Americans are used to switching on their air conditioners any time temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). But in the UK, record-shredding heat this week has brought life to a pandemic-esque standstill.
Temperatures in the UK breached 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time on Tuesday, making it the country’s hottest day on record.
In the US, one-third of the population was under heat-related weather warnings on Tuesday and Wednesday, with temperatures expected to climb north of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) in the Plains states.
Looking at the cause of these heat extremes in the US and Europe, there are different systems at play.
In Europe, a strong ridge of high pressure has allowed temperatures to build over the continent for the past several days. On Tuesday, an area of low pressure was moving in off the coast, acting to help funnel the extreme heat northward into the UK.
In the US, a strong dome of high pressure has set up over the Southern Plains and Mississippi Valley. Instead of heat being funneled in from the south, it is building unabated as the sun bakes down through cloudless skies.
The latest on heat
The connecting tissue between these heat waves is the influence of greenhouse gas emissions and the planet’s ever-warming baseline temperature.
The UK Met Office’s chief scientist, Stephen Belcher, was in a state of disbelief as he delivered a video statement about the shocking temperatures the country experienced Tuesday, noting they would have been “virtually impossible” the UK in an “undisrupted climate.”
“But climate change driven by greenhouse gases have made these temperatures possible, and we’re actually seeing that possibility now,” he said, adding that if the world keeps emitting greenhouse gases at the level it is now, such heat waves are likely to occur there every three years.
Forty degrees Celsius mat not be that hot to someone sitting in the Central US, Australia, the Middle East or in northern India. In the UK, it forced people to work from home and students to study remotely. Authorities told people not to take trains, which become dangerous on hot tracks that expand and bend in the heat.
In other words, don’t leave home.
But in the UK, which is more likely to struggle with cold rather than hot, homes too are designed to keep heat in. Desk fans are selling out all over the country, but they only go so far.
The weather has got Brits so hot and bothered, poor heat management has become the latest criticism hurled at the nation’s outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson – this week held up as another example of the disgraced leader’s failures.
“The all-time temperature record for the UK has not just been