “global perspective,” meteorologist Ben Noll said the highest forecast temperature in Britain, predicted to be 41°C (106°F), “would be hotter than 98.8% of Earth.”

“The hottest UK temperatures on Tuesday are expected to be about 30°C warmer than the global average maximum temperature,” the meteorologist wrote. “In other words, it’s very anomalous on a global scale.”

Passersby walk by a sign that reads: 18-19 July, extreme heat, only travel if essential.
A sign in London on Tuesday. (Sebastian Gollnow/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Ahead of Tuesday’s heat wave, the Health Security Agency issued for the first time a Level 4 alert, its highest-level heat warning, and Britain’s Met Office issued its first red warning for severe weather, indicating a “national emergency.” The sweltering heat threatens to buckle railway lines and deplete reservoirs.

There were disruptions to flights at two airports on Monday after the heat caused “surface defects” on Luton Airport’s runway and caused the tarmac at the Royal Air Force’s station in Brize Norton to melt.

A map shows temperatures 2 meters above the surface.
A map shows temperatures 2 meters above the surface. (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts)

If London reaches its forecast temperature of 41°C (106°F), it will be among the hottest places in Europe — warmer than cities closer to the equator.

Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, declared a major incident after a “huge surge in fires across the capital” on Tuesday. The London Fire Brigade dispatched hundreds of firefighters and dozens of fire engines in a bid to control the flames. “This is critical: @LondonFire is under immense pressure. Please be safe,” Khan tweeted. “I’m in touch with the Commissioner and will share updates when I have them.”

Smoke from a series of grass fires in Wennington, England.
Smoke from a series of grass fires in Wennington, England, on Tuesday. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Smoke in the village of Wennington, on the edge of London.
Smoke in the village of Wennington, on the edge of London. (Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

Photos and footage circulating on social media of a fire in Dartford shows plumes of smoke rising into clear blue skies as acres of trees burn. Five people, including a 14-year-old, reportedly drowned while swimming in open water during the heat wave.

A fire burns in Rainham, a village in East London.
A fire burns in Rainham, a village in East London, on Tuesday. (Tony O'Brien/Reuters)

“I know that on days like today when temperatures are at a record high, it might look appealing to jump in and cool off in rivers, reservoirs, lakes or other open water,” said Superintendent Richard Smith of the Metropolitan Police’s South West Command Unit. “Please don’t. The dangers are real, and this evening in Richmond we have seen the terrible consequences of what happens when it goes wrong.”

On Monday, the record for nighttime temperature was broken after 25.8°C (78.4°F) was documented, beating the previous record of 23.9°C (75°F), and the record for the highest daily minimum temperature was also broken, with some areas not falling below 25°C (77°F).

A guard outside Buckingham Palace receives a drink of water.
A guard outside Buckingham Palace receives a drink of water on Monday. (John Sibley/Reuters)

Prince Charles, an advocate for taking action against climate change, spoke out about the “alarming temperatures” hitting Britain. “As I have tried to indicate for quite some time, the climate crisis really is a genuine emergency, and tackling it is utterly essential — for ... the country and the rest of the world,” he said Monday.

Elsewhere in Europe, extreme heat warnings were issued in France, while on Monday, Spain recorded temperatures of 43°C (109°F).

A sign at London’s King’s Cross railway station on Tuesday warns of train cancellations due to the heat.
A sign at London’s King’s Cross railway station on Tuesday warns of train cancellations due to the heat. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

Over the past few days, firefighters have been battling wildfires in Spain, Portugal, France, Greece and Croatia. Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes as fires continue to burn amid soaring temperatures. In Spain alone, almost 75,000 acres across the country have been destroyed. In France, some 32,000 tourists and residents were forced to move to emergency shelters. Across southern Europe, it is estimated that around 1,100 have died from heat-wave-related causes.

And the ferocious heat wave is continuing to move farther north toward Scandinavia. On Wednesday, temperatures in Sweden, a country that typically reaches highs of 21.9°C (71.4°F) in July, were forecast to peak at 35°C (95°F). Sweden’s Nordic neighbor, Norway, is also expected to reach around 30°C (86°F), setting a new record high.

Firefighters at La Teste-de-Buch, in southwestern France.
Firefighters at La Teste-de-Buch, in southwestern France, late Monday. (SDIS 33 via AP)

More images from Europe's heat wave

Sunbathers at Fistral Beach in Newquay, England.
Sunbathers in Newquay, England, on Monday. (Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)
A digital thermometer shows a reading of 34°C (93.2°F) at Oxford Circus station in London.
A thermometer shows a reading of 34°C (93.2°F) at Oxford Circus station in London on Monday. (Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
People turn out to watch the sunrise at Cullercoats Bay in North Tyneside as temperatures are predicted to hit 40°C (104°F).
People turn out to watch the sunrise at Cullercoats Bay in North Tyneside, England. (Owen Humphreys/PA Wire via ZUMA Press)
A dog cools off in front of the Viersen train station in Germany.
A dog cools off in front of the Viersen train station in Germany on Tuesday. (Lukas Fortkord/picture alliance via Getty Images)
A man and his son cool down in the spray coming from water hoses in the city of Cologne, in western Germany.
A man and his son cool down in the city of Cologne, Germany, on Monday. (Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)
A garden thermometer shows a temperature reading close to 40°C (104°F) in Schwerin, Germany.
A garden thermometer shows a temperature reading close to 40°C (104°F) in Schwerin, Germany, on Tuesday. (Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images)
A man riding the Bakerloo line in central London uses a newspaper as a fan.
A man riding the Bakerloo line in London uses a newspaper as a fan on Monday. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
A boy splashes himself in a fountain amid the heat wave.
A boy splashes himself in a fountain in Brussels on Tuesday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
A plane dumps fire retardant onto a wildfire near El Pont de Vilomara, in Catalonia, Spain.
A plane dumps fire retardant onto a wildfire near El Pont de Vilomara, Spain, on Monday. (Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images)
Meerkats eat iced melon treats with beetle larvae at a zoo in Rome.
Meerkats eat iced melon treats with beetle larvae at a zoo in Rome on Tuesday. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)
Stranded boats on the dried-out shore of Lac Brenet in Switzerland.
Stranded boats on the dried-out shore of Lac Brenet in Switzerland on Monday. (Anthony Anex/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

_____

Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades. Step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting