Summer of sunshine and sunstroke

Feeling hot and bothered or enjoying the tan? Why is it so warm?

Image credit: kaushik panchal

Image credit: kaushik panchal

Ignoring the grim mid-July period (which is far more characteristic of British weather), this summer the UK has been basking in sunshine, warmth and all its inherent consequences. The jet stream, a meandering belt of air circulating the mid latitudes brings warm air from the tropics towards the poles and pushes cold air from the poles back towards the tropics. In early July southerly winds brought hot air from Spain, which was experiencing a heat wave of its own with temperatures reaching 42.6 degrees Celsius, through France and to the UK. This warm air made temperatures soar: an average temperature of 36.5 degrees Celsius made this the hottest July on record!

Train routes were affected by delays and reduced service as tracks were at risk of buckling under the heat. At Wimbledon more than 100 fans were treated for heat-related illness and 10 minute breaks on request have been offered to athletes. Health warnings were issued to young children and the elderly whilst the BBC set up a ‘heat watch’ program. But these extreme temperatures are set to become the norm.

Due to global climate change the jet stream’s wavy pattern is changing. A smaller temperature gradient reduces pressure making the meandering wind patterns wider and slower. This will bring sustained warmer weather to the UK. The prospect of warm weather brings cheer to many as the sunshine is proven to improve mood and get people into the great outdoors. However it brings with it certain challenges.

Should these heat wave temperatures become the norm, as they are in many countries nearer the equator, the UK must adapt. Infrastructure, like railway lines, must be improved to cope with the heat. More homes and buildings might need air conditioning to help people cope. There will be a huge effect on British ecosystems as new pests thrive and plants take time to adapt, which may lead to a spike in food prices.

Extreme weather events are being seen throughout the world and many scientists attribute the events to climate change. Whilst the sunshine is a welcome change humidity, floods and droughts are not. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their fifth report on climate change in 2014: it suggests we must adapt to changing weather events and mitigate further change by addressing anthropogenic causes of climate change in order to manage Mother Nature’s challenges.


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