LONDON: Britain and France were in the grip of a fierce heatwave on Monday facing record temperatures as southwest Europe wilted under a scorching sun and ferocious wildfires devoured more forests.
Forecasters in Britain warned of havoc in a country unprepared for the onslaught of extreme heat that authorities said was putting lives at risk.
Temperatures climbed to 37.5 Celsius at Kew Gardens in southwest London by 1400 GMT, nudging towards the country’s all-time record of 38.7C.
Air traffic was suspended at Luton airport, north of London, due to “defects” on the runway. Meteorologists said the 40C mark could be breached for the first time by Tuesday, with climate change blamed and predictions of more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather in years to come.
In France, a host of towns and cities recorded their highest ever temperatures on Monday, the national weather office said.
The mercury hit 39.3 Celsius in Brest on the Atlantic coast in the far northwest of the country compared with a previous record of 35.1 C from 2002.
Saint-Brieuc on the Channel coast sizzled in 39.5 C compared with a previous record of 38.1 C, while western Nantes recorded 42 C, beating a previous high of 40.3 C set in 1949.
“In some southwestern areas, it will be a heat apocalypse,” meteorologist Francois Gourand told AFP.
French firefighters were struggling to contain two massive fires in France’s southwest that have created apocalyptic scenes of destruction.
For six days, armies of firefighters and a fleet of waterbombing aircraft have struggled against blazes that have mobilised much of France’s entire firefighting capacity.
In Ireland, the mercury hit 33.0C in Phoenix Park, Dublin — 0.3C below the all-time record set way back in 1887, Met Eireann said.
The European heatwave, spreading north, is the second to engulf parts of the southwest of the continent in recent weeks.
Record temperatures were recorded in the Netherlands (33.6C) with warnings the mercury could reach 38-39C on Tuesday.
Neighbouring Belgium also expected temperatures of 40C and over.
In Britain, the government drew fresh criticism for failing to take the situation seriously enough.
The embattled prime minister was criticised for failing to attend an emergency meeting on Sunday, preferring instead to host a farewell party at his state-funded country retreat.
Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab also drew flak from frontline medics by appearing to minimise the threat from the extreme heat after he told Britons to “enjoy the sunshine”.
The Sun tabloid headlined its coverage of the heat “British Bake Off”, observing that the “scorcher” was making the UK hotter than Ibiza where temperatures were a comparatively paltry 30C.
Britain’s chief meteorologist Paul Davies said the heatwave was “entirely consistent with climate change”, telling Sky News the “brutality” of the heatwave was “astounding” but could become a regular occurrence by the end of the century.
Trains were cancelled and schools closed in affected areas.
Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2022