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How the Saharan heatwave turned the UK into desert as South and East of England see almost no rain

How the Sahara heatwave turned the UK into desert as parts of the south and east of England have seen less than 1mm of rain so far this month

  • The UK had its hottest day on record on July 19 as temperatures hit 40 degrees
  • Compared to southern and eastern England, 5mm of rain fell in parts of the Sahara in July
  • The weather means this month could be the driest in the UK in over 250 years
  • Fires burned across the country amid the heat as fields and forests remained dry

After rival temperatures in the Sahara last week, parts of Britain are now drier than the African desert.

Less than 1mm of rain has fallen in the south and east of England so far this month, according to data from the Met Office.

By contrast, figures from The Weather Company, a leading IBM forecasting company, show that Laghouat, an Algerian city on the northern edge of the Sahara, has had 5mm of rain this month.

A man walks through a dry bank of a tributary to the Dowry Reservoir near Oldham.  Some parts of southern and eastern England have had less than 1mm of rain all month

A man walks through a dry bank of a tributary to the Dowry Reservoir near Oldham. Some parts of southern and eastern England have had less than 1mm of rain all month

With predictions that July could be the driest in the UK in 256 years, some eastern areas are on the brink of being classified as desert.

England has been short of green grass since the heat wave. In London, photos of Wimbledon Common, Hyde Park and Green Park show parched, yellow grass for lack of rain.

A Londoner visiting Hackney Marshes tweeted: ‘Well, that was a slightly hot bike home. Crossing the Hackney Marshes I thought I was back in Australia. I’ve never seen the grass so yellow.’

Computer forecasts suggest only 1mm of rain will fall in the east of the country for the rest of July, and between 2mm and 8mm in most other parts.

It means this month could beat the 8mm record for the driest July measured in 1825 in England and Wales. The Met Office records date back to 1766.

The dry banks of Woodhead Reservoir in West Yorkshire.  Some parts of the country are so arid they are almost considered deserts

The dry banks of Woodhead Reservoir in West Yorkshire. Some parts of the country are so arid they are almost considered deserts

London was registered as hotter than Western Sahara and the Caribbean last Monday. East Anglia is on track for less than 500mm of rain in the 12 months since August last year, meaning it would be classified as a semi-arid desert.

London Fire Brigade says it has dealt with more than 800 grass and open land fires from early June to 12 July.

And ‘exceptional’ fire risks are forecast today in Essex, with ‘very high’ risks in the South East, East Anglia and parts of the Midlands.

The Met Office says Britain is facing drought, with parts of the south and east already in ‘absolute drought’, defined as 15 days without rain. The Environment Agency says one in three rivers is “exceptionally low” and some reservoirs are half empty. The chance of garden hose bans is increasing and crops are also expected to be affected.

Brian Gaze, a forecaster at The Weather Outlook, said: ‘It is remarkable that parts of Britain have had less rain than the Sahara in July. The ground is bone dry and little rain is forecast until the first weeks of August.’

Firefighters fight grass and field fires near Chesterfield in Derbyshire on July 19 as temperatures hit record levels across Britain.  A large number of fires broke out under the dry and hot conditions

Firefighters fight grass and field fires near Chesterfield in Derbyshire on July 19 as temperatures hit record levels across Britain. A large number of fires broke out under the dry and hot conditions

A grass fire in Newgale, Pembrokeshire, as firefighters work to contain it in 40 degree heat

A grass fire in Newgale, Pembrokeshire, as firefighters work to contain it in 40 degree heat

Met Office chief executive Penny Endersby said: ‘Our focus is on drought and when we can see rain – and we don’t see significant rain on the way.’

On average, England and Wales have seen just 5mm of rain so far this month, Met Office figures show, and more warm weather is expected as the summer holidays kick in.

Although lower than last week’s heat wave, which peaked at 40.3 degrees Celsius in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, the UK will see temperatures of 28°C in the coming days. Meteorologists say there is a good chance of more very hot spells in August.

Meanwhile, within weeks, water companies Southern Water and Dwr Cymru warned of a ban on garden hoses, and Kelly Hewson-Fisher, of the National Farmers’ Union, pleaded with the public to make sure there wasn’t accidental fire.

“The risk of fire is still extremely high,” she said. “A fallen match or smoldering barbecue is all it takes to start a serious fire.”

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