The British government held an emergency response meeting over the weekend. Officials were planning for record high temperatures this week. UK weather authorities issued their first-ever “red” warning for extreme heat.
Britain is unaccustomed to such heat. Usually, summer weather is moderate. Across the UK, average July temperatures range from a daily high of 70º Fahrenheit (F) to a low of 53º F. Few homes, apartments, schools, or small businesses in the country have air conditioning.
Hot weather has gripped southern Europe since last week, triggering wildfires in France, Spain, and Portugal. Almost 600 heat-related deaths have been reported in the latter two countries. Temperatures there reached 117º F last week.
The alert covers large parts of England today and tomorrow, when temperatures may reach 104º F for the first time. The high temps could pose a risk of serious illness and even death among healthy people, according to the country’s weather service.
The British heat record is 101.7º F, set in 2019.
Train operators advise passengers not to travel on Monday and Tuesday unless absolutely necessary. Schools and nursing homes have been urged to take steps to protect students and the elderly. Children and older people are especially vulnerable to high temperatures. Most schools in England are still in session until the end of the week. Some schools have closed. Others are setting up wading pools and water sprays to help children cool off.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan met with representatives of the National Health Service, police, fire, and other emergency services on Friday. The group gathered to ensure that plans were in place to deal with the heat emergency.
One doctor warned that the upcoming heat wave and a surge in COVID-19 infections are a nightmare for health workers.
“A lot of hospital buildings are very old, particularly in London, and many don’t have air conditioning and windows that don’t open—so they are extremely hot,’’ says Dr. Claire Bronze, an emergency room consultant in London. “Some staff still have to wear PPE [personal protective equipment]—so plastic gowns, masks, gloves—on top of their normal uniform which, as you can imagine, means people are quickly going to get very hot and dehydrated.”
(Passengers queue for ferries at the Port of Dover during the hot weather in Kent, England, on July 16, 2022. Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)