Heatwave steams towards the record books

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The Independent Online
It really is a scorcher, all over the world. According to Meteorological Office climate experts, 1995 has an excellent chance of being the world's hottest year since global temperature records began more than 100 years ago.

In Britain, the minor, local heatwave of the past few days broke no records but the world-wide warming is more impressive and alarming because it may be caused by a build up of heat-trapping pollutants in the atmosphere.

With only five months' data in for 1995, from more than 1,000 land-based weather stations and hundreds of ships at sea, the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research says that this year is level- pegging with 1990, the hottest in the 135-year record.

''We can say already that it is heading to be a very warm year,'' said David Parker, compiler of the global record. Even if it did not beat 1990, he expected it to be among the top five warmest, continuing the trend of exceptionally warm years seen since1980.

The recent very high temperatures and humidity in the American Mid West are estimated to have killed more than 800 people, while Shanghai's 11 million inhabitants are experiencing the worst heatwave there in nearly 50 years. Across parts of southern Europe the mercury has risen over 40C (104F).

Three fatal heart attacks in France and 12 in southern Spain have been blamed on the heat. Some employees were sent home because of the heat, or at least allowed to choose their own clocking on and off times so as to avoid the mid-day swelter.

The heat ripple broke across much of Britain yesterday, lingering longest in the South-east. The weekend should be cooler but remain dry and sunny, although Scotland is likely to be rained on.

Peak temperatures occurred on Thursday, just about reaching 90F in the hottest places, but came nowhere near breaking any records. It has, however, been warm enough to promote outbreaks of blue-green algae at the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont, near Nottingham, while plagues of aphids, thrips, ants, caterpillars and other insects have descended on suburban gardens.

The Met Office considers summer to be the months of June, July and August. So the first half of summer has now gone, and it has turned out to be slightly warmer than the average for the past 330 years. It seems a long time ago now, but the first half of June in Britain was unseasonably, miserably cold this year.

At the Palm House in Kew Gardens, south-west London, the first fruiting of a tropical breadfruit tree has been attributed to the warm weather. The white, pimply, grapefruit-sized fruit is expected to grow to the size of a football. A spokesman said staff would not eat it unless it ripened fully and fell off.

The 30ft tree is linked with Captain Bligh's ship, the Bounty, scene of a famous naval mutiny in 1788. The tree is a cutting of cuttings brought back to Britain from a Caribbean expedition by the Bounty before the mutiny.

Weather forecast, page 2