UK heatwave: Country braces for hottest day on record

People on Scarborough beach on WednesdayImage copyright Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Image caption In Scarborough people flocked to the beach to enjoy Wednesday’s hot weather

The UK is expecting its hottest day on record, with temperatures of up to 39C (102.2F) forecast in southern and eastern England.

It is already the hottest day of the year so far, with the mercury hitting 35.1C at Heathrow Airport.

Thousands of commuters have been hit by disruption in areas where trains are running a slower speed on tracks at risk of buckling.

Around 3,000 people in Bristol are without water after a water main burst.

Bristol Water said the burst might have been caused by the hot weather. Bottled water is being delivered to vulnerable people.

According to the Met Office, temperatures started steadily climbing from early morning and reached 31.6C at Heathrow Airport by 10:00 BST and Kew Gardens hit 34C before 12:00 BST.

Homeless charities are handing out water and sun cream to rough sleepers across the country and Public Health England has issued a level-three heat health watch for eastern areas of England.

The UK’s current highest ever temperature was recorded in August 2003 – 38.5C (101.3F).

But the extreme heat will not last for long, with the sunny weather giving way to storms.

A yellow warning for thunderstorms is in place from 15:00 BST on Thursday into early Friday morning.

The storms could trigger travel delays, flash flooding, and power cuts.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Beaches across England were packed, including at Boscombe beach, in Bournemouth

How is it impacting travellers?

Speed restrictions are in place on some train routes because of the high track temperatures.

Great Western has cancelled some trains between London, Cardiff and Swansea because of the heat and route between London and Scotland are also affected.

Network Rail, which manages the rail network infrastructure, says tracks can get up to 20C hotter than the air temperature.

Delays and cancellations are expected for journeys across the whole Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink networks until the end of the day.

Other rail companies, including Greater Anglia, East Midlands, LNER and Hull Trains are advising people not to travel.

Southeastern Railway is the latest to suggest customers avoid all but “absolutely necessary” travel.

Even those travelling by car could find their journey less enjoyable as FM and AM radio signals can be disrupted in hot weather.

This happens when heat causes the signals from local stations to travel further and cause interference outside their usual range.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The boating lake at Hyde Park proved to be a popular place for people to relax in the searing heat

What’s the forecast?

Temperatures topped 30C in south-east England on Wednesday. The highest recorded temperature was 34.4C (93.7F) at Writtle in Essex.

On Thursday, parts of Scotland could see temperatures close to 30C, while parts of Wales could also reach 30C. A weather front close to Northern Ireland will keep it cooler.

Later on Thursday, eastern Scotland and the north and east of England could see rain, with a Met Office yellow warning for thunderstorms in place from 15:00 BST on Thursday into early Friday morning.

There are warnings that the storms could trigger travel delays, flash flooding, and power cuts.

Heatwave hits Europe

On the continent Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands all recorded their highest ever temperatures on Wednesday.

A red alert has been issued for Thursday in Northern France – with temperatures of 41C forecast in Paris.

Belgian, German and Dutch temperature records could be broken for the second time in two days.

On Wednesday, a Eurostar train from Belgium to London broke down, trapping passengers, while French reports suggested five deaths might have been linked to the heatwave.

David Dehenauw, chief forecaster at the Royal Meteorological Institute in Belgium, said that a high of 40.2C (104F) was recorded on Thursday in the eastern city of Liege – the highest ever since records began.

Image copyright Press Association
Image caption The sun rises over a hill in Southam, Warwickshire

How to stay safe

People are being urged to help out vulnerable friends, relatives and strangers in the heat.

Age UK has issued guidance for older people to stay safe while homeless charities are handing out water and sun cream.

Public Health England has maintained a level three heat health watch for eastern areas of England.

Police have also warned of the risks of cooling off in open water, after three bodies – believed to be of swimmers – were recovered in London and Gloucestershire.

Britain is not used to such extreme temperatures, which means some people could be vulnerable to heat exhaustion.

The NHS recommends keeping all babies under six months out of direct sunlight, and older infants should be kept out of the sun as much as possible, particularly between 11:00 and 15:00.

They should be kept in the shade or under a sunshade if they’re in a buggy or pushchair. Sun cream with a high sun protection factor should be applied regularly – particularly if children are in water.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption A man enjoys an early morning kayaking session in Dover on Thursday

All children should be given plenty of fluids and the NHS says babies who are being breastfed may want to feed more than usual, but will not need water as well as breast milk.

NHS advice also says people should cool off immediately if they show the following symptoms: headaches, feeling dizzy, loss of appetite, nausea, excessive sweating, cramps, fast breathing and intense thirst. Read our handy advice page on how to deal with the heat here.

Is the heatwave caused by climate change?

While extreme weather events like heatwaves occur naturally, “research shows that with climate change they are likely to become more common, perhaps occurring as regularly as every other year“, the Met Office says.

It conducted a study last year that found that the UK was now 30 times more likely to experience heatwaves compared to the year 1750, because of “the higher concentration of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere”.

Records going back to the late 19th Century show that the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by about one degree since industrialisation.

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Media captionWhy is it so hot? And is climate change to blame?

A climatology institute in Potsdam, Germany, says Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 have all been in the 21st Century.

Scientists are concerned that rapid warming linked to use of fossil fuels has serious implications for the stability of the planet’s climate.

What are the UK’s current record temperatures?

The current record temperatures across the UK are:

  • England and UK: 38.5C (101.3F) in Faversham, Kent on 10 August 2003
  • Scotland: 32.9C (91.2F) in Greycrook, Borders on 9 August 2003
  • Wales: 35.2C (95.4F) in Harwarden Bridge, Flintshire on 2 August 1990
  • Northern Ireland: 30.8C (87.4F) in Knockarevan, County Fermanagh on 20 June 1976 and Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast on 12 July 1983

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