A timeline of the UK’s hottest days as temperatures soar

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Soaring temperatures have prompted the Met Office to issue a “red extreme heat warning”.

Met Office forecasts suggest temperatures could soar to as high as 43C in some parts of England as the UK is currently facing what experts are predicting a record-breaking heatwave.

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But with some parts of England covered by a red heat health weather warning, some parts of Wales and Scotland are also covered by amber warnings.

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With temperatures soaring and the current weather forecast to be the hottest on record, when did UK records actually start, what was the hottest day on record and how have temperatures changed over time?

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Here’s what you need to know.

When did UK weather records begin?

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Persistent hot, dry weather has seen many people flock to seaside resorts in the UK (Image: Getty Images)

The Stevenson screen, a shelter measuring weather conditions, was invented in the 1860s, but on April 29, 1914, at a meeting of the Meteorological Committee, the Met Office officially assumed responsibility for keeping appropriate public weather records for the first time.

Between the end of the First World War and the 1950s, the Met Office expanded and the records it produced were stored across London – with different departments responsible for different records.

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Several records exist from a number of UK weather stations prior to 1914, but these are confined to small areas or the data is not standardized.

However, the Central England Temperature (CET) Record, which covers temperature from the south Midlands to Lancashire, has been recording weather data since 1659 and is the longest running record in the world.

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In Northern Ireland, the Armagh Observatory was founded in 1790 and began making meteorological records in 1974, which have continued ever since.

What is the hottest day since records began?

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Before this heatwave, when temperatures reached 39.1°C in Charlwood Surrey, the hottest day on record was on 25 July 2019 in Cambridge, where it peaked at 38.7°C.

However, PA News has reported that the Met Office said temperatures in many other places in England had already surpassed the previous record of 38.7C set in 2019 as of 1pm on Tuesday.

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Alongside the 40.2°C at Heathrow, Charlwood in Surrey reached 39.9°C, Kew Gardens saw 39.6°C and Wisley in Surrey recorded 39.3°C.

Chertsey in Surrey and Northolt in West London both saw 39.2C.

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In Wales it peaked at 37.1°C in Flintshire on 18 July 2022. For Scotland the hottest day on record was August 2003 with a temperature of 32.9°C and Northern Ireland was the hottest day since records began July 21, 2021 in Castlederg, where it reached 31.3°C.

However, in this heatwave, Scotland is expected to beat its current record with a forecast of 35C.

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How have temperatures in the UK changed over time?

(Graphic: Mark Hall)

Climate change is having a huge impact on the weather in the UK. According to ClimateChangePost, a news site covering climate change and adaptation with a focus on Europe, average CET temperatures from 1901 to 1999 show +0.6°C of warming over that period.

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From midsummer to late autumn, July (+ 0.8 °C), August (+ 1.2 °C), September (+ 0.9 °C), October (+ 1.2 °C) and November ( + 1.3 °C) C) or With the exception of March (+ 1.0 °C), the remaining months showed no statistically significant warming over the century.

CET has risen about one degree Celsius since the 1970s, and eight of the ten warmest years have occurred since 1990 – with 2006 being the warmest year on record.

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Studies have shown that this observed rate of warming cannot be explained by natural climate variability, but is consistent with the response to increasing greenhouse gases and aerosols simulated by the Met Office Hadley Center climate model.

It is projected that the average annual temperature in the UK will increase by 0.5 to 1°C by 2040, depending on the region.

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A timeline of Britain’s hottest days

The summer of 1911 held the record as the hottest in Britain for 80 years, when temperatures peaked at 36.7°C on 9 August.

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But in the summer of 1990, when temperatures reached 37.1°C in Cheltenham, a new record was set.

However, within 30 years, the 1911 record was equaled and surpassed four times.

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The top 10 hottest days in UK history, excluding the current heatwave, are:

  • July 25, 2019 – Cambridge: 38.7°C
  • 10 Aug 2003 – Faversham: 38.5C
  • July 31, 2020 – Heathrow: 37.8°C
  • August 3, 1990 – Cheltenham: 37.1 °C
  • July 1, 2015 – Heathrow: 36.7°C
  • August 9, 1911 – Raids: 36.7 °C
  • August 2, 1990 – Worcester: 36.6 °C
  • July 19, 2006 – Wisley: 36.4 °C
  • 7 August 2020 – Heathrow and Kew Gardens: 36.4°C
  • August 6, 2003 – Gravesend: 36.4°C

Met Office meteorologist Annie Shuttleworth told the PA on Tuesday (July 19) that it was “extremely unusual” to see temperatures in the 30s during the morning rush hour in the UK.

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She said: “It is extremely unusual to see these temperatures at this time of day in the UK”.

She said the high overnight temperatures had made for a very warm start to the day, adding: “We’re seeing the maximum temperatures somewhere between 40C and 41C and that appears to be in the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire region.”

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