Britain’s new record high doesn’t last for long
By Mark Landler
Britain made meteorological history several times over Tuesday, when the thermometer in Surrey recorded a provisional reading of 39.1 degrees Celsius (102.4 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest level ever recorded in the United Kingdom.
The record in Surrey, set at 10:40 a.m., was quickly surpassed. About two hours later, the Met Office, Britain’s national weather service, said the provisional temperature at Heathrow Airport had hit 40.2 Celsius (104.4 Fahrenheit). If confirmed, it would be the first time that the temperature in Britain had exceeded 40 degrees Celsius.
By the afternoon, several spots in England had also reached that threshold, or were very close to it: 40.2 in Coningsby in eastern England; 40.1 at Kew Gardens in London; 39.9 in Cambridge.
Unusual heat has caused misery in other parts of Europe as well. In France and Spain, firefighters have been battling wildfires that have gobbled up forest and brush and in some places forced evacuations. On Tuesday, more than 2,000 firefighters were facing off against a blaze in the southwest that has forced 37,000 people from their homes this week.
One fire official called the area “a real powder keg,” as winds still fanned the flames even as some cool ocean air began to push the hot air away.
In Britain, the second day of extraordinary heat means a second day of disruptions for a country that is not equipped for it. The government urged people to continue to work from home — a call that many heeded Tuesday — but for schools to stay open — a plea that some districts had ignored Monday, sending students home.
Network Rail, which operates the country’s rail system, issued a “do not travel” warning for trains that run through areas covered by a “red” warning issued by the Met Office. That covers a large section of the country, stretching from London north to Manchester and York. Several train companies said they planned to cancel all service running north from the capital.
Trains are particularly affected by high heat because the infrastructure — rails and overhead wires — is not built to cope with extremely hot temperatures. Those that are still running are subject to speed restrictions. The London Underground, most of which does not have air conditioning, has also suspended some of its service.
Amid all the sweltering, there was a promise of relief: Temperatures were forecast to plunge to the high 20s Celsius (low 80s Fahrenheit) by Wednesday.