Britain has recorded its highest ever temperature of 39.1C, according to provisional data from the Met Office, which forecast even hotter weather to come from a heatwave that has already damaged airport runways and rail tracks.
The record temperature was reached before noon on Tuesday in Charlwood, near Gatwick Airport in southern England, surpassing the previous record of 38.7C recorded in 2019. Forecasts show it could keep rising throughout the day, breaking through the 40C barrier.
“If confirmed this will be the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK,” the Met Office said on Twitter. The forecaster will need to validate the equipment used to record any record temperature before it becomes official.
Britain, which can struggle to maintain key transport services in extreme heat or the snow, has been put on a state of “national emergency” over the unprecedented temperatures.
The arrival of a searing heatwave that first sparked wildfires across Europe before arriving in Britain has turned the spotlight on to “net zero” pledges made by the candidates running to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister.
The heat forced Network Rail to issue a “Do Not Travel” warning for services heading north out of London while it tweeted a picture showing a rail with a kink near the capital.
On Monday, London’s Luton Airport briefly suspended flights after a surface defect was found on the runway, and operations had to be diverted from the Royal Air Force’s Brize Norton, with a media report suggesting the runway had partly melted.
The public were also warned not to swim in open water to cool off, after reports of fatalities.
At least one major zoo, at Chester, said it would close while Bristol Zoo said squirrel monkeys, kea parrots and red pandas were being fed ice lollies filled with vegetables, leaves or mealworms.
In central London, tourists from around the world continued to visit key attracts such as Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. At Trafalgar Square many stopped to dip their hands, feet or heads in the fountain pools.
Reinier van den Heurel, who lives in Bucharest, said he was choosing his route through the capital, based on the sun. “You walk from shadow to shadow, anywhere that you have to stay in the sun for a long time, that’s off-limits,” he told Reuters.
The dangers of extreme heat were on display in southern Europe. Almost 600 heat-related deaths have been reported in Spain and Portugal, where temperatures reached 47C last week.
In the Gironde region of southwestern France, ferocious wildfires continued to spread through tinder-dry pines forests, frustrating firefighting efforts by more than 2000 firefighters and water-bombing planes.
More than 37,000 people have been evacuated from homes and summer vacation spots since the fires broke out July 12 and burned through 190 square kilometres of forests and vegetation, Gironde authorities said.
Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper
(Australian Associated Press)