But the seemingly unlikely model forecasts proved correct. London Heathrow was among five locations in the United Kingdom to top 40 Celsius on Tuesday, shattering Britain’s all-time temperature record.
This is the latest example of how human-caused climate change is pushing temperatures to levels previously considered unfathomable — faster than many can imagine.
In 2020, the Met Office issued projections suggesting that the type of heat seen in Britain on Tuesday might occur somewhat routinely by 2050. But to see it happen in 2022 struck scientists as both premature and an ominous preview of what’s to come.
“I wasn’t expecting to see this in my career,” Stephen Belcher, chief of science and technology at the Met Office, said in an online video.
Belcher warned that if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed, temperatures in the U.K. could eventually get this hot every three years.
Another factor that startled scientists: It wasn’t just that Britain’s temperature record was eclipsed, it was beaten by 1.6 Celsius (2.9 degrees Fahrenheit). The previous mark was 38.7 Celsius, set in Cambridge two summers ago.
“For meteorologists, exceeding records by a margin of 2 or 3 degrees is a staggering thought when historically records were only broken by fractions of a degree,” said Simon King, a meteorologist for BBC.
The Met Office reported that at least 34 locations in the country surpassed the previous national record.
The number of high temperature records set in the U.K. on Tuesday, both for daytime highs and nighttime lows, and the magnitude by which they were broken are reminiscent of the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest last year.
The U.K. has broken essentially every temperature record there is to break by considerable margins over the past 24 hours. An astonishing and extremely dangerous heatwave by any measure–and eerily similar to the incredible Pacific Northwest event back in June 2021.#ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/az4y7lmKuH
— Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) July 19, 2022
That heat wave set high-temperature records by massive margins in Seattle and Portland, which hit 108 and 116 degrees. Lytton, a village in British Columbia, broke Canada’s previous heat record of 113 degrees on three straight days, climaxing at a shocking 121 degrees on June 29.
Scientists with the World Weather Attribution project found climate change had made the Pacific Northwest heat wave at least 150 times as probable.
Meteorologists also marveled at how far north temperatures skyrocketed in this week’s European heat wave. London is farther north than any location in the Lower 48 states and sits a latitude just north of Calgary. Its high of 104 was hotter than Houston and Miami.
How abnormal is the record-shattering heat wave in Europe? View this map. @weatherchannel
London’s latitude is 10° farther N than Chicago.
London hit a prelim high of 104.4°F(40.2°C)🌡️ at Heathrow Airport today, which obliterated the previous record of 101.7°F set in 2019. pic.twitter.com/6LVwbhTsJY
— Scot Pilié (@ScotPilie_Wx) July 19, 2022
Corinne Le Quéré, a climate research professor at the University of East Anglia, said the high temperatures seen in the U.K. should not be so shocking.
“We should not be surprised about the extreme temperatures that we live in the UK this week,” she said in an email. “The rise in extreme temperatures is a direct consequence of climate change caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Temperature records will continue to be more and more extreme in the future.”
But other scientists said the magnitude of these heat waves may force people to reassess what weather events supercharged by climate change might bring.
“I think it’s likely that, as a society, we’ve severely underestimated risks & potential consequences of outlier heat events in highly populated/temperate regions where extreme heat has historically been rare,” tweeted Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “And #ClimateChange is increasing the stakes.”
“Models, if anything, are underestimating the potential for future increases in various types of extreme [summer weather] events,” Michael Mann, a professor at Penn State, told the Guardian.
Kasha Patel contributed to this report.