UK summers could hit ‘dangerous’ 45C highs, says scientist — and fans won’t help
The last week has been tough for Brits who struggle in hot weather.
But the UK will see even more extreme heatwaves in future summers if nothing is done about climate change — and they could become so intense they're dangerous to our health.
The hottest day on record was 38.5C back in 2003, but Dr Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, says summer highs could get much higher.
"This is up to us," he told Daily Star Online.
"If we do nothing, then outdoor temperatures exceeding 40C will become common each year.
"On current trends, which we can change if we choose, we are looking at UK maximum temperatures rising perhaps half a degree Celsius per decade.
"As a rough guide, it means that maximum heatwave temperatures in the UK would be pushing 40C in 20 years, above that level in 50 years, and the mid-40s in 100 years."
While temperatures as high as 45C are sometimes recorded in places like the Middle East, it's a good 10 degrees hotter than we're used to in the UK.
Rising temperatures can have extreme effects on human health, especially if the nights become too hot for the body to cool down sufficiently to "recover", Dr Kelman says.
"Overheating leads to heat exhaustion, which can be dealt with if the person can cool down, and then heatstroke, which can be fatal. Dehydration is common, affecting our ability to function.
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"Air pollution can worsen under heat with its knock-on health effects, such as increasing cancer and exacerbating asthma."
He says it's "especially concerning" that the UK could move into a realm in which we can't survive without some form of artificial cooling — because eventually, your trusty fan won't cut it.
"We will also hit heat-humidity combinations where artificial cooling must mean air conditioning, not fans. Eventually, fans do little, merely blowing hot air back onto someone suffering, dehydrating them more," he warns.
"Both air conditioning and fans use a lot of energy, so some people cannot afford it and it adds to climate change causes."
UK architecture could move toward more "natural ventilation" designs that don't use electricity, but this method is limited in how well it can cope with excessively high temperatures.
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An estimated 2,000 people die in the UK every year from heat-related health problems. Dr Kelman claims that without urgent actions, this death toll could "rise substantially".
If no significant action is taken to reduce global carbon emissions, not only will more people die but our infrastructure such as trains and the Underground will become even more disrupted and uncomfortable.
"Hot air holds more moisture, so when it rains, it will be in greater intensity, leading to worsening floods. Without preparing people, livelihoods, and properties for this changing flooding, deaths and damage from flood disasters will increase."
However even despite this bad news, Dr Kelman says it's unlikely that the UK will become "entirely unliveable" as the highest temperatures tend to occur in the south, leaving other major areas like Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow, and Aberdeen still habitable.
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"Even if rising seas inundate swathes of low-lying coasts and accelerate cliff erosion, the UK has plenty of higher ground and inland areas."
The best way to stay safe and healthy in high heat is to stay out of the sun, Dr Kelman says.
"A long lunchtime stroll through the park or enjoying a day at the beach might sound fun, but heatstroke can happen quickly.
"Drink plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated cold drinks (water is good), when exercising do so moderately and not during the hottest part of the day, spray yourself with cool water and take cool showers/baths, and wear loose, light clothing (and a hat outdoors)."
He also recommends Brits learn first aid and be ready to use it on people suffering from heat.
"Look out for those who are susceptible, particularly the young and elderly. Nobody and no animal should be left in a closed, confined space such as a parked car or an uncooled room with the sun streaming in."
It's simple for people to take these preventative measures on the few really hot days each year, Dr Kelman says — but in the future, such actions will likely be required more and more often.
"When it becomes several weeks total or several days in a row, it becomes increasingly disruptive."
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