First ever 'red' warning in U.K. as extreme heat spreads over Europe

WEATHER NEWS: First ever ‘red’ warning in U.K. as extreme heat spreads over Europe


Records are crashing in Europe as a bout of exceptional heat and humidity brings dangerous conditions, prompting weather alerts far and wide across Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Temperatures have surged to as high as 117 degrees (47 Celsius) over the Iberian Peninsula, and the United Kingdom is forecast to see its hottest temperature ever recorded early next week.

Red “extreme” heat warnings have been hoisted in parts of the United Kingdom for the first time on record. The U.K. Met Office is describing the situation as a “national emergency,” warning that the heat will have “widespread impacts on people and infrastructure.”

The red warning covers much of central, northern, eastern and southeastern England both Monday and Tuesday, including London.

“For the first time, temperatures of 40°C [104 Fahrenheit] have been forecast,” the Met Office wrote.

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A somewhat less dire amber heat warning surrounds the red warning, and includes much of the remainder of England and Wales, while expanding north into southern Scotland.

“Currently there is a 50% chance we could see temperatures top 40°C and 80% we will see a new maximum temperature reached,” said Met Office chief meteorologist Paul Gundersen in an online news release.

The heat about to swell over the U.K. has been building over Portugal, Spain and France.

After temperatures surged as high as 117 degrees Thursday, five of Portugal’s 18 districts are under red warnings Friday, with projected highs over 110 degrees in some areas. The majority of Spain and southern France are blanketed by warnings as well, with Météo-France writing that the heat will “threaten” everyone — “even [people] in good health.”

The blistering heat is combining with ongoing drought to brew what Copernicus, a climate monitoring agency, is calling a “very extreme” wildfire risk for the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Greece.

BBC News reports that dozens of wildfires are raging in Portugal, requiring more than 3,500 firefighters to combat them. The outlet wrote that more than 10,000 people have been evacuated from the Gironde region of France, while at least 281 people in Spain and Portugal have perished due to heat-related illness.

It’s worth noting that air conditioning — a common staple in the United States — is a rarity in parts of northern and western Europe, because excessive heat of this nature is unusual. In the U.K., for instance, where residents are bracing for highs in the mid-90s early next week, the average high for mid-July is in the 70s.

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The United Kingdom will see its hottest weather Monday and into Tuesday. That’s when temperatures could hit a very rare number — 40 Celsius — which corresponds to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The highest recorded temperature for the U.K. is 101.7 degrees (38.7 Celsius), which was set in Cambridge in 2019.

The Met Office is explicitly forecasting that record to fall, with a high of 104 degrees (40 Celsius) their forecast for London., meanwhile, calls for London to hit 98 degrees Monday and 97 on Tuesday; the average afternoon high during July is 74 degrees. Readings over 84 are rare.

“Nights are also likely to be exceptionally warm, especially in urban areas,” said Gundersen. “This is likely to lead to widespread impacts on people and infrastructure. Therefore, it is important people plan for the heat and consider changing their routines. This level of heat can have adverse health effects.”

The Met Office, ordinarily reserved in their verbiage, didn’t mince words when identifying human-induced climate change as a factor in the potentially unrivaled heat.

“The chances of seeing 40°C [104 degrees] days in the U.K. could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” said Nikos Christidis, a climate attribution scientist at the Met Office. “The likelihood of exceeding 40°C anywhere in the U.K. in a given year has also been rapidly increasing, and, even with current pledges on emissions reductions, such extremes could be taking place every 15 years in the climate of 2100.”

A level 4 U.K. Health Security Agency Heat Health Alert has been hoisted to raise awareness for the exceptional temperatures.

“This level of alert is used when a heat wave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system,” wrote the Met Office. “At this level, illness may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.”

The worst of the heat is yet to come in France, with temperatures likely to peak Monday. Some weather models even simulate high temperatures approaching 116.6 degrees (47 Celsius), though that’s likely apocryphal. In any case, it’s probable some residents of southern France near the Spanish border could see readings in the 105- to 110- degree (40 to 43 Celsius) range. That’s commensurate with the 107.6 degrees (42 Celsius) predictions put forth by Météo-France, the country’s weather service.

The agency tweeted that Monday has the potential to be one of the hottest ever recorded across France. The record would be surpassed if the national average temperature — a countrywide calculation that involves averaging the high and low temperatures for a day throughout the country — makes it above 84.9 degrees (29.4 Celsius).

Météo-France also drummed up the role that human-induced climate change is playing in amplifying the existing heat wave. They cited a historic episode in July 2019, during which Paris soared to an unprecedented 109 degrees.

“Human influence on the climate has multiplied by at least 20 the probability of this event and made this type of event warmer by 2.1°C [3.8 degrees],” tweeted Météo-France. “The same calculation for the current heat wave would give close figures.” is calling for Paris to hit 103 degrees Monday and 104 on Tuesday, contrasted to an average mid- to late-July high of about 75 degrees.

In Spain, an “extreme risk” of heat has warranted a red alert to be issued in two provinces — Vegas del Guadiana and Miño de Ourense — with forecast highs up to 111 degrees (44 Celsius). Spain has 50 provinces; the remaining are mostly under orange “important” heat alerts and lesser yellow alerts.

In Madrid, the high is forecast to hover near record levels or around 105 degrees (41 Celsius) through the weekend.

The heat has been gripping the Iberian Peninsula thus far, with a number of records falling there.

Here’s a look at just how high temperatures have gotten since Thursday (records broken earlier in the week are available in a previous article):

  • El Retiro Park in Spain failed to dip below 79.2 degrees (26.2 Celsius) on Thursday morning, the hottest overnight temperature ever observed there.
  • Ourense observed its all-time hottest temperature at 113.4 degrees (44.1 Celsius) on Thursday. That surpasses Tuesday’s record temperature, when Ourense spiked to 109.9 degrees (43.3 Celsius). The previous record was 108.7 degrees (42.6 Celsius) on July 20, 1990.
  • Zamora jumped to 107.2 degrees (41.8 Celsius) on Thursday, a record.
  • Navacerrada got to 92.1 degrees (33.4 Celsius) on Thursday, a record.
  • Seville has hit at least 105 degrees (40.6 Celsius) for eight days in a row; it was 111 degrees (43.9 Celsius) on Thursday.
  • Arquettes-en-Val climbed to 101.9 degrees (38.3 Celsius) on Thursday, establishing a new monthly record for July. It beats out the 99.9 degree (37.7 Celsius) July record established Tuesday.
  • Granes climbed to 100.4 degrees (38 Celsius) on Thursday, a record for July.
  • Cuanes-Minervois hit 99.32 degrees (37.4 Celsius) on Thursday, setting a new July record.
  • Alzon got to 97 degrees (36.1 Celsius) on Thursday, setting a new July record. It beat the previous record, set in 2006, by just 0.1 degree Celsius.
  • Mouthomet hit 96.8 degrees (36 Celsius), a July record.
  • Belin-Beliet tied a July monthly record at 100.8 degrees (38.8 Celsius).
  • Pinhão, in northern Portugal, posted the country’s highest temperature ever observed during July Thursday: 116.6 degrees (47 Celsius). That’s not far from the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country: 117.3 degrees in Amareleja on Aug. 1, 2003.
  • Bragança hit its hottest temperature ever observed — 106.3 degrees (41.3 Celsius) — Thursday. The city has established records every day since Monday.

What’s causing the heat?

Instigating the heat is something called a “cutoff low,” or a low-pressure system that has become pinched off from the jet stream. It’s analogous to paddling a boat through a pond and watching a whirlpool shed off the oar and continue spinning aimlessly. In this case, the low is a self-sustaining swirl of counterclockwise-spinning winds wrapped about a lobe of high-altitude cold that’s whirring around a few hundred miles southwest of Portugal over the open northeast Atlantic.

Because it’s no longer nestled within a dip in the jet stream and subsequently shuttled west to east, there’s nothing to really scoot it along. As a result, the cutoff low will spend days sitting in place and spinning, with southerly winds on the eastern side of the system pumping African heat northward toward Western Europe and the U.K.

While the heat will gradually ease from west to east in Europe next week, it marks the latest in several European heat events that have been exacerbated by human-induced climate change. While human influence is not the cause of the hot weather, it tips the scales toward more frequent, intense and prolonged heat waves.

It has been just over three years since an unprecedented heat wave baked Europe, sending temperatures skyrocketing. Paris hit an all-time high of 109 degrees (42.8 Celsius). Last month, a heat wave set hundreds of records throughout Europe amid the continent’s second-warmest June on record.

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