A national emergency has been declared, with a red extreme heat warning issued for the first time for England on Monday and Tuesday – when temperatures could reach an all-time high of 40C.
Forecasters now say there is an 80 per cent chance of the mercury exceeding the UK’s record temperature of 38.7C (101.7F), set at the University of Cambridge’s Botanic Garden on 25 July 2019.
There is a 50 per cent chance of temperatures reaching 40C (104F) somewhere in the UK, the Met Office said.
Live UK weather updates: Temperatures set to soar by 10C
This will likely happen along the A1 corridor north of London to Lincolnshire, in areas such as Peterborough, Grantham, Sandy and Stevenage.
The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) has raised its sanitary heat warning to level 4 – a “national emergency” – Friday.
Level 4 is reached when “a heat wave is so intense and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social system”.
This means fit and healthy people could be susceptible to illness and death – not just high-risk groups, the UKHSA said.
Find out the five-day forecast for where you live
“Potentially very serious situation”
The first-ever red warning issued by the Met Office means ‘adverse health effects’ may be experienced and will not be limited to ‘those most vulnerable to extreme heat’.
The “exceptional heat wave” will cause “serious illness or life-threatening” and have “widespread impacts on people and infrastructure”, the forecaster said.
“Adverse population-wide health effects” are expected, “not limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat.”
Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge described the rising heat as a “potentially very serious situation”.
Mr Madge said the mercury hitting 40C would be a “historic” moment.
“If we get to 40C, that’s a very iconic threshold and it shows that climate change is with us now,” he said. “This is made much more likely due to climate change.”
Elsewhere, the existing amber warning has been extended to the rest of England, Wales and parts of Scotland from Monday.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty shared the signs of heat exhaustion on Twitter saying “early intervention to cool people down and rehydrate them can save lives”.
Extreme heat “absolutely unprecedented”
Met Office chief executive Penny Endersby described the extreme heat forecast as “absolutely unprecedented” and urged the public to take the warnings seriously.
“Our ways of life and our infrastructure are not suited to what is coming,” she said.
“Please treat the warnings we issue as seriously as you would a red or amber warning from us for wind or snow, and follow the advice.”
Substantial changes to daily living required
“Substantial changes to working practices and daily routines will be required” to deal with the unusual conditions, the Met Office said.
The National Weather Service also warned that there is a “high risk of failure of heat-sensitive systems and equipment, which could result in localized loss of electricity and essential services, such as water or cell phone services. “.
There will also be “significantly more people visiting coastal areas, lakes and rivers, leading to an increased risk of water safety incidents”.
Senior ministers gather for a COBRA meeting earlier this week ahead of the declaration of a national heatwave emergency.
Cabinet minister Kit Malthouse has warned the government is bracing for a rise inquiry about the NHS and other services – as he urged the public to be mindful of those vulnerable to heat.
Transport delays anticipated amid fears roads could melt
The public has also been warned to expect road delays, as well as disruptions to rail and air travel.
More than 1,000 more cars are expected to break down, the RAC said – calling on people to check their oil and coolant are at the correct levels and to make sure tires are undamaged and inflated correctly.
Drivers are advised to carry emergency supplies including water, food, medicine, sunscreen – such as an umbrella – and a fully charged cell phone.
Those without effective air conditioning should consider delaying non-essential journeys.
Public transport is also expected to be affected due to the impact of the heat on train lines – Network Rail said slower speeds may need to be implemented and reminded people to carry water during the journeys.
Services may be canceled at short notice, and Monday and Tuesday will be subject to revised schedules.
The Ministry of Transport is also in discussion with port operators, motorway authorities and the police to plan in particular the places where queues are likely to accumulate.
The regions of England most vulnerable to warmer temperatures
What is a national heatwave emergency and how will it impact the UK?
Schools take precautions to protect students
A number of schools allow children to wear PE kits or loose, light-colored clothing to beat the heat.
Other schools will allow children to start and finish early to avoid the hottest part of the day, with some sports days also postponed.
It is understood that the closure of schools is not envisaged as part of the emergency measures.
Sales of paddling pools, fans and ice cream are exploding
Retailers say the scorching temperatures led to a record amount of ice cream and lollies sold in a single week.
Tesco expects to sell more than nine million frozen treats this week, while Waitrose said ice cream sales were up 20% from last week.
Demand for sunscreen products soared 220%, the supermarket said.
Meanwhile, John Lewis reported that fan sales were up 256% year-on-year, while blackout curtains were up 193%.