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UK to hold emergency meeting as ‘red alert’ issued for extreme heat wave

Temperatures expected to hit 40 °C (104 °F) for first time ever, commuters urged not to use rail and underground; schools and elder care centers ordered to take precautions

Two people take a selfie opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Friday July 15, 2022. The British Meteorologic office issued a red warning for extreme heat, advising of a 'potentially very serious situation' in parts of England next week. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)
Two people take a selfie opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Friday July 15, 2022. The British Meteorologic office issued a red warning for extreme heat, advising of a 'potentially very serious situation' in parts of England next week. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP)  — The British government is set to hold an emergency response meeting Saturday to plan for record high temperatures after authorities issued their first ever “red” warning for extreme heat early next week.

On Friday, authorities issued the alert, declaring a national emergency as forecasters predict record temperatures that will put even healthy people at risk of serious illness and death.

The warning covers Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in England may reach 40 °C (104 °F) for the first time, the UK Met Office said. The British record is 38.7 °C (101.7 °F), set in 2019.

Rail passengers and users of the London Underground are being advised not to travel on Monday and Tuesday unless it is absolutely necessary. With children and older people considered particularly vulnerable to high temperatures, schools and care homes have been urged to take steps to protect students and older residents.

“If customers do need to travel, they should check before they travel as we are expecting there to be some impact to Tube and rail services as a result of temporary speed restrictions we will need to introduce to keep everyone safe,” said Andy Lord, chief operating officer of Transport for London, which runs the capital’s transportation system.

The alert comes as scientists say climate change is increasing the likelihood of exceptional heat waves in Britain, a country better known for gray skies and rain. The chances of temperatures like those forecast for next week are already 10 times higher than they would be without the influence of human activity, said Nikos Christidis, a Met Office climate scientist.

A woman uses an umbrella to shelter from the sun near Hammersmith in London, Friday, July 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

“We hoped we wouldn’t get to this situation, but for the first time ever we are forecasting greater than 40 °C in the UK,” Christidis said in a prepared statement. “In a recent study, we found that the likelihood of extremely hot days in the UK has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century.”

The UK Health Security Agency increased its own hot weather alert to the highest level, putting it to “national emergency.” The warning system was created in 2004, when concerns about climate change spurred authorities to develop their first plan to protect the public from severe heat.

’’At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups,” UKHSA said.

The weather alert, which covers a big chunk of England from London north to Manchester, also warns of potential disruption to air and rail travel and potential “localized loss of power and other essential services, such as water or mobile phone services.”

A man enjoys the sun on his boat on the River Thames near Hammersmith in London, Friday, July 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The two agencies issued lower level warnings earlier this week as large parts of the UK experienced higher than normal temperatures, although cooler weather prevailed Thursday and Friday. Temperatures are expected to rise in the coming days as the system that brought record highs to parts of Europe this week moves north over Britain.

“Even as a climate scientist who studies this stuff, this is scary,” said Professor Hannah Cloke, a natural hazards researcher at the University of Reading. “This feels real. At the start of the week, I was worried about my goldfish getting too hot. Now I’m worried about the survival of my family and my neighbors.”

Nigel Arnell, a professor of climate system science at the University of Reading, said Britain needs to prepare for more hot weather in the future, retrofitting buildings to cope with extreme weather and planting more greenery in cities.

Adaptation and resilience need to become a political priority, he said.

“We can’t keep on dealing with extremes in crisis mode,” Arnell said.

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