On the eve of his partner’s birthday, Gary Williams was busy with an unusual kind of decorating: covering all the windows in their London home with tinfoil.
Williams and others in the U.K. are forced to find creative ways to stay cool during the region’s historic heat wave, where temperatures are expected to reach 40 C degrees within the next two days.
“My thought was, even if it reduces the temperature in the home by just a couple of degrees, that’s worth having,” Williams told As It Happens guest host David Cochrane.
On Monday, the Met Office, U.K.’s weather service, issued its first-ever “red” alert in anticipation of the scorching heat across the isle.
Like most other homes in Britain, Williams’s residence does not have air conditioning. After seeing tinfoil in some neighbouring houses and doing some online research on the effectiveness of the method, he decided to give it a shot – but he said it’s far from the perfect solution.
“We’re not really built as a city for this kind of temperature,” said Williams. “This particular city is built to hold the heating, and it’s built for cold winters, basically, and foggy, foggy autumns and wet springs and summers. It’s not built for this kind of heat wave.”
This lack of heat proofing extends beyond England. Elizabeth Carnahan, who lives near the Scottish town of Falkirk, said the infrastructure in Scotland isn’t set up for hot weather.
“The houses here aren’t well ventilated, so air just kind of sits,” she wrote in a text message to As It Happens. “It’s not easy to get a cross breeze.”
Alongside hanging tinfoil in the windows, Carnahan is turning to other means of cooling down without air conditioning – like keeping the window shutters closed, applying cold compresses and placing a frozen water bottle in front of a fan.
The Met Office forecasts that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could also set new high temperature records.
Extreme heat disrupting daily lives
As someone who grew up in southern U.S., Carnahan is no stranger to the heat. But she said the current weather conditions are the hottest she’s experienced in over two decades of living in Scotland.
“The lack of [air conditioning] means we have to make preparations for hot weather. In Alabama, we just turned the thermostat down a bit.”
Climate experts warn that global warming has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, with studies showing that the likelihood of temperatures in the U.K. reaching 40 C is now 10 times higher than in the pre-industrial era.
The extreme heat is already disrupting the daily lives of people in the U.K. Flights were suspended on Monday at an air force base and temporarily at one London airport as the high temperatures caused damage to sections of the runways. Train operators have warned passengers to avoid travel, fearing that the heat will warp the rails and disrupt power supplies.
Back in London, Williams said he had noticed fewer joggers than usual while out on his morning walk, with people venturing outside only for essential tasks like walking their dogs.
“People seem to be doing what they’re told, which is stay home,” he told Cochrane.
The heat is expected to hold through Tuesday with nighttime offering little relief. The Met Office is forecasting “very oppressive” temperatures of 29 C at midnight in London.
In the meantime, Williams plans to spend the evening at the local movie theatre in his continued attempts to stay cool. But he said the current crisis serves a reminder for the need for long-term climate solutions.
“We’re just going to have to figure out a whole new approach to how we deal with this kind of heat in this kind of city going forward,” he said.
Written by Olsy Sorokina with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Arman Aghbali.