LONDON (AP) — Millions of people in Britain woke from the country’s warmest-ever night on Tuesday and braced for a day when temperatures could break records, as a heat wave scorching Europe walloped a country not built for such extremes.
Unusually hot, dry weather has gripped large swaths of the continent since last week, triggering wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans and leading to hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames racing toward a French beach and Britons sweltering – even at the seaside – have driven home concerns about climate change.
Britain’s Supreme Court closed to visitors after a problem with the air conditioning forced it to move hearings online. The British Museum planned to close early. Many public buildings, including hospitals don’t have air conditioning, a reflection of how unusual such extreme heat is in the country better known for rain and mild temperatures.
The U.K.’s Met Office weather agency said provisional figures showed the temperature remained above 25 C (77 F) overnight in parts of the country for the first time. Met Office forecaster Rachel Ayers said Tuesday’s highs would be “unprecedented.”
“The temperature will be very hot throughout the day, before rising as high as 40 C, maybe even 41 C in isolated spots across England during the afternoon,” she said.
That would break the record of 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019. The temperature Monday almost got there: 38.1 C (100.6 F) at Santon Downham in eastern England.
A huge chunk of England, from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north, remained under the country’s first warning of “extreme” heat Tuesday, meaning there is danger of death even for healthy people.
Many people coped with the heat wave by staying put. Road traffic was down from its usual levels on Monday. Trains ran at low speed out of concern rails could buckle, or did not run at all. London’s Kings Cross Station, one of the country’s busiest rail hubs, was empty on Tuesday, with no trains on the busy east coast line connecting the capital to the north and Scotland. London’s Luton Airport had to close its runway because of heat damage.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain’s transport infrastructure, some of it dating from Victorian times, “just wasn’t built to withstand this type of temperature – and it will be many years before we can replace infrastructure with the kind of infrastructure that could.”
At least five people were reported to have drowned across the U.K. in rivers, lakes and reservoirs while trying to cool off.
Climate experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that the likelihood of temperatures in the U.K. reaching 40 C (104 F) is now 10 times higher than in the pre-industrial era. Drought and heat waves tied to climate change have also made wildfires harder to fight.
The dangers of extreme heat were on display in southern Europe. At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in the heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 C (117 F) earlier this month.
In the Gironde region of southwestern France, ferocious wildfires continued to spread through tinder-dry pines forests, frustrating firefighting efforts by more than 2,000 firefighters and water-bombing planes.
More than 37,000 people have been evacuated from homes and summer vacation spots since the fires broke out July 12 and burned through 190 square kilometers (more than 70 square miles) of forests and vegetation, Gironde authorities said.
A smaller third fire broke out late Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux, further taxing firefighting resources. Five camping sites went up in flames in the Atlantic coast beach zone where blazes raged, around the Arcachon maritime basin famous for its oysters and resorts.
But weather forecasts offered some consolation, with heat-wave temperatures expected to ease along the Atlantic seaboard Tuesday and the possibility of rains rolling in late in the day.
Associated Press Writer John Leicester in Le Pecq, France contributed to this story.
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