Britain heads for the coast

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THE RUSH-HOUR began two hours early yesterday as thousands of sun-seekers headed to the coast to make the most of Britain's hottest weekend of the year.

As weather forecasters said the high temperatures and sunshine would last at least until the end of tomorrow in most areas, motorists were warned that the belated arrival of summer was already causing traffic problems.

A spokesman for AA Roadwatch said yesterday: "Roads started to get packed from about 2pm. It seemed like the entire country was leaving work early. The M25 was very slow two hours earlier than usual for a Friday."

He added: "The M5 in Devon has been very bad. All the traffic is causing a lot of extra hassle. All roads leading to the coast will continue to be very busy, as people have been deprived of the sun for so long."

Andy Yeatman, of the Met Office, said: "Many parts of the country will be dry, hot and sunny. The highest temperatures will be in the South-east, where there will be temperatures as high as 30 degrees (86F)."

But he warned: "On Sunday it could cloud over and there is the chance of the odd shower in some places. The weather won't be so good in the North-west, where it will be rather cloudy, with some patchy rain over the whole weekend."

Referring to the Met Office's new Comfort Index, launched this week to inform the public on the combined effect of high temperatures and humidity, Mr Yeatman said the weather in the South will be "slightly comfortable".

He added: "The outlook is for some reasonable August weather in southern parts. The warm, dry weather should continue for a while but there is a chance that showers in the North-west could become more widespread."

The warm weekend is certain to bring a welcome boost in profits for businesses in coastal resorts. Traders in Brighton were preparing for an influx of visitors eager to make up for lost time after summer's slow start.

"We are expecting thousands of tourists this weekend - the sun can only be positive," said Ian Duncan, chairman of recreation and tourism.