The blistering heat that last week brought travel chaos and record temperatures to Britain reveal the nation’s vulnerability to changes in weather patterns in regions far from our shores.
That was a key message outlined by climate experts after the nation recorded its hottest ever July – thanks to the arrival of heated air carried on atmospheric currents from Africa to the British Isles.
“Although the average rise of global temperature is around 1.0C compared with pre-industrial times, we mustn’t forget the rise isn’t even across the globe, as some regions have warmed more than others,” said Dr Peter Stott, of the Met Office.
“Temperatures in parts of North Africa, for example, have risen by around 2.0C. This can have a marked effect on UK weather, because the weather patterns, like the one we have seen last week, can bring a stronger signal of climate change with it too, boosting temperatures. The UK receives influences from other neighbouring regions, and as many of these are warming at a faster rate than the UK our climate can receive a greater boost from climate change.”
Temperatures passed 25C for three days last week, which means that the hot spell could officially be classified as a heatwave. Fears that rail lines would buckle in the heat led to severe speed restrictions being imposed on many lines, bringing disruption that is still affecting some services. At the same time the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany all experienced record high temperatures last week. In Paris temperatures soared to 42.6C on Thursday, surpassing the city’s previous highest by more than 2C.
However, it is still unclear if the UK also experienced its hottest-ever day on Thursday. Provisional figures released by the Met Office on Friday indicated that a peak of 38.7C had been experienced at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. Britain’s previous high was 38.5C, reached in 2003 in Faversham. The Met Office has refused to confirm the new record UK temperature until it has double-checked its instruments there. This will be done this week, said a spokesman. Most experts expect the reading will stand as a new record, however.
“The fact that Thursday’s maximum temperature in Cambridge was the highest ever seen in Britain is an indication of just how dangerous to people these heatwaves can be,” added Professor Hannah Cloke, of Reading University. “At such high temperatures, every extra degree is potentially the difference between life and death to vulnerable people.
Last week’s conditions were described as “weather on steroids” by Dr Karsten Haustein, of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. “The UK could have reached 40C last week, but cloud cover during the afternoon prevented it. What this short but intense episode has shown is that the potential for 40C is there.
“While we don’t know when it will happen for the first time, it is very probable that it is eventually going to happen if climate change continues unabated.”
This point was backed by meteorologist Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, at Reading University. “There are a huge range of physical processes which contributed to the temperature extremes we saw last week. These include both the large-scale weather patterns that brought the warm air mass over the UK and Europe, but also the smaller-scale, local transfers of energy which can be affected by the presence of clouds and the structure of the layer of air nearest to the Earth’s surface.”
UK temperatures could hit 40C, warn weather experts – The Guardian