This Doctor Explains Why Heatwaves Really Are Worse In The UK

No, it's not just because we're used to the cold.
Ashley Cooper via Getty Images

If (like me) you’re not a summer person, the UK’s current heatwave is probably proving pretty tough for you right now.

With the Met Office expecting this summer to be even hotter than the last (help), lots of us are bracing ourselves for another onslaught of British heat.

And while our 30°C-ish temps can seem tame in comparison to highs seen in areas like Dubai, which regularly reaches 40°C+ in summer, it seems we’re right to be upset. Apparently, there really is something about the UK that makes the heat feel more extreme than it would in other parts of the world.

Here’s what Dr. Azmain Chowdhury has to say on the topic:


Replying to @doctorazmain 🇬🇧🔥 Why 30C "heatwave" is a BIG DEAL for the UK - Doctor Explains UK Heatwave June 2023 - Temperatures are set to reach 30C (86F) this weekend. That's not a big deal in other countries, but in the UK temperatures don't usually go above 25C (77F) even in the summer. So people's bodies aren't used to it - especially vulnerable people like children, elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions. #doctorazmain #drazmain #doctorexplains #heatwave #ukheatwave #ukheatwave2023 #heatwavetips #heatwavehacks #heathacks #nhs #ukhsa #metoffice #uksummer #ukweather #britishweather #uknews #summer #summer2023 #warmweather #hotweather #howtostaycool #staycool #extremeheat #healthwarning #fyp #viral

♬ original sound - Dr Azmain Chowdhury

Our buildings basically cook us when it’s hot out

As Chowdhury says, “The UK’s climate is usually cool and rainy – not too hot or too cold.”

That means that our buildings are made to maintain warmth. The doctor shared that “we don’t often have air conditioning, and our building insulation keeps heat in.“

TIME reports that hotter countries like Spain usually build their homes to allow for continuous air flow. Here, though, walls are thick and insulation is often poor, leading to a “greenhouse effect” in the summer.

It appears that less than 5% of residential properties in the UK have air conditioning, but as TIME says, the sustainable answer won’t lie in country-wide AC units – “the greenhouse gas emissions that result from air conditioning units will account for as much as a 0.5°C rise in global temperatures by 2100.“

And Paul Hughes of tado told iNews that “UK indoor home temperatures rise around twice as fast as the European average when faced with heat waves and solar radiation.”

All scary stuff, seeing as Chloe Brimicome, heat stress reducer at the University of Reading, told iNews that “By 2050, we will regularly have temperatures above 35°C in the south of the UK.”

The heat is worse in cities

Big cities like London are affected by something called an urban heat island (UHI) effect.

This happens because “the sun’s rays are absorbed by hard surfaces rather than by vegetation such as trees, plants and grass. Radiation from our hard surfaces is released into the air as heat,” says the London Assembly.

It means that the city can be “up to 10°C warmer than neighbouring rural areas.”

But regardless of where you are in the UK, Chowdhury warns us to be careful – especially of the “young, elderly, or vulnerable.”

Of course, the problem will worsen as climate change does. “Relentless summer heatwaves, however welcome they seem, are a key effect of climate change in the UK,” says Greenpeace.

“They’re even leading to more and more wildfires across the country.”

Fantastic. So, is there anything I should look out for?

Chowdhury points out that the biggest risk in a heatwave is heatstroke, which can prove fatal.

The doctor lists signs of the condition, which include:

  • A headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness, or feeling confused
  • Sweating a *lot*
  • Losing your appetite
  • Muscle cramps
  • A fast pulse
  • Feeling very thirsty

If you spot any signs of heatstroke, call 999 immediately.

And if you notice someone from a normally-sizzling state or red-hot country trying to explain how 30°C isn’t that overbearing at all – well, you’ll need to find yet another way to cool down.