Britain's Winter Heat Wave Means Wildfires and Chronic Pollution

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London this week has been warmer than parts of the Middle East as an influx of warm Saharan air caused record winter temperatures in Britain.

A high of 21.2 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit) was recorded in southwest London on Tuesday, the highest in winter months since the country started recording weather systematically in the mid-nineteenth century. It’s a temperature normally associated with a pleasant summer’s day in the U.K. and more than double the seasonal average.

But while Britons enjoyed unbroken hours of warm sunshine, the winter heatwave helped start wildfires -- a phenomenon typically associated with high summer -- and left some parts of the countries with worsening air quality.

Fire fighters fought a blaze covering 1.5 square kilometers (0.6 square miles) of moorland in West Yorkshire, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. Flames also engulfed an area of Arthur’s Seat, a rocky outcrop overlooking the city of Edinburgh. In East Sussex, hundreds of miles to the south, two fires broke out in Ashdown Forest, an area made famous as the setting for the Winnie the Pooh stories.

“This warm weather cannot be dismissed as a one off,” Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only member of parliament, wrote in the Independent newspaper. “This is part of the a wider global trend of record-breaking temperatures and extreme weather patterns.”

The flow of air northward from the Sahara desert has also contributed to worsening levels of pollution as sand particles combined with local pollution from cars and trucks, made worse by high pressure and a lack of wind.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs warned of elevated levels of pollution in London and across the Midlands on Wednesday. Temperatures are expected to drop in the second half of the week with rain forecast for much of the country.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.