LONDON – For the first time on record, Britain suffered temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius – 104 degrees Fahrenheit – on Tuesday, as a severe heat wave moved north-west, leaving a trail of devastating fires, killing lives and horrendously sickening across Europe – with the new reality of extreme weather. Adaptable.
While the effects of the heat spread from Greece to Scotland, fire-ravaged France suffered the most damage. More than 2,000 firefighters have battled a blaze that has burned nearly 80 square miles of dry forest in the country’s southwestern Gironde region, forcing the evacuation of more than 37,000 people last week.
Temperatures dropped overnight Monday, but firefighters’ efforts were hampered by high winds, dry conditions and charred trees that sent burning embers through the air, further spreading the blaze.
“The climate is crazy,” said Matthew Jomain, a spokesman for the regional firefighter unit. “It’s an explosive cocktail.”
Spain, Italy and Greece have also endured major blazes, and in London, a series of grass fires spread around the capital on Tuesday afternoon, burning several homes – an ominous sign that the devastation could hopscotch the English Channel.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the city’s fire brigade was under “extreme pressure” and the brigade had declared a “major incident”, allowing it to focus its extra resources on serious incidents.
Temperatures in Paris reached 40.5 degrees Celsius or 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday. According to the National Weather Service, the city recorded temperatures above 40 only twice, in 1947 and 2019.
Britain had never recorded a 100-degree temperature before 2003, and until Tuesday, the record was set at 38.7 degrees Celsius, or 101.7, in Cambridge in 2019. The country made a bit of meteorological history before noon, when the thermometer in Charlewood, a village in Surrey north of Gatwick Airport, reached 39.1 Celsius – and then quickly surpassed that new record.
At Heathrow Airport, the mercury hit 40.2, breaking a barrier that once seemed unthinkable for a temperate, North Island – a record that was surpassed hours later when the Lincolnshire village of Coningsby reached 40.3 degrees, or 104.5 Fahrenheit.
at least 34 sites broke the old British record Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, including at least six that reached 40 Celsius, according to the National Weather Service. Scotland beat its old record of 32.9, with readings of 34.8 – 94.6 F at Charterhall.
Heat in recent years has continued a global pattern of leaps and bounds rather than breaking past records in small increments.
Amid Guinness Book-style excitement was an uneasy acknowledgment of the humanitarian cost of dangerous heat waves in the record collapse. Police in London say they have recovered a body from the River Thames and believe it is that of a 14-year-old boy who went missing while swimming on Monday.
As temperatures rise, so do fears for nursing home residents. Residential nursing homes are not equipped to deal with extreme heat. Many are housed in old or converted buildings without air conditioning It’s a particularly fraught issue in Britain, where critics say the government’s mismanagement of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic has led to unnecessary deaths.
Experts and staff members say more measures need to be taken to protect older people. According to the country’s health protection agency, people over 75 – living on their own or in a care home – are at risk of serious health complications from the heat.
“The last 48 hours have been unprecedented, so it’s a huge concern,” said Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives and Residents Association, a national charity for older people and their relatives in care homes. He said the agency’s help line was flooded with calls last week.
For most people, however, the second day of extraordinary heat mostly means the second day of disruption. Some public transport, many offices and some schools have been closed. The government urged people to continue working from home — a call many heeded again Tuesday — but for schools to remain open.
Network Rail, which runs the country’s rail system, issued a “do not travel” warning for trains passing through areas covered by “red” warnings issued by the Met Office. The red zone covers an area stretching from north of London to Manchester and York. Several train companies have canceled all northbound services from the capital.
Trains are particularly affected by the intense heat because the infrastructure — rails and overhead cables — aren’t built to deal with triple-digit temperatures. Those who were still running had severe speed restrictions. The London Underground, most of which is not air-conditioned, has also suspended some services.
Britain’s heat set a tumultuous backdrop for another big day in the intensifying, still-volatile race to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. The fourth round of voting for conservative lawmakers on Tuesday narrowed the field to three contenders; When there are only two, the winner will be selected by team member voting.
Rishi Sunak, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, won by 118 votes, putting him in the running for the next stage. Penny Mordant, a little-known junior trade minister who ran an unexpectedly strong campaign, came second with 92 votes, while acting Foreign Secretary Liz Truss came third with 86 votes.
With no candidate gaining new momentum and the three survivors relatively close to each other in the polls, analysts said it was impossible to predict which two would emerge from Wednesday’s next round of voting. A new leader and prime minister will be announced after party polls in early September.
With the uncertainty and record breaking heat there was a sense that Britain’s politics and weather were simultaneously entering uncharted territory.
Rarely has a political campaign seemed less connected to everyday reality. Climate change barely caught on in the debate between the candidates. To that extent, the candidates offered only qualified support for sticking to the goal of reaching “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“What it reveals is the gap between politicians and the public,” said Tom Burke, chairman of environmental think tank E3G and a former government adviser. “The recent sequence of climate events has vindicated science in the public mind, but politicians, especially on the right, don’t get it.”
Mr Burke said Conservative candidates were promising smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation. Any effective climate policy will require tougher regulations, state intervention and some high taxes, he said.
Britain, of course, is not the only county where climate policy has clashed with fears of falling living costs. In Washington, Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, cited rising inflation as a major reason he refused to agree on a comprehensive climate package with fellow Democrats and the White House.
“The cost-of-living crisis is really an excuse for inaction,” Mr. Burke said.
Britain may be a microcosm of the climate crisis, but it is being played out in countless other ways across Europe.
In France, authorities responded to this week’s dangerous situation with caution and contingency planning, hoping to avoid a repeat of the devastating death toll that hit the country in a 2003 heatwave. In August of that year, nearly 15,000 people died, many of them elderly residents in retirement homes that lacked air conditioning, shocking the public and fueling anger at a government seen as unprepared.
In Greece, thousands of residents were ordered to leave their homes on Tuesday as wildfires raged north of Athens. Although temperatures were not unusually high, dry conditions and strong winds fueled dozens of wildfires, the largest in the Mount Penteli area northeast of Athens.
According to The Associated Press, in the Netherlands, workers sprayed water on mechanical drawbridges over canals in Amsterdam to keep the metal inside them from expanding. It can also jam bridges, disrupting marine traffic.
Amidst all the gloom, there was a promise of relief: forecasters across Europe said the heat would ease its grip by midweek. In Britain, some rain was expected, and temperatures were forecast to stay below 80F in most parts of the country on Wednesday.
Reporting was contributed by Megan Spezia And Euan Ward in London, Aurelian Breeden in paris, Constant Méheut La Teste-de-Buche, France and Nikki Kitsantonis in athens