Drought Is Declared in Parts of a Hot, Dry Britain

LONDON — The British government declared a drought for parts of southern, eastern and central England on Friday as the country, unaccustomed to such extreme heat, endured another day of scorching conditions.

The declaration came after a group of officials and experts, including the National Drought Group, met to discuss the government’s response to “the driest summer in 50 years,” the Environment Agency said in a statement. Extreme-heat warnings have also been issued for parts of southern England and Wales, just weeks after Britain withered under some of its highest temperatures on record.

“We are currently experiencing a second heat wave after what was the driest July on record for parts of the country,” Britain’s water minister, Steve Double, said in a statement released after the drought group’s meeting.

“Action is already being taken by the government and other partners,” to deal with the drought, he added.

The declaration, signaling the first official drought in the country since 2018, will allow water companies to impose stricter conservation measures. Several water companies have temporarily banned the use of hoses to water yards and gardens and to wash vehicles.

“Water companies are already managing the unprecedented effects of the driest winter and spring since the 1970s, and with more hot, dry weather forecast, it’s crucial we be even more mindful of our water use to minimize spikes in demand and ensure there’s enough to go around,” Peter Jenkins, director of communications for the industry body Water UK, said in a statement.

The Met Office, Britain’s national weather service, issued an extreme-heat warning through Sunday for much of the southern half of England and for parts of Wales, underscoring that the soaring temperatures could not only disrupt travel but also raise the risk of heat-related illnesses for certain groups.

Wiggonholt, in southern England, recorded the country’s highest temperature on Thursday, at 93.5 Fahrenheit (34.2 Celsius). By midday on Friday, temperatures in southern England had already reached 90.5 Fahrenheit (32.5 Celsius), with the expectation that they could climb even higher over the weekend, according to meteorologists. But weather experts also predicted that the conditions would not be as extreme as those in July, when they reached above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Britain for the first time.

The threats of heat waves and wildfires have alarmed British firefighters who say that they have been underprepared to tackle such extreme weather. Years of cuts to staffing and to funding from central government have left the fire and rescue services ill equipped to cope, union officials say.

More than 40 properties were destroyed and 16 firefighters injured in blazes across London on July 19, at the height of that month’s heat wave. Chronic staff shortages that day meant that more than a quarter of the city’s fire engines were unusable, according to the Fire Brigades Union.

“We have been warning about this for so long now” said Riccardo la Torre, a senior officer at the union. “This issue isn’t going away.”

The London Fire Brigade said that it had dealt with 340 outdoor fires in the first week of August, more than eight times the number recorded during the same period last year.

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Thursday urged residents to avoid grilling on balconies, at parks and in backyards over fears that fires might be sparked.

Several retail chains have stopped selling disposable grills during the dry spell, The Guardian reported.

The heat wave across Britain in July was worsened by climate change, according to a scientific report. While tying a single heat wave to climate change requires analysis, scientists have no doubt that heat waves around the world are becoming hotter, more frequent and longer lasting. As the burning of fossil fuels causes average global temperatures to increase, the range of possible temperatures moves upward, too, making sizzling highs more likely. This means that every heat wave is now made worse, to some extent, by changes in planetary chemistry caused by greenhouse-gas emissions

Dan Roberts, a psychotherapist in London, said on Thursday that because of the extreme heat he was giving patients the option to have appointments by Zoom. “My office is like an oven,” he said, adding that traveling in the heat might also be too much for some. “We really struggle when the temperature gets this high,” he said.

Rising temperatures, Mr. Roberts said, can have a negative effect on a person’s emotional well-being.

“What we find is that when temperatures go up, you get a big spike in things like road rage, violent crime, domestic violence, that kind of thing,” he said. “The hotter we get, the more volatile our emotions become, particularly anger. We can be quick to anger, we can lose our temper, very irritable, frustrated.”

In Leeds, in northern England, Ashley Moore, an economist who works from home, said that he had not only moved his desk around his office to avoid the sun but was also working with fewer clothes on and avoiding going on camera.

Mr. Moore said that he planned to stay cool over the weekend by retreating to local beer gardens and staying near a canal. At home, he has purchased additional fans. He admitted that he was still adapting.

“It’s nice to go on holiday to the heat,” he noted, but, he said, “I’m not expecting this here, at this time of year, at this intensity and this regularly. I’m not enjoying that.”

Cora Engelbrecht and Euan Ward contributed reporting.

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