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2003: Britain swelters in record heat
Britain has recorded its hottest day ever as the temperature soared to 38.1C (100.6F) in Gravesend, Kent.

The record has actually been broken twice today. The first place to beat the previous record of 37.1C (98.8F), set in Cheltenham in 1990, was Heathrow Airport where the temperature earlier today registered 37.9C (100.2F).

Then an even higher temperature was recorded in Kent, making today the hottest day since records began about 130 years ago in 1875.

Hundreds of thousands joined the mass exodus to the coast to soak up the sunshine.

Roads to the south and west were jammed as motorists headed out of the sweltering cities.

Resorts such as Clacton-on-Sea in Essex and Tenby in Pembrokeshire said there were no spare beds at all in hotels or guesthouses.

At Bournemouth, in Dorset, the coastline was crammed with about 100,000 sun lovers, and there was said to be no spare space on the sand.

Commuter misery

Unfortunately, the hot weather has also had its downside.

Speed restrictions to prevent buckled rails have been in force on the railways from noon each day while temperatures continue above 30C.

Commuters endured delays of up to an hour as trains which normally travel at up to 110 mph (177kph) were brought down to 60mph (96.5kph).

The chief weather forecaster for the Met Office, Nigel Reed, said summers this hot may become routine within 50 or 70 years.

"In the years to come, as the earth's atmosphere does heat up through global warming, we would expect to see these hot weather events happening with greater frequency," he said.

Scientists are saying that this summer's weather fits a global trend which has seen temperatures higher than average in nine out of the past 12 years.

The heatwave in Britain follows the exceptionally high temperatures recorded across Europe, with several countries hitting 40C in the last week.

At least 30 people have died in the hot weather and in the fires which have resulted in some countries.

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Southend on Sea, Essex
Beaches like this one in Essex were heaving as people headed for the coast

In Context
The Met office later admitted the highest-ever temperature was recorded not in Gravesend, but in nearby Brogdale, near Faversham, also in Kent, where the temperature reached 38.5C (101.3F).

Another record was broken the following month, which was the sunniest September since records began with an average of six hours a day across the UK.

Across Europe as a whole, 2003 was the hottest summer for at least 500 years.

A study published in March 2004 showed the weather has veered towards cooler and warmer spells over the last half-century, but reported an "exceptionally strong, unprecedented warming trend" since 1977.

Research is continually being carried out to try to establish why average global temperatures have risen significantly over the past century.

Reports suggest it is a combination of human activity, solar activity and warmer oceans.

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