Professor Penelope Endersby, the chief executive of the Met Office, said that while extreme temperatures remain “rare”, by 2100 temperatures like those expected this week could be experienced in the UK once every three years because of climate change. She said: “These temperatures are unattainable in the UK without climate change, they just don’t appear in the ensembles at all.
“They’re still rare in today’s 1.1 – 1.2-degree warmed climate, but by 2100, we’re expecting them to be anywhere between one in 15 and one in three years, depending on the emissions pathways we take between now and then.”
The UK is expected to bake in record highs of up to 109F (43C) on Tuesday.
Such extreme temperatures are not expected beyond Tuesday but the Met Office will then be monitoring the possibility of drought in the coming months.
Professor Endersby said: “We will certainly need to make changes to our infrastructure, transport, hospitals, care, homes, all those sorts of things, as well as to our domestic building designs.
“So yes, we need to make short-term changes for things like cooling centres and then longer-term changes, as well as assuming the very good progress we’ve already made as a nation towards net zero.”
Paul Davies, chief meteorologist at the Met Office, warned the rise in temperature is “entirely consistent” with climate change and agreed the “brutality” of the heat could become commonplace by the end of the century.
Mr Davies told how the weather charts he had seen on Monday were “astounding” and unlike any he had observed throughout his 30-year career.
He said: “This is entirely consistent with climate change. To get 40 degrees in the UK we need that additional boost from human-induced climate.
“Well, I’ve been a meteorologist for about 30 years and I’ve never seen the charts I’ve seen today. And the speed at which we are seeing these exceptionally high temperatures is broadly in line with what we were saying but to be honest, as a meteorologist, to see the brutality of the heat we’re expecting tomorrow, is quite astounding.
“And it does worry me a lot and my colleagues here at the Met Office that this sort of unprecedented heat could become a regular occurrence by the end of the century.”
The forecaster said a “plume” of heat pushing across Europe was affecting Britain differently.
A combination of that, and human activity generating its own heat, is contributing to the high temperatures.
Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, said: “The extent of the heat in southern Europe and England would be extremely unlikely without human-caused climate change.
He said: “We have been warned for decades of this lethal consequence. Since air conditioning cannot be available for everyone, the only way now to avoid this level of heat is to stop warming the planet.
“Over the next few days, people must take it easy, drink plenty of water, stay out of the sun, and be ready for more.
“Not everyone has these options, with hundreds of excess deaths in Spain and Portugal already.”