LONDON — The U.K. broke its record for the hottest day ever on Tuesday as a heat wave continues to scorch Europe.
The heat wave that settled over southern Europe last week moved north, bringing with it boiling temperatures that are breaking records and causing a national emergency in the U.K.
According to provisional figures, temperatures of 40.2°C (104.4°F) were documented at Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, in the south of England, surpassing the previous record of 38.7°C (101.7°F) in 2019.
Putting the boiling temperatures into a “global perspective,” meteorologist Ben Noll said the highest forecast temperature in Britain, predicted to be 41°C (106°F), “would be hotter than 98.8% of Earth.”
“The hottest UK temperatures on Tuesday are expected to be about 30°C warmer than the global average maximum temperature,” the meteorologist wrote. “In other words, it’s very anomalous on a global scale.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s heat wave, the Health Security Agency issued for the first time a Level 4 alert, its highest-level heat warning, and Britain’s Met Office issued its first red warning for severe weather, indicating a “national emergency.” The sweltering heat threatens to buckle railway lines and deplete reservoirs.
There were disruptions to flights at two airports on Monday after the heat caused “surface defects” on Luton Airport’s runway and caused the tarmac at the Royal Air Force’s station in Brize Norton to melt.
If London reaches its forecast temperature of 41°C (106°F), it will be among the hottest places in Europe — warmer than cities closer to the equator.
Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, declared a major incident after a “huge surge in fires across the capital” on Tuesday. The London Fire Brigade dispatched hundreds of firefighters and dozens of fire engines in a bid to control the flames. “This is critical: @LondonFire is under immense pressure. Please be safe,” Khan tweeted. “I’m in touch with the Commissioner and will share updates when I have them.”
Photos and footage circulating on social media of a fire in Dartford shows plumes of smoke rising into clear blue skies as acres of trees burn. Five people, including a 14-year-old, reportedly drowned while swimming in open water during the heat wave.
“I know that on days like today when temperatures are at a record high, it might look appealing to jump in and cool off in rivers, reservoirs, lakes or other open water,” said Superintendent Richard Smith of the Metropolitan Police’s South West Command Unit. “Please don’t. The dangers are real, and this evening in Richmond we have seen the terrible consequences of what happens when it goes wrong.”
On Monday, the record for nighttime temperature was broken after 25.8°C (78.4°F) was documented, beating the previous record of 23.9°C (75°F), and the record for the highest daily minimum temperature was also broken, with some areas not falling below 25°C (77°F).
Prince Charles, an advocate for taking action against climate change, spoke out about the “alarming temperatures” hitting Britain. “As I have tried to indicate for quite some time, the climate crisis really is a genuine emergency, and tackling it is utterly essential — for ... the country and the rest of the world,” he said Monday.
Elsewhere in Europe, extreme heat warnings were issued in France, while on Monday, Spain recorded temperatures of 43°C (109°F).
Over the past few days, firefighters have been battling wildfires in Spain, Portugal, France, Greece and Croatia. Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes as fires continue to burn amid soaring temperatures. In Spain alone, almost 75,000 acres across the country have been destroyed. In France, some 32,000 tourists and residents were forced to move to emergency shelters. Across southern Europe, it is estimated that around 1,100 have died from heat-wave-related causes.
And the ferocious heat wave is continuing to move farther north toward Scandinavia. On Wednesday, temperatures in Sweden, a country that typically reaches highs of 21.9°C (71.4°F) in July, were forecast to peak at 35°C (95°F). Sweden’s Nordic neighbor, Norway, is also expected to reach around 30°C (86°F), setting a new record high.
More images from Europe's heat wave