I can’t believe what I’m reading. The United Kingdom Met Office (UK Met Office) is forecasting unprecedented temperatures in the early part of next week. This is essentially their version U.S. National Weather Service. A Press release, the organization writes, “For the first time temperatures of 40°C have been forecast in the UK and the Met Office has issued the first ever Red warning for exceptional heat.” If you don’t speak in Celsius that translates to air temperatures of 104°F. That’s quite extreme for Georgia where I am located, but for the UK it is unchartered territory. Most homes don’t have air conditioning units so this sets up a potentially deadly scenario.
The UK uses a color-coded heat risk alertSystem. This week, red has not been used before. According to the Met Office, high pressure has been the predominant meteorological factor that is associated with Europe’s heat. However, a slight shift of the pattern will allow southerly flows to be able to advect higher temperatures further northward on the continent. To give context, I’ve been following UK-based meteorologists. Paul Knigtley. He recently tweeted, “37C – what context can we ascribe to reaching or exceed this in the UK? This is the longest UK temperature record. It has been achieved only four times in the past: August 3, 1990, Aug 10, 2003, July 25, 2019, and July 31, 2020. Note that none are before 1990, and 3 are since 2000.”
Met Office climate scientist Dr Nikos Christidis said, “In a recent study we found that the likelihood of extremely hot days in the UK has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century, with the most extreme temperatures expected to be observed in the southeast of England.” Under normal circumstances, according to the Met Office, temperatures above 40°C somewhere in the UK would be have return intervals of between 100 and 300 years. Climate change could reduce this interval to fifteen years by 2100.
What concerns me is that most homes in the UK don’t have air conditioning. A 2008 reportIt was found that only 0.5% UK homes had air conditioning. Recent numbers have been lowered to around 3%, according to James Cosgrove (UK-based meteorologist and disaster modeler). It’s much more common at work than in homes. My thoughts keep returning to 2003. European HeatwaveAccording to multiple assessments, it killed around 30,000 people. Britannica.com notes, “Even nightly temperatures were higher than the average summer midday highs….heat was particularly severe in France, where the temperature remained around 99 °F (37 °C) for more than a week in August in some areas.”
This current event will cause evening temperatures to rise in cities due to the increased humidity. urban heat island. The UK Health Security Agency Heat Health Alert Level 4 is in place for the week beginning next week. According to the Met Office press release, “This is level of alert is used when a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system.” At that level, even people outside the normally-vulnerable groups (elderly, children, communities of color, poor) are at risk. There are heat-related health risks as well as an High riskOf fires.
Sadly, when I searched for stock photos of “heat” or “heatwaves” for this article, I mostly found images of people playing in water fountains or eating ice cream. This is an incredibly flawed way heat has been reported. We need to change that. The UK’s heat is likely to be more severe than we expect. Heat like this must be treated as a threat and not as a holiday.