Heatwaves caused by climate crisis may become regular event, says Met Office chief | UK weather

Exceptionally high temperatures expected across the UK on Monday and Tuesday are “entirely consistent” with climate change, the chief meteorologist at the Met Office has said, warning that such heat could become a regular feature by the end of the century.

The UK’s first red heat warning has come into effect, with temperatures expected to reach 41C (105.8F) on Monday or Tuesday, breaking the country’s heat records. The heatwave has already caused school closures, transport service delays, increased pressure on health services and a call from unions for flexible working options.

“I’ve been a meteorologist for about 30 years and I’ve never seen the charts I’ve seen today,” said the Met Office’s chief meteorologist, Paul Davies. Human-induced climate change was the “additional boost” behind temperatures reaching 40C in the UK, he said.

“It does worry me a lot and my colleagues here at the Met Office that this sort of unprecedented heat could become a regular occurrence by the end of the century.”

The extreme heat warning has been issued across a large part of England for Monday and Tuesday, while an amber warning initially covers all of England on Sunday and extends to southern Scotland and Wales from Monday until Tuesday.

The public have been urged to keep hydrated and look out for vulnerable people, particularly children and older people. Employees have been encouraged to work from home, and while schools have been advised to stay open, many, including those lacking cooling infrastructure, are closing.

Davies said colleagues in countries such as Spain and Portugal had described the scenes in the UK as “exceptional”. He said a “plume” of heat pushing across Europe was affecting Britain differently. A combination of that plume and human activity generating its own heatwas contributing to the high temperatures, he said.

“I was talking to my colleagues in Spain, Portugal and France over the weekend and they described this heat as exceptional too, and they’ve seen and observed amazing temperatures and, as I say, the brutality of that impact.

“In terms of the UK, the heat which has been affecting Spain, Portugal and France is different towards us. So it’s the activity of that plume, and also us generating our own heat that’s causing the particular problems.”

The Cabinet Office minister, Kit Malthouse, who will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency civil contingencies committee in Whitehall on Monday, told BBC’s today programme that a “difficult 48 hours are coming”.

When asked why the UK was not better prepared across the NHS, railways and housing infrastructure, Malthouse responded: “We are quite well prepared”.

The government will be “learning from what happens” over the next 48 hours, he added “We definitely need to adapt the way we build buildings, the way we operate, and look at some of our infrastructure, in the light of what seems to be an increasing frequency of these events.”

While the government said extra measures were being put into place for ambulance services, including more call handlers and extra working hours, medical experts said the move was “quite late in the day” and that many hospitals were not equipped for extreme heat.

Elsewhere across Europe, firefighters in Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco are battling forest fires that have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of land, and are expected to continue this week with blistering temperatures.

Temperatures have soared to 47C (116F) in Portugal, 45C in Spain and are expected to rise above 40C in western France.

Boris Johnson was accused on Saturday of being “missing in action” after failing to attend a Cobra meeting to discuss the national heatwave emergency, staying instead at his Chequers country retreat.

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When asked by Sky News if the prime minister had decided not to attend as he would soon leave office, Malthouse insisted the suggestion was “completely unfair”.

“He’s right across this, I think this is a very unfair characterisation of the media around this particular issue. It’s my job to chair Cobra, it’s my job to coordinate across government, and then be accountable to him which is exactly what I did yesterday morning when I briefed him,” said Malthouse.

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