UK heatwave breaks records as Britons roast in 40C temperatures

The UK has recorded temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time in 350 years of climate records. The scorching heatwave is unprecedented in a country that is used to much cooler summer weather and portends more extremes to come.

The heat is so intense that it has cordoned off an airport runway, forcing London Luton Airport to temporarily suspend flights on Monday. Rail services in parts of the UK came to a standstill as tracks also buckled or overheated, and overhead wires failed and even caught fire. In 48 hours, England and Wales were battling twice as many wildfires as throughout July last year. Withered grass turned to tinder, sparkling flames which threatened homes around London today.

The UK’s first-ever ‘Red Extreme’ heat warning was issued in parts of England yesterday, and temperatures soared even higher today. A scorching 40.2 Celsius was recorded at Heathrow Airport near London at 12.50pm and was quickly beaten by a temperature reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius some 225 km (140 miles) further north at Coningsby. These figures have yet to be verified, but the UK says at least 29 places have documented temperatures beating the previous UK record of 38.7C set in 2019.

The heat was so extreme that the Sky News broadcaster literally turned into news from the sky, setting up a 10+ hour live broadcast of the Sun as it streaked across the sky.

Some relief is on the way, in the form of thunderstorms sweeping through parts of the UK today and tomorrow. At the end of the week, the Met Office expects cooler air to bring temperatures “closer to normal” for this time of year. In London, that means temperatures in the 20s. (That’s 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit for American readers).

Still, the effects of this week’s brutal heat wave warn of the number of places – including generally colder regions like the UK – that will have to adapt to a warming climate. “Here in the UK, we are used to treating a hot spell as a chance to go play in the sun. It’s not that kind of weather,” said Penny Endersby, chief executive of the Met Office, in a video message recorded last week, “Our lifestyles and infrastructure are not suited to what is to come.”

Other parts of the world are equally stifling. Record temperatures are predicted for the central United States this week, placing tens of millions of people on heat alert. More than 1,100 people have already died from the heat in Spain and Portugal last week. Spain, Portugal and France have all been battling wildfires out of control during the extreme heat.

From space, a European weather satellite was able to capture a rare, nearly cloud-free image of nearly the entire continent on Monday as the sun beat down on residents without much of a filter.

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