Britain’s Met Office has issued its first ever “red” warning for exceptional heat, saying record temperatures expected early next week will put even healthy people at risk of serious illness and death.
The warning covers Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in England may reach 40 C for the first time, the meteorological agency said. The highest temperature ever recorded in the U.K. is 38.7 C, set in 2019.
“We hoped we wouldn’t get to this situation but for the first time ever we are forecasting greater than 40 C in the U.K.,” said Nikos Christidis, a Met Office scientist.
“In a recent study we found that the likelihood of extremely hot days in the U.K. has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century, with the most extreme temperatures expected to be observed in the southeast of England.”
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It’s the first red warning under the Met Office’s extreme heat warning system, which was introduced in 2021.
The U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) increased its own alert to the highest level, warning of a “national emergency.”
“At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups,” UKHSA said.
The two agencies issued lower-level warnings earlier this week as large parts of the U.K. experienced higher than normal temperatures, although cooler weather prevailed Thursday and Friday. Temperatures are expected to build over the weekend before peaking Monday and Tuesday.
Heat shows urgent need to adapt: climate expert
The weather alert, which covers a big chunk of England from London north to Manchester, also warns of potential disruption to air and rail travel and potential localized “loss of power and other essential services, such as water or mobile phone services.”
Met Office spokesperson Grahame Madge called the situation “very serious.”
“If people have vulnerable relatives or neighbours, now is the time to make sure they’re putting suitable measures in place to be able to cope with the heat,” he said. “Because if the forecast is as we think it will be in the red warning area, then people’s lives are at risk.”
Hannah Cloke, climate expert at Britain’s University of Reading, said the heat wave showed climate change was here and there was an urgent need to adapt.
“It’s harder to cope with these types of temperatures in the U.K. because we’re just not used to them,” she told Reuters. “We don’t have the houses designed to keep cool, we don’t have air conditioning, and our infrastructure is not built for the heat at all.”
Several European countries battle wildfires
As the searing heat sweeps the continent, hundreds more people were evacuated from their homes amid blistering wildfires in France, Spain and Portugal on Friday.
More than 1,000 firefighters, supported by water-bomber aircraft, have battled since Tuesday to control two blazes in southwestern France that have been fanned by scorching heat, tinder-box conditions and strong winds.
More than 7,000 hectares of land have been consumed by the fires, according to the regional emergency service.
In Spain, the Environment Ministry said it was helping tackle 17 wildfires across the country.
In the Spanish city of Seville, one of the hottest spots in Europe this week, some unions called for workers to be sent home. Temperatures in many parts of Spain have been topping the 40 C mark for several days and are expected to continue to do so through to next week.
While temperatures dipped a little in Portugal, they were still expected to top 40 C in some places, with five districts on red alert and more than 1,000 firefighters tackling 17 wildfires, authorities said.
Some hospitals overwhelmed
Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido said on Thursday the health system faced a “particularly worrying” week due to the heat wave and said some hospitals were overwhelmed.
From July 7 to July 13, Portugal registered 238 excess deaths due to the heat wave, the country’s health authority said.
Spain registered 84 excess deaths attributable to extreme temperatures in the first three days of the heatwave, according to the National Epidemiology Centre’s database.
Italy hit by drought
Meanwhile, the worst drought in over 70 years reduced Italy’s longest river, the Po, to little more than a trickle in places.
Italy has declared a state of emergency along the Po, which supports about a third of the country’s agricultural production, after facing its hottest July since 1800, with temperatures expected to rise next week.