Atlantic is keeping us cooler in heatwave, but experts warn we must act on global warming
It seems like we always miss out on summer when it arrives in the UK, but that could be good news as climate change takes its toll.
The intensity of heatwaves is almost always restricted to the south east of England, and on the rare occasions it does stretch this far, there’s a big difference in the top temperatures.
The hottest day recorded here was in Castlederg on July 21, 2021, when the mercury hit 31.3C.
However, that pales in comparison to the highest temperature across the water, a whopping 38.7C.
That figure, recorded in Cambridge on July 25, 2019, could be beaten over the next few days — which experts warn is a worrying sign.
But climatologist and senior lecturer at Queen’s University, Dr Donal Mullan, told the Belfast Telegraph a tiny difference in latitude of just three degrees means we will escape some of the worst consequences of global warming.
“Belfast is 54.5 degrees North, whereas London is 51.5,” he explained.
“When the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun, high pressure belts get pushed towards the equator.
“That draws warmer air from continental Europe into the south east.
“We are further north, so we don’t tend to get it.”
The expert said the difference in geography means there will always be a disparity in the weather.
“They will soon get extreme temperatures hitting well into the 40s,” he predicted.
“Those hot days have a big impact, especially on a country that isn’t prepared.”
Despite being shielded from the most intense heat, we will still be hugely impacted by global warming.
“The trajectory is still going up. Within a few years our extreme hot days will reach into the mid-30s here,” he said.
“The average July temperature in Belfast is 19C and in London it is 22C.
“I think it will soon be 22C in Belfast and into the mid-20s in London.”
The economic and societal cost, according to Dr Mullan, will be “astronomical”, even if we are prepared.
“It cannot be avoided. The NHS will be overstretched; they talk about winter pressure, but you are going to start hearing about summer pressure.
“Many people will be going to hospital due to heat-related illnesses.
“It would be wise to adjust our coastal defences, railways, reservoirs and infrastructure now. But it’s human nature to react instead of being proactive.”
The head of forecasting at Met Éireann, which provides an all-island service, shares the doom and gloom long range outlook.
But Evelyn Cusack explained why the Atlantic Ocean will help protect all who dwell on the Emerald Isle.
“Sea temperatures are around 17C in summer, which actually has a cooling effect on continental air washing up,” she explained.
“We have very little chance of getting into the 40s.
“I never say never, but to reach that extreme England would need to be in the 50s.”
The meteorologist explained that heatwaves take time to build up and therefore need to be prolonged weather events, although she conceded there are always anomalies.
“The sun heats up the ground, and its actually the ground that heats up the air,” Ms Cusack explained.
“So, say you get 27C, and overnight it drops to 15C, then it will likely hit 28C the following day because you are starting from a warmer point.”
The current warm spell could see the highest temperature ever recorded in Ireland beaten this weekend, surpassing the 33.3C recorded at Kilkenny Castle on June 26, 1887.
Ms Cusack warned the hotter summers we can expect to experience in the years ahead is not good news.
“More people die in summer than winter in other parts of the world,” she said.
“There can be very little shelter from a heatwave.
“Trees can have a great cooling effect, but there are less trees around.
“Poorer people have nowhere to escape.
“It can be horrendous and much more dangerous than being in a storm.”
Like almost everyone else, the weather forecaster admitted looking forward to summer, revealing her preference for a pleasant 22C.
“But, ultimately, I’d go for a green Ireland rather than a brown Ireland,” she added.
Meanwhile, BBC NI weatherman Barra Best expressed concern about the rate at which longstanding records are being beaten.
“The previous hottest day here before last year was in 1983,” he said.
“It took nearly 40 years to beat it, and now we could beat it again within 12 months.
“These are records we don’t necessarily want to break.”
He warned against associating heat with sunshine.
“It’s difficult to get warnings out there because people think of barbecues and nice days out,” Mr Best added.
“But, for the vulnerable, heat poses a real risk.”