UK weather: London mayor orders emergency response to heatwave

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has triggered a severe weather emergency response in the capital – a move typically activated in winter.

City Hall has written to all London boroughs and rough sleeping services to ask them to conduct welfare checks on vulnerable people, including rough sleepers, and to provide sunscreen, water and information about staying safe in the high temperatures.

Khan’s decision was taken shortly after the Met Office extended its danger-to-life warning for a heatwave that is due to hit much of England and Wales at the weekend.

The warning for extreme heat is in place from Sunday until the end of Tuesday, with the hot spell expected to peak on Monday or Tuesday.

Announcing the move, Khan said: “This ongoing heatwave could be dangerous for anyone, but for people sleeping rough, there are additional risks.

“Across the capital, we are taking action to assist those forced to sleep rough in these extremely high temperatures, by increasing welfare checks, providing plenty of water and sunscreen, and ensuring people sleeping rough know where to access cool spaces and water fountains.”

Widespread disruption – including road closures and cancellations and delays to rail and air travel – are also possible, as temperatures across England and Wales are predicted to soar into the mid-30Cs and above.

Forecasters believe there is a 30% chance that the mercury could pass the UK record of 38.7C (101.7F), set in Cambridge in 2019.

The Met Office said: “Population-wide adverse health effects are likely to be experienced, not limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat, leading to potential serious illness or danger to life.”

The heatwave is a result of hot air flowing to the UK from continental Europe. Heatwaves have been made hotter, longer and more frequent by climate breakdown, and experts have warned of the need to adapt homes and cities in the UK for a future of more intense – and deadly – summer heat.

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Dr Mark McCarthy, the head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, said: “The highest temperatures experienced in the UK tend to occur when our weather is influenced by air masses from continental Europe or north Africa, as it will be at the weekend. There is already a strongly embedded warming due to climate change across the continent that is increasing the likelihood of challenging the existing UK temperature record.”

Ambulance services are already on the highest level of alert as difficulties with the hot weather combine with Covid absences among staff and delays handing patients over to A&E.

London ambulance service urged the public to help by only calling 999 in the event of a life-threatening emergency, keeping hydrated and staying out of the sun during the hottest periods of the day.

The Royal Life Saving Society UK warned people about the dangers of trying to cool off in lakes, quarries, rivers and other waterways.

Hot weather can put a strain on the heart and lungs, with older people, those with pre-existing health conditions and young children particularly at risk. It can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion or even heatstroke, and affect the ability to work or concentrate.

People are being encouraged to keep their homes cool by closing blinds or curtains and making sure that bedrooms are well ventilated at night.

In some areas, the heatwave comes after months of below-average rainfall, and water companies are urging households to save water, as demand surges in the face of the high temperatures.