England baked under several heat waves throughout this summer. It didn’t just push the country into uncomfortable days—the heat waves also caused more than 2,800 additional people aged 65 and up in England to die, according to a new analysis from the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Office for National Statistics.
This was the highest excess death toll caused by elevated temperatures in the last two decades, The Guardian reported. During the summer heat waves, the UK Health Security Agency recorded 43,755 non-covid related deaths for people who were 65 years and older. That’s 2,809 more deaths than were expected for that time period. According to the analysis, England saw an estimated 1,012 in excess deaths in people 65 and over between July 17 and July 20. The country saw 1,458 excess deaths in the same age range from August 8 to August 17. The Office for National Statistics found that the number of deaths decreased after the heat alerts throughout the summer, which helped the office deduce that the spike in non-covid related deaths were caused by the hot days, according to The Guardian.
“These estimates show clearly that high temperatures can lead to premature death for those who are vulnerable,” Isabel Oliver, the chief scientific officer at UKHSA said in a statement. “Higher excess deaths occurred during the hottest days this year and a warming climate means we must adapt to living safely with hotter summers in the future.”
The U.K. smashed previous temperature records this summer. Before this July, the region had never experienced heat over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). But on July 19, the Met Office announced that the U.K. had officially reached 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit (40.28 degrees Celsius). This surpassed the previous record of 101.7 degrees Fahrenheit (38.7 degrees Celsius) that was recorded back in July 2019.
An online post from the Office for National Statistics outlined that the people who were more likely to die during the heat weaves lived with conditions like heart disease, respiratory issues, and Alzheimer’s. “It is likely that some of these deaths are hastened by circumstances associated with extreme heat, but the death certificate would not necessarily describe the death as “heat-related,” unless the person certifying the death specifically mentions the heat,” Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at ONS wrote.
England’s infrastructure was not prepared for those elevated temperatures. The runway at Royal Air Force Base, RAF Brize Norton, actually melted during a heat wave that month. This past summer was also the first one in which the U.K.’s Met Office issued its first-ever extreme heat alert to warn residents of temperatures that would exceed 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) in some areas. The heat waves also caused train tracks to warp and buckle, and sparked wildfires throughout the U.K. as well.
Hot summers aren’t new. But the climate crisis does make them worse. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, climate change is not only making heat waves more common—heat waves are lasting longer, and the intensity is increasing as well. In some countries, hotter than average days are occurring earlier and later in the year, giving some vulnerable communities little respite from the sweltering temperatures.
Areas like countries in the U.K. have not typically needed access to central air-conditioning. Many people used to England’s historically temperate climate, do not have air-conditioning in their homes, something that could save older people and those with chronic health issues.