Michael McCarthyThu 12 Jul 2018 14.54 BST
I hoped 2003’s record heatwave would make people more aware. Yet they promptly forgot all about it
I don’t know anybody who remembers 10 August 2003 and its significance, although the date has never faded from my mind. That was Britain’s hottest ever day, the day the current British air temperature record was set: it leapt from the old record of 37.1C, set on 3 August 1990, to the new figure of 38.5C.
Those bare numbers may not mean much to you, though they may well appear more meaningful if you convert them to fahrenheit. For the old record was 98.8F,but the new one was 101.3F, and that meant that the 100F barrier had been broken in Britain for the first time ever. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that this was a hugely symbolic crossing of an environmental threshold; yet the population instantly forgot all about it.
The current heatwave bids fair to be the longest period of sustained hot weather since the fabled summer of 1976. But will it actually be the hottest? Might we actually see a new British record air temperature? Local records are already being broken and there was a brief flurry of excitement 10 days ago when it appeared that the Scottish national record had been smashed with a temperature of 33.2C (91.7F) recorded in Motherwell, but now the Met Office has rejected the claim because a vehicle with its engine running was too close to the thermometer.
It seems a new British record is certainly possible this summer that, if achieved, would give considerable force to the suggestion that the very high temperatures that have been in evidence all over the northern hemisphere this summer are at least partly the product of global warming, rather than just natural variation.