Bridge wrapped in insulation foil as UK passes 40 °C for the first time
As an unprecedented heatwave takes hold in Europe, driving the mercury to record levels and causing devastating wildfires across the continent, authorities are scrambling to prevent disruptions to transport services. Railways, airports and bridges have all felt the impacts of the extreme temperatures, which the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warns are unlikely to return to normal until next week.
Last Friday, the UK's Met Office issued its first ever "Red Warning" for exceptional heat, in anticipation of temperatures forecast to reach 40 °C (104 °F) for the first time ever. The highest temperature previously recorded in the UK is 38.7 °C (101.6 °F), logged at the Cambridge Botanic Garden in July of 2019.
A provisional temperature of 40.2 °C (104.3 °F) was recorded at Heathrow on Tuesday according to the Met Office, which still needs to be verified but would surpass the 2019 record by some margin. Wildfires are ravaging parts of Spain and France, while a surge in fires across London saw the local fire brigade declare a Major Incident as a result.
NEW: London Fire Brigade has just declared a Major Incident in response to a huge surge in fires across the capital today.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) July 19, 2022
This is critical: @LondonFire is under immense pressure. Please be safe.
I'm in touch with the Commissioner and will share updates when I have them.
In London's west, authorities have taken extraordinary steps to keep the 135-year-old Hammersmith Bridge open. A 2020 heatwave created small fractures in the bridge's cast-iron pedestals, requiring it to be fully closed. Engineers installed a sophisticated temperature control system to allow the bridge to safely reopen, but in anticipation of this week's scorching temperatures workers have taken the extra steps of wrapping parts of the bridge in silver insulation foil to help keep them cool.
Meanwhile, London's Luton Airport had to suspend flights after finding a surface defect on the runway caused by the extreme temperatures, while the UK Air Force had a similar experience and had to re-route its flights. Network Rail, which operates most of the railways across Great Britain, closed its East Coast Main Line on Tuesday, citing extreme temperatures that can cause railways to expand and buckle.
"The devastating heat waves across Europe and the UK are another example of the impact on health and wellbeing of climate-change-driven extreme weather events," said Dr Arnagretta Hunter a Human Futures Fellow at the Australian National University. "The health impacts of the changing climate are significant – with direct impacts from heat, fire, floods – but also health impacts from infrastructure and supply chain disruption, from housing and accommodation that is not prepared for these sorts of events. Mental health impacts can be long lasting. These events are occurring today at just over 1.1 °C (2 °F) of global temperature rise. As the climate changes, we expect an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events."
In a statement issued Tuesday, the WMO said that temperatures are expected to remain above normal until the middle of next week. More ominously, it warned that these kinds of extreme heatwaves will only become more frequent over the coming decades as a result of human-induced climate change, and that it will take some time to arrest this trend.
“The negative trend in climate will continue at least until the 2060s, independent of our success in climate mitigation,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. "We have already lost the game concerning the melting of glaciers. We expect that the melting of glaciers will continue for the coming hundreds of years or even coming thousands of years … Sea level rise will continue for the same period."