LONDON (July 18) - Britain was ready for temperatures to hit 40C for the first time this week and ministers urged the public to stay home as the heatwave led to the cancellation of train services, a London airport closed its runway and closed some schools.
Much of Europe is burning in a heatwave that has pushed temperatures into the mid-40s Celsius (over 110 Fahrenheit) in some areas, with wildfires raging across the arid landscape of Portugal, Spain and France.
The UK government has declared a 'national emergency' as temperatures at the University of Cambridge Botanic Gardens were expected to exceed a previous record high of 38.7C (102F) in 2019.
On Monday, the temperature rose to 38°C in the south of England and a new record was recorded in Wales, according to the British Meteorological Office. It's expected to be even warmer on Tuesday, when the 40 degree mark is expected to be exceeded. "We have 48 difficult hours ahead of us," Kit Malthouse, a minister responsible for coordinating the government, told BBC radio.
The heat has brought widespread travel problems.
London Luton Airport said flights were suspended after a surface defect was found on the runway and the heat caused flights to be diverted from the Royal Air Force's Brize Norton Air Force Base.
The national rail network has urged passengers not to travel unnecessarily, with some services - including a main route between north-east England and London - not running for parts on Tuesday.
The London Underground network imposed temporary speed limits, which meant it would cut service and travel would take longer than usual. Network Rail's Jake Kelly said he hoped normal operations would resume on Wednesday when temperatures are expected to drop, but that would depend on "the damage the weather will do to infrastructure in the coming days."
To raise awareness of the problem, Network Rail tweeted a photo of a track with a junction near London.
The government has urged schools to remain open, but many would close earlier than usual, normal uniform requirements have been abolished, and year-end sports days have been canceled. Some schools have been closed and have resorted to lockdown-style online classes.
The public was warned not to swim in open water to cool off, with police reporting that two teenagers had died after getting into trouble while swimming in a lake and river. Some factories have also moved their hours forward to prevent workers in the hottest jobs, such as welding, from getting sick.
At least one major zoo in Chester has said it will close for two days as Parliament relaxes normal rules requiring lawmakers to wear jackets or ties.
According to researcher Springboard, the number of shoppers across the UK fell 7.3% from last week, although coastal towns saw a 9% increase as people flocked to the edge of sea.
The Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) raised England's heat warning for Monday and Tuesday to level 4 for the first time, while the Met Office issued its first extreme heat 'red alert'.
A Level 4 alert is used when a heat wave “is so severe and/or prolonged that its impact extends beyond health and social protection systems. At this level, illness and death can occur in fit and healthy people, and not just in high-risk groups ”.
The heir to the throne, Prince Charles, said on a trip to southwest England that time has shown the country's importance in meeting its climate commitments.
"Those zero net zero commitments have never been more important, as we are all sinking below today's alarming record temperatures in Britain and Europe," he said.
"As I've been trying to point out for some time, the climate crisis is truly a real emergency and addressing it is absolutely essential," said the long-term environmentalist.