With beaches packed, barbecue sales soaring and warnings of traffic jams, Britons look set to enjoy summer's last hurrah this weekend in traditional style – even if it is officially autumn.
Today is expected to be the hottest October day ever as temperatures climb towards the record of 29.4C (85F) set in 1985. It comes after a week in which most of Britain basked in unseasonably warm weather.
Yesterday, Cambridge was the hottest place in the UK at 29.2C, making it warmer than the Mediterranean and even Honolulu and Barbados. But while hopes of a lasting heatwave may be high, forecasters warned that we should enjoy the weather while it lasts.
Temperatures have already started to fall back to normal in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the north of England likely to follow on Monday. London and the South-east, however, might see cloudless skies until Wednesday, according to the Met Office. People have been making the most of the unusual conditions, which have seen temperatures 10C above normal, fooling spring plants into blooming nearly six months early. Hotels.com reported a more than ten-fold rise in searches of top British seaside destinations. The most popular resort was Broadstairs, Kent, with a 275 per cent increase in hotel searches compared with the same time last year, although traditional destinations such as Salcombe in Devon, Skegness in Lincolnshire and Southend-on-Sea in Essex were also popular online.
Inevitably, travel organisations were warning that the sunshine would lead to hold-ups on major routes, with heavy traffic on coast roads and motorways. Because of the unexpected nature of the heatwave, the authorities have not had time to scale back roadworks, as they do during the summer months when they know there will be extra holiday traffic.
Trafficlink warned motorists to expect tailbacks on the A303 at Stonehenge, on the A64 to Scarborough and the A23 to Brighton. A spokesman said: "There will be a significant number of people squeezing in an extra sunshine break. The heat is likely to bring anything between 30 and 50 per cent more traffic on to the usual summer routes."
This week's record temperatures have been caused by an area of high pressure, anchored off the east coast of the UK, dragging in warm, dry winds from the Sahara. Records have already been set for the hottest 29 September – breaking one set in 1895 – and 30 September. The warmest October day ever was recorded in March, Cambridgeshire, and East Anglia is expected to be among the warmest places again today.
Tesco predicted that this weekend would be a "barbecue bonanza". It expects to sell 3.5 million sausages and 550,000 burgers, as well as 10 million bottles and cans of beer and 3 million bottles of wine.
However, John Lewis blamed the heatwave for a slowdown, as knitwear sales wilted. The retailer said like-for-like sales growth through its 33 stores and website dropped to 0.1 per cent in the week to September 24, against a 15.1 per cent increase a year ago.
Today: Possible record temperatures in East Anglia and the South-east. Elsewhere, expect long periods of sun and unseasonable warmth with temperatures peaking at nearly 30C – more than 10C above normal. Northern Ireland and Scotland will be cooler with some rain.
Tomorrow: Southern England and Wales will again be very warm with lots of sunshine. Temperatures will again be in the high 20s. It will turn chillier in Scotland although clear spells will develop. Cloudy and cool in some parts of Northern England.