extreme heat in the UK

In a hotter climate regime, expect the unprecedented.

On July 19, an exceptional heat wave smashed the UK’s all-time heat record. Temperatures provisionally reached 40.2 degrees Celsius (104.4 degrees Fahrenheit) at London’s Heathrow Airport, obliterating the previous record of 38.7 C set in 2019. If confirmed, that makes Tuesday the country’s hottest day on record, and temperatures are likely to rise further through the day. As heat-trapping carbon levels skyrocket in Earth’s atmosphere, heat waves are growing more intense.

Update on July 19, 2022 at 3 p.m. ET: At least 34 sites exceeded the UK’s previous national record of 38.7 C (104.4 F), according to the UK Met Office. Coningsby, a region north of London, hit 40.3 C.

Climate change doesn’t make extreme events. It makes extreme events more extreme. This topples records, and exposes people to unhealthy or deadly environments — particularly if they’re not acclimated to such conditions.

The world will continue to warm ⁠— but, crucially, just how much is up to us ⁠— through at least much of the 21st century. There will be more unprecedented heat.

⁠”Climate change has already influenced the likelihood of temperature extremes in the UK. The chances of seeing 40°C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” Nikos Christidis, a scientist at the Met Office, explained. “The likelihood of exceeding 40°C anywhere in the UK 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.”

Records won’t often simply break by tiny increments. They will be smashed, as the new heat event in the UK showed. In the U.S. and Canada in 2021, records fell by as many as some 10 degrees Fahrenheit.


“Rapid warming means we must expect extreme event records to be broken – not just by small margins but quite often by very large ones.”

“Rapid warming means we must expect extreme event records to be broken – not just by small margins but quite often by very large ones,” Rowan Sutton, the director of Climate Research in the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science, said in a statement.

Importantly, these record heat waves are happening in a world that has warmed by some 1.1 C Celsius, or 1.9 F, since 1880. Because prodigious carbon emissions continue to amass in Earth’s atmosphere, earth scientists expect the planet to warm by at least some 1.5 C or 2 C (compared to 19th-century temperatures) this century.

“Right now, CO2 levels are rising over 200 times faster than they did during the last deglaciation [starting some 18,000 years ago],” Kristopher Karnauskas, an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Mashable earlier this year. “That number speaks to the urgency to act soon.”


“Right now, CO2 levels are rising over 200 times faster than they did during the last deglaciation.”

Fortunately, there are known, meaningful ways to slash the heat-trapping carbon emissions saturating our atmosphere.

How to protect yourself from extreme heat

Be careful in extreme heat. Heat illnesses happen when the body cannot cool itself down.

In places like the UK, where the populace isn’t acclimated to triple-digit temperatures and may not live in homes equipped to stay cool during unprecedented heat waves, people can be more susceptible to heat illness, which includes heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

You can delve deeper into avoiding heat illness in this Mashable story. However, here are some expert recommendations from Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth and an expert in thermoregulation.

The idea is to minimize your own heat production, minimize the heat you’re gaining from the environment, and maximize the heat you lose:

  • Stay hydrated: “You should be taking fluid as you would medicine in these conditions,” said Tipton.

  • Stay out of the sun. If you’re outside, stay in the shade.

  • Avoid activity — that will churn heat in your body.

  • Use a fan to blow air over the body. Air currents evaporate sweat from the skin, removing more heat. Don’t just fan your head. “It’s best to fan the whole body,” said Tipton. You can mist the body, too, to amplify heat loss with “artificial sweat.” But if you’re in an excessively hot room or area over 95 degrees Fahrenheit (try to avoid these places!), fans aren’t recommended because they can potentially heat your body.

  • Immerse hands in cool water. “Your hands are great at losing heat,” noted Tipton.

  • Wear light or as little clothing as possible, so sweat can evaporate from the skin.

These recommendations, unfortunately, will become increasingly salient in the years ahead.


“These are enormous changes.”

“These are very extreme weather events,” Tipton told Mashable last year. “We’re not seeing a small increase in flooding or heat. These are enormous changes.”

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