This is a blog post from Renee Karunungan.
Last week, I jokingly told my friends that the UK is becoming the Philippines. Hot summers and heavy rains are not new to me. As someone from the Philippines, we constantly have 40C summers and monsoon rains. The difference, however, is that the Philippines is more prepared and equipped to deal with these extremes than the UK.
The United Kingdom has been experiencing hot weather the last few days, with temperatures reaching up to 38.1C in Cambridgeshire and and 36.25C in Norfolk on Thursday. Afterwards, downpours that caused flooding in North England, including Manchester and Warrington.
July 25th 2019 is now the hottest July day on record for the UK. August 9, 2003 was the hottest day ever. The UK Met Office cite last year’s summer as the hottest on record. And it’s not only heatwave that the UK has to deal with, as torrential rains poured down half a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours over the weekend. This isn’t the first time rains have caused flooding either. In June 2012, in what was called the “Toon Monsoon,” a month’s worth of rain fell and flooded Newcastle, causing traffic chaos and millions of pounds worth of damage.
The UK needs to brace for more heatwaves and intense rainfalls. In an interview with the Independent newspaper, Jaise Kuriakose, a lecturer at Tyndall Centre Manchester said that future years would see frequent hotter summer temperatures in the UK, like Spain or Southern France, at 38-40C by 2080.
A warmer atmosphere also increases the frequency and strength of rainfall. The Met Office shows that intense rainfall and flashflooding could become five times more frequent by the end of this century.
One example of where the UK could adapt better is public transport. I use the bus and train most of the time and now know that buses in the UK don’t have enough ventilation for the summer. It becomes uncomfortably hot, enough to make me dizzy and I have difficulty of breathing. Children and old people use buses the most.
Trains were also cancelled because of the heat. When hot, the steel tracks expand they are at risk of buckling. Baked steel rails can be 20C hotter than the air temperature and so on a 40C day, steel rails are 60C. According to Network Rail UK rails were tested based on the average summer heat at 27C. In hotter countries, they assume higher temperatures and manage their tracks accordingly. But trains on the European mainland don’t like hot days either, their engines can overheat.
There also needs to be better adaptation of buildings and homes. A 2016 report by the Committee on Climate Change shows new houses being built in the UK overheat even in cool summers. The architecture of office spaces is not any different, making it too hot to work. 24C is the maximum temperature to work in comfort says the World Health Organisation.
Then there is people’s health. I saw children and men walking the streets almost naked in this heat, skin red and burnt. Sunburn, heat stroke, and dehydration are health impacts of extreme heat. Most of the people in the UK aren’t used to this extreme weather and have to live in homes that trap heat, ride transportation that don’t have ventilation, and sit in offices too hot to work. Old people are the most vulnerable shows research by Raquel Nunes of Warwick University, former Tyndall PhD.
The UK now experiences the summers that used to be only felt in countries like mine. In addition to cutting CO2 as part of global responsibility for reducing warming, the UK needs to have better adaptation as its climate continues to warm.