heat waves
The term heat wave is used to describe a period of very hot weather. It is accepted that temperatures above 27ºC (80ºF) constitutes a heat wave in Britain. Over the summer of 2003, Europe experienced a significant period of high temperatures. This heat wave saw record temperatures 10ºC above average, crowded beaches and a number of heat related deaths.

In southeast England, a record of 38.5ºC was recorded at Brogdale, near Faversham in Kent on 10th August 2003. This was the highest temperature recorded since records began and beat the previous record of 37.1ºC at Cheltenham in 1990. The hot weather in 2003 was due to an anti-cyclone over western Europe which had got stuck there and blocked any rain coming from the Atlantic Ocean but moved in hot air from Africa.

'UK swelters on hottest day of the year'

'Britain basks in record temperatures'

'Heat wave sizzles on after record day

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While Southern England experienced record temperatures, parts of the Midlands and Northern England had violent storms, lightning and heavy rain. Over 20 people were actually hit by lightning and one killed in central England, while others were soaking up the sunshine on the south coast.

The heat wave brought with it environmental, health, transport and economical problems. Wild fires were a major hazard in rural areas and at roadsides where vegetation had become tinder dry. Air pollution and smog levels were high due to increased sunlight and car fumes, while many suffered from dehydration and heat stroke. In France, the death toll totalled 11,000, mainly elderly people who could not withstand temperatures reaching 40ºC. Speed restrictions were enforced on train lines in southern England during the middle of the day over fears that the rails may buckle in the heat. The total cost to the economy was estimated to reach £300 million due to absenteeism from work, falling sales in shops and transport chaos.

Many scientists believe that the high temperatures of 2003 were an indication of global warming. It is predicted that such hot summers may occur twice every three years in 70 years time.