x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UK swelters in rare spell of sun

A few days of warm weather, with 32 degrees predicted by the end of the week, and the UK is all hot and bothered.

LONDON // Britain found itself in the grips yesterday of the worst heatwave in the history of the world. Or, at least, you might have thought that if the media headlines were to be believed. And the British, whose penchant for discussing, dissecting and generally moaning about the weather is justifiably legendary, seemed inclined to believe them.

Of course, the fact that temperatures of 48 Celsius had brought power cuts and deaths to New Delhi was largely ignored, as was the severe heatwave affecting parts of the United States. And nobody even mentioned that Finland and Norway were enduring hotter weather than that expected in the southern half of the UK this week. No, the only salient fact to the British yesterday was that it was expected to reach 30 degrees in London, with 32 predicted by the end of the week.

All of which might seem pretty tame by Gulf standards at this time of year, but it was enough to put the British press on red alert. "We'll All Sizzle for a Week as Britain Beats the Med" proclaimed the Daily Mirror headline, while the rival Sun decreed that "killer heat" was on the way. Bookmakers have reportedly cut the odds, to 7/1 from 8/1, on Britain having its hottest summer ever and have been taking bets that the UK will be hotter than either Antigua and Hawaii on July 1.

It can only be a matter of time before the newspapers begin carrying pictures of zoo elephants being hosed down to keep them cool - a sure sign that the UK is having a couple of days of decent weather. The government has responded by putting into operation its heatwave plan in the wake of the first official "heat health" warning issued by the UK Meteorological (Met) Office for England and Wales. Hospital staff have been warned to expect a surge in admissions of elderly people suffering from the heat, and the department of health has asked people to check on the condition of vulnerable neighbours and family members.

The health department is advising people with serious health problems, such as heart conditions, to avoid leaving their homes between 11am and 3pm, even though mad dogs and Englishmen are known to favour the midday sun. People are also being advised against excessive exposure to the sun, to avoid tea, coffee and alcohol because they can cause dehydration, to drink plenty of water and to avoid strenuous activities.

Tennis fans attending the Wimbledon championships were being told to wear hats and use plenty of sun block. The heat health warning issued by the Met Office was its first under a scheme introduced after a major heatwave six years ago when 2,000 people, most of them elderly, died in temperatures that reached a record 38.5. Wayne Elliott, head of health forecasting at the Met Office, explained: "We have been working closely with the department of health to develop this service aimed at the vulnerable, especially the elderly."

An area of high pressure stuck over the UK is responsible for the current heatwave, which will mainly affect central and southern England, but is also bringing pleasantly warm weather to the rest of the country. Scientists believe that climate change will make heatwaves in temperate zone countries, such as the UK, increasingly frequent. At least the current one, after weeks of talk about MPs fiddling their expenses, has offered the British the opportunity to return to a more normal topic of conversation.