UK heatwave: Record highs, travel chaos, schools close … and it’s going to get hotter

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Warnings that emergency services may be unable to cope as Britain endures second day of searing heat

UK heatwave: Record highs, travel chaos, schools close … and it’s going to get hotter
A police officer gives water to an Irish Guard, wearing a traditional bearskin hat, on duty outside Buckingham Palace
A police officer gives water to an Irish Guard, wearing a traditional bearskin hat, on duty outside Buckingham Palace CREDIT: Matt Dunham/AP

After a day when runways melted, railway lines buckled and even lidos were out of bounds, weather forecasters delivered the news some people will be dreading – Tuesday will be even hotter.

Some regions of the UK experienced their highest temperatures on record on Monday as the heatwave caused disruption to travel, schools, hospitals and workplaces across much of the country.

Britain is expected to experience 40C heat for the first time on Tuesday, with some estimates suggesting temperatures could be as high as 43C.

Ambulance services were braced for a busy night on Monday, with temperatures forecast to remain above 20C in a rare “tropical night” that can be deadly for the elderly and vulnerable.

At least four people died over the weekend while bathing in open water, prompting police to issue warnings against swimming in lakes and rivers.

While the weather is expected to cool significantly from Wednesday, meteorologists said the heatwave – which triggered the country’s first red extreme heat warning – could return later in the summer, brought by hot air from the Sahara desert.

Water companies said reservoir and aquifer levels, which were healthy as recently as last week, were rapidly depleting because of record usage levels as people tried to cool down. They warned that hosepipe bans could be introduced later in the year to conserve supplies.

Some of the most extreme effects of the heat were felt on the transport network. Flights from London Luton Airport were suspended after the hot weather caused a “surface defect” on the runway. 

The airport was still repairing the problem on Monday evening, forcing airlines to cancel flights and divert incoming aircraft.

The RAF faced similar challenges at Brize Norton, where flights were halted after the runway effectively “melted”, according to one source.

With surface temperatures of more than 54C in places, roads started to disintegrate. Lincolnshire police officers were forced to divert traffic after the tarmac on the A159 near Blyton started melting, and gritting lorries in some areas were being loaded with sand ready to spread on surfaces to mitigate the worst effects of the heat.

The RAC said it was preparing to deal with around 15 to 20 per cent more breakdowns because of cars overheating and urged drivers to carry water and sunscreen.

A car was engulfed in flames after overheating on the hottest day of the year between Altrincham and Manchester
A car was engulfed in flames after overheating on the hottest day of the year between Altrincham and Manchester CREDIT: Atlantic Images/MEGA

A two-day period of unprecedented weather conditions saw Wales set a new provisional heat record of 37.1C at Hawarden, Flintshire, on Monday afternoon – almost two degrees higher than the previous record.

In England, Santon Downham, in Suffolk, recorded a high of 38.1C, just 0.6C lower than the current UK national record of 38.7C, set in Cambridge in 2019. 

Forecasters predicted highs of 40C in Peterborough, Grantham and Doncaster on Tuesday, with a 95 per cent probability that the current record would be broken.  

Train services were badly disrupted as Network Rail imposed speed restrictions of 20mph to 90mph across the country. 

The operator said “very late” trains and cancellations were at double their normal level on Monday, with 2,000 services out of 12,800 either more than half an hour late or axed. A further 2,000 were between five and 30 minutes late.

Just 67 per cent of all rail services in the UK arrived within five minutes of schedule or within 10 minutes on long-distance lines, compared with around 90 per cent on a normal day.

Dozens of operators urged people to avoid travel unless “absolutely necessary” as they cancelled services. Southern Rail, which serves Brighton and the south coast, said trips to the beach were “not essential”.

A busy Brighton beach as temperatures rose on Monday
A busy Brighton beach as temperatures rose on Monday CREDIT: Chris Gorman/Big Ladder

Almost 200 schools across the country announced closures or sent children home early, despite the Government urging headteachers to keep them open. Schools said buildings had become “unsafe” in the heat as they moved to remote learning or early pick-up times.

Some blamed water shortages or artificial grass being too hot to play on, prompting the parents group UsForThem to suggest some heads were not trying hard enough to keep schools open.

Other schools cancelled sports days and day trips, though the good news for some pupils was that at least one school scrapped detentions because of the hot weather. 

Some children were unable to use local playgrounds, shut because metal climbing frames were deemed to be a scorch hazard.

Woburn Lido in Milton Keynes – which locals might have thought the perfect place to stay cool – was closed from 11am to 3pm “for reasons of customer and staff safety” in the hottest part of the day, managers said.

Even the great outdoors was closed in some places, with the Peak District National Park closing a third of its area because of the risk of fire. The RSPB shut several of its nature reserves, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park will be closed on Tuesday.

A man shares a swim with red deer in Bushy Park, south-west London
A man shares a swim with red deer in Bushy Park, south-west London CREDIT: David Sandison

The National Grid was struggling to cope with demand for electricity caused by air conditioning and fans, with power having to be imported from the Netherlands to keep up.

A notice to power stations was briefly issued on Monday afternoon to remind them that they must ensure they have enough megawatts available, though it was later withdrawn.

The NHS said patients fit to leave hospital would be kept in longer if their homes were considered too hot to let them leave.

Deaths reported over the weekend included a 13-year-old boy found dead in a river at Ovingham, Northumberland; a 16-year-old boy found dead in water in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester; a 16-year-old who died at Bray Lake, in Berkshire, and a 50-year-old man who died in a reservoir near Leeds.

On Monday night, a 14-year-old boy was missing, believed drowned, after getting into difficulty in the Thames in Richmond, west London, the Metropolitan Police said.

Pubs and restaurants shut because kitchens were too hot to work in, builders were sent home and commuter numbers were down by around a fifth as many white-collar workers chose to stay at home. 

For some, however, office air conditioning was a better prospect than trying to stay cool at home.

In the House of Commons, MPs were told they could remove their jackets and ties for the rest of the week, but Labour frontbenchers were getting hot under the collar about Boris Johnson’s failure to attend Cobra emergency meetings on the heatwave.

Fleur Anderson, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said ministers were “asleep at the wheel” and accused Mr Johnson of  “planning parties” at Chequers instead of dealing with the weather emergency.

There was a note of reassurance from John Kettley, the former BBC weatherman, who said: “Records will be smashed this week, but it does not mean that next year is going to be the same. It might not be the same for five or 10 years.

“In 2005, we had a hot July, then we had 2007 with no summer at all, just torrential rainfall. It could just as easily be a wet summer next year where you’re lucky to see 30 degrees.

“The message to the public should not be all about escalating temperatures and Armageddon 10 years down the road.”

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