The UK Met Office warned on Friday that people's lives could be at risk as it issued its first ever red warning for extreme heat and said it is likely that a new British record temperature could be set early next week.
In response, the UK Health Security Agency increased its heat health warning from level three to level four — which it describes as a “national emergency”.
Level four is reached “when a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system … At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups,” it said.
The Met Office red warning, for Monday and Tuesday, covers an area from London up to Manchester and the Vale of York in northern England.
Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge said: “If people have vulnerable relatives or neighbours, now is the time to make sure they're putting suitable measures in place to be able to cope with the heat because if the forecast is as we think it will be in the red warning area, then people's lives are at risk.
“This is a very serious situation.”
He said there is an 80 per cent chance of the all-time UK temperature record being broken — and a 50 per cent chance of temperatures of 40ºC being reached somewhere in the UK.
The UK's current record temperature of 38.7ºC was set in Cambridge, in eastern England, in 2019.
“[It is] most likely that [the record will be broken] within the red warning area for extreme heat,” said Mr Madge.
He said areas north of London and to the east were most likely to experience record-breaking temperatures.
“Probably the most likely areas to look at would be north of London and up to Lincolnshire, inland.
“Somewhere like Peterborough, Grantham, Sandy, Stevenage, those sorts of areas, A1 corridor.”
Mr Madge said temperatures reaching 40C would be a “historic event”.
“If we get to 40ºC that's a very iconic threshold and shows that climate change is with us now,” he said.
“This is made much more likely because of climate change.”
When will the UK heatwave end?
Some respite appears to be on the cards towards the end of next week but the Met Office is unable to offer anything more precise.
“It is uncertain how long the very hot weather will last, but it is likely that much of the UK will see a return to cooler and more widely unsettled conditions during the week,” it said.
Will schools close in UK heatwave?
Schools are undertaking measures such as closing early, allowing pupils to wear PE kit or rescheduling sports days to cope with rising temperatures next week.
The Met Office has issued an “amber” warning for heat on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, stating that this could pose a danger to life, while temperatures may exceed the 2019 record of 38.7C.
Schools have relaxed uniform rules and adjusted timetables in order to cope with the heat.
St John's CE Middle School Academy in Bromsgrove, in the West Midlands, has said pupils “can come to school wearing non-uniform, to enable children to wear loose, light-coloured clothing that will help keep them as cool as possible”.
The school said it would sell ice pops to pupils in aid of a cancer charity and that pupils would be encouraged not to run during playtimes to prevent heat exhaustion.
The Hereford Academy in the West Midlands is allowing secondary school pupils to start early next week and finish at 2pm to allow them to be “away for the hottest part of the day”.
The academy said it would also bring its sports day forward to avoid the high temperatures next week.
Great Dunham Primary in Norfolk, eastern England, also advised that all pupils should “wear PE kits rather than uniform on Monday and Tuesday”.
The school added: “Please ensure they have a sun hat, lotion and water bottles. We will not be going out at lunchtime, instead the children will eat and do activities in class. Stay safe.”
In an update to schools on Thursday, the government signposted heatwave guidance for teachers and other early years professionals, noting that children sweat less than adults and cannot regulate their body temperature as well, which puts them at risk of heat stress and exhaustion.
During heatwaves, teachers are advised to encourage pupils to wear loose clothing and sunhats “with wide brims”.
Staff should open windows as early as possible before pupils arrive in the morning to improve ventilation and should keep the use of electric light and equipment to a minimum.
Fans can be used when temperatures are below 35C but not at higher temperatures as they can make dehydration worse.
The government warned that pupils with heat stress “may seem out of character and show signs of discomfort and irritability”, while signs of heat exhaustion can include tiredness, nausea and confusion.
Cobra meeting on UK heatwave called
The UK government said that that Cobra — the committee that is convened to handle matters of national emergency or major disruption — met on Thursday.
Officials said discussions have also taken place with sectors including the National Health Service — the UK's state-funded health system — and that ministers will “continue to work closely with all of those sectors … into early next week”.
Meanwhile, motorists have been advised to try to make their journeys outside of the hottest periods of the day, particularly if they have older cars.
An official with the AA motoring association said there had been “reports of road gritters being out this weekend to reduce the chances of our roads melting”.
“If it does get sticky on the roads there's nothing worse than being stuck in a jam with the mercury rising, so make sure you carry plenty of water — at least a litre per person — and sufficient fuel, or if you're driving an electric vehicle — make sure you have plenty of charge so you can use the air-conditioning when needed.”
Tim Doran, from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution said the service was anticipating a “busy weekend” for its lifeboat crews and lifeguards.
“If you are planning on going to the beach, we would encourage you to visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags,” he said.
A No 10 spokesman said railway speed restrictions may be needed on “some parts of the network next week to manage the hot weather and to avoid any potential damage”.
ºJake Kelly, of Network Rail, warned that journeys will take “significantly longer and delays are likely as speed restrictions are introduced to keep passengers and railway staff safe”, urging people to travel only if absolutely necessary on Monday and Tuesday.