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Today in history... Britain swelters in record heat

12:00am | & News

Everyone over 50 remembers the long hot summer of 1976, but it was on August 3rd, 1990, that a new record was set for the UK's highest temperature.

As most of the country basked in abnormal heat, a weather station in Nailstone, Leicestershire, recorded a temperature of 31.7ᵒC or 99ᵒF, one degree Fahrenheit higher than the previous record set in 1911.

While holidaymakers and schoolchildren on their summer break relaxed in the searing heat, it was no fun for those still at work. Some firms sent their staff home early as temperatures inside factories and offices soared to unbearable levels. Air conditioning was still quite unusual for the UK in 1990, though buildings which had it became a sanctuary from the heat.

In North Yorkshire the hot, dry weather had led to a spate of moorland and countryside fires, with fire crews battling to bring them under control. A hundred square miles of the Peak District National park was closed to visitors amid fears of similar fires being started by carelessly discarded cigarettes or unattended campfires.

Roads around the country were clogged as people headed for coastal resorts, all too often regretting the decision as they sweltered in long traffic jams, worsened by overheated cars. Several train services were cancelled as rails expanded and buckled, while others ran at reduced speeds because of the danger.

Shops sold out of ice creams, ice lollies and other frozen treats and people were asked to use water sparingly as reservoir levels continued to fall. One place where hose pipes were in full use was Bristol Zoo, where the penguins and pigs were being given regular cold showers to stop them dehydrating.

The record set 26 years ago today was broken again just 13 years later, on August 10th, 2003. A new record high temperature of 37.9ᵒC, or 100.6ᵒF, was recorded at Gravesend, in Kent – 1.6ᵒF higher than the previous record. Another 13 years on, could we now be in line for another record hot day this August?

Research shows that average global temperatures have risen significantly over the past century and weather experts predict that by the end of this century temperatures in the UK could reach 40ᵒC (104ᵒF). Opinions differ on what is causing the change, from man-made pollution affecting the ozone layer to increased solar activity and warmer oceans. Unfortunately warmer does not necessarily mean drier and it is predicted that as Britain gets hotter it will also get wetter.

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