Britain has been engulfed in a blistering summer heatwave, with temperatures set to top 36°C (97°F) in parts of the UK today.
The heat has sent Britain into a frenzy, with electric fans selling out in shops across the country and workers taking sick days simply to avoid travelling in the heat.
However, the reaction to the UK heatwave has drawn mockery from those acclimatised to warmer climates, including Australia, where the hottest temperature ever recorded reached 50.7°C (123°F).
But while residents of warmer nations may poke fun at the Brits and their ‘stifling’ weather, experts say the UK really does have it tough when it comes to heatwaves.
Smaller increases in temperature can have a bigger impact in Britain because of a number of key factors, including the fact that houses and offices in the UK are not designed to deal with high temperatures.
In the UK, buildings are designed to keep heat in and often lacking air conditioning – very different to the priorities of architects in other climates around the globe.
Brits themselves are also ill-equipped to handle heatwaves because our bodies aren’t accustomed to high temperatures – meaning they will rapidly overheat.
Scientists say that people in Britain also ‘don’t know how to take care of themselves’ during heatwaves, staying out in the sun too long, and failing to drink enough water.
This can lead to dehydration, which leaves people feeling tired, light-headed and dizzy.
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Experts say the UK really does have it tough when it comes to heatwaves because our buildings and bodies struggle in the heat. Pictured are British beach-goers basking in the heat last week
The design of Britain’s buildings
Buildings in the UK are typically compact, with the average one-bedroom home measuring just 46 square metres (495 sq ft), according to the Royal Institute of British Architects.
This coupled with heavy insulation means they are excellent at trapping heat to help residents stay warm during the winter.
But after a few sunny days, British homes become ‘heat islands’ – an area that is significantly warmer than its surroundings.
According to Dr Elizabeth Hanna, president of Australia’s climate and health alliance, this effect makes it ‘very difficult for houses to cool down’.
Buildings in Britain also typically point one way, meaning they are not designed around natural ventilation like houses in North Africa or the Middle East.
‘The problem with British housing provision is there’s no legislation to ensure residences have double aspect,’ Ellis Woodman, executive editor of Building Design magazine, told the BBC.
‘This means you get a lot of new flats in cities that only have one room orientation, which means you can’t have cross ventilation, or a draught.’
No air conditioning
Unlike hotter nations such as Australia, few homes in Britain have air conditioning units to combat the heat.
A 2008 report from Mintel found that just 0.5 per cent of UK homes had any form of air conditioning.
In the US, it is estimated as many as 100 million homes feature air con units, accounting for 15 per cent of its total energy consumption.
Even the London Underground, which handles as many as 5 million passenger journeys per day, lacks air con on most of its lines.
London Underground staff this week urged bosses to allow them to wear shorts as temperatures on the network soared past 40°C (104°F).
As an extended heatwave sees temperatures in the UK topping 36°C (97°F) today, Britain has been sent into a frenzy as it suits up for what could be its hottest day since records began. The heat this week was driven by a bank of high-pressure called the ‘Mediterranean melt’
Britons aren’t built for the heat
People in the UK aren’t used to extended periods of heat, and so feel its effects more during heatwaves.
Writing in The Advertiser in Adelaide, Dr Hanna said: ‘They don’t know how to take care of themselves, they stay out in the sun for too long and forget to drink plenty of water.
‘People who are not at all used to warm weather, particularly when it’s getting a little humid as well, can overheat very quickly.’
HOW HIGH DID GLOBAL TEMPERATURES REACH DURING THE HEATWAVE OF JULY 2018?
Temperature records worldwide were shattered by an unusual global heatwave in late June and early July 2018.
Stifling heat cracked roads and buckled roofs across Britain, as Motherwell hit the highest temperature ever recorded in Scotland at 91.8°F (33.2°C). The previous record was 91.2°F (32.9°C) set in August 2003 at Greycrook.
Glasgow had its hottest day on record, hitting 89.4°F (31.9°C).
In Ireland, on June 28 Belfast also reached a record high, as it hit 85.1°F (29.5°C). Shannon also hit its own record at 89.6°F (32°C). In Northern Ireland, Castlederg hit 86.2°F (30.1°C) on June 29, its record highest.
In Canada, Montreal smashed its previous record for the hottest temperature, as readings showed 97.9 °F (36.6°C)
Ottawa posted its most extreme combination of heat and humidity on July 1.
Meanwhile in the US, Denver, the Colorado state capital, tied its all-time high-temperature record of 105°F (40°C) on June 28
Burlington, in Vermont, set its all-time warmest low temperature ever, recording a low of 80°F (27°C) within the 24 hour period on July 2
Whilst the islands in Western Europe smouldered in its own heatwave, Eurasia was baking as well.
Yerevan, in the previously Soviet state of Armenia, saw temperatures soar to 107.6°F (42°C).
Russia, the host country of the World Cup this year, is also in the midst of a heatwave and several spots across the south of the world’s largest country either matched or exceeded their warmest June temperatures.
In the Middle-Eastern nation of Oman, the lowest temperature for 24 hours on June 28 was 108.7°F (42.6°C) in the coastal city of Quriyat’s.
These fantastical numbers come just months after Pakistan posted the hottest temperature ever seen on Earth.
Lack of outdoor cooling facilities
Unlike those of hotter nations, Britain’s streets are not lined with water fountains or other outdoor cooling facilities.
Drinking fountains are common sites in countries like the US or Italy, allowing overheating walkers to quickly cool down.
In the UK, they are far less common, with a 2010 report from the Children’s Food Campaign finding just 11 per cent of the UK’s green spaces provide water fountains.
Of these, only two-thirds actually worked.
In cities like Seattle, New York, Chicago and Boston air-conditioned public community centres are set aside to offer respite from the heat.
These facilities also hand out water and medical attention to help with periods of hot weather.