The UK Health Security Agency has issued a Level 4 alert for the first time. That declares a national emergency. The Met Office has issued its first Red Alert for extreme heat.
A Met Office Red Alert is in place for Monday and Tuesday across central and south east England, including east Shropshire. Other areas of England and Wales have an Orange Alert. Temperatures in some areas are expected to zoom to 40°C, in Ludlow to 37°C. These are the levels of heat people fly abroad for but we are ill adapted to high temperatures in this country where our angst is mostly about the cold and wet.
There are concerns that vulnerable people will suffer in the heat and that some may even die. Animals too could suffer. Please don’t walk dogs between mid-morning and the evening and never leave them in a car, even with the windows open.
Disruption to rail travel is expected. Waste and recycling will be collected as early as 6am. Store some water in case of disruption to supplies.
Weather is said to be our favourite topic in this maritime country. Here in the Marches, the weather can be unpredictable because we are sandwiched between the hills and mountains of Wales the lowlands of the Midlands. Weather can be quite different between Ludlow, Shrewsbury and Oswestry. However, the weather pattern the next few days looks to be stable until the heatwave eases a little on Tuesday evening.
Predicted temperatures in Ludlow are:
- Sunday: high 32°, low 14°
- Monday: high 38°, low 20°
- Tuesday: high 37°, low 17°.
Because of the lack of wind, temperatures will feel a few degrees higher than those on the thermometer.
The current weather is caused by a high pressure system called the Azores High, which usually sits off Spain, growing larger and pushing farther north as far as the UK. Cooler air from the north will reduce temperatures slightly midweek but winds will turn southerly bring heat from the Sahara later in the week.
The levels of alert for excessive heat were set out in Heatwave Plan for England published in 2004. This is the first time a Level 4 alert has been issued and it applies to all of England.
The Met Office uses a different warning scheme. Currently, the Red Alert does not include west Shropshire which is covered by the Orange Alert. Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury and Whitchurch are in the Red Alert zone. In some ways, the boundary between the Red and Amber Zones is arbitrary, a matter of a degree or two.
The Heatwave Plan defines high risk groups in the in the community as those over 75, female, living on own and isolated, severe physical or mental illness; urban areas, south‑facing top flat; alcohol and/or drug dependency, homeless, babies and young children, multiple medications and over-exertion. That covers a lot of people in Ludlow. A Level 4 Alert also means that illness and death could occur among the fit and healthy.
We are adapted to a cooler, wetter climate, not extreme heat and people need to take care to reduce impacts on their health.
We are currently experiencing a health service emergency with GPs, ambulances and hospitals experiencing pressures normally only seen in the winter. But that does not mean you should hesitate in seeking advice or help if you feel ill for any reason, including the effects of heat. Ring 111 or if you or someone else is ill. In life threatening situations, ring 999.
A major consequence of a heatwave is increased loss of life (excess deaths). Those old enough will remember the 1976 heatwave during which I was digging in the City of London. It was hot and, although the heatwave was long, temperatures were not as high as those predicted for some parts of the country for Monday and Tuesday. Deaths in London increased by 30 per cent during that heatwave. By comparison, the equivalent uplift in deaths for the UK during the winter 2020-21 Covid wave was around 40 per cent. In England, there were 2,500 excess deaths in the summer of 2020 due to hot weather.
Cognitive function declines in extreme temperatures impairing judgement. People also get more irritable. Researchers have found Americans honk their car horns more often in higher temperatures. We’ll have none of that here please! However, noisy parties and BBQs can have a greater impact on neighbours during extreme heat. Nothing is worse than when you can’t sleep because of the heat and lie hearing the shouts and screams of a party nearby in the early hours. Please have some thought for your neighbours.
Keeping cool and healthy
Few homes UK have air conditioning. We are usually more concerned with keeping warm. Almost every newspaper today has tips on keeping cool. The UK Health and Security Agency and NHS England have issued extensive advice on keeping cool.
Avoiding dehydration is essential. Take a bottle of water on all trips especially if walking. The moment you begin to feel thirsty, you are beginning to dehydrate.
Dogs and other pets
Like humans, our pets are adapted to our temperate climate and ill adapted to extreme heat.
Walk your dog in the early hours before the sun gains any strength or the relative cool of the evening. Never walk in the middle of the day, especially when the pavements could be hot.
As for humans, the main thing animals need in heat is water. Lots of it. Replace the water regularly with fresh cold water. I am freezing gravy lollipops for my border collie and have a constant supply of water for the dog and cat from gallon water feeders.
Both the PDSA and RSPA have issued advice on leaving dogs in hot cars and how to rescue the dog if you find one in that situation. The straightforward advice is don’t do leave your dog in a car in this weather.
A couple of weeks ago, a woman left her dog in a car in Ludlow on a hot day. The police were called and she has been reported to the RSPCA. Her excuse: “I was only popping to the hairdressers.” Even a few minutes in an overheated car can be fatal for the dog in extreme weather.
Waste and recycling collections will start at 6am on Monday and Tuesday. Please put your bins and bags out the night before or in the early hours.
Water. While reservoir levels are lower than normal in our area, there is no immediate water shortage. However, there could be local disruptions to supply if demand exceeds supply. Seven Trent Water is currently using tankers to pump an extra 300 million litres of water into the network to keep water flowing. The company advises avoiding washing cars and watering lawns until the temperature drops. It makes sense to fill a couple of bottles with water in case the taps run dry.
Buses should run as normal but there could be some disruption due to road conditions and vehicle breakdowns. Drink water on longer journeys.
The advice is don’t travel by train unless necessary. Blanket speed restrictions are in place from midday to 8pm on Monday and Tuesday to prevent damage to infrastructure and trains. Heavy passenger traffic is expected on some routes to coastal resorts, with potential overcrowding and overheating. There may be train cancellations. Check before you travel.