A couple relaxes in the sun in St. James's Park in London on Feb. 25. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

(This story, first published Monday, was updated Tuesday after records were set again.)

Winter weather in the United Kingdom is known to be raw and bleak, but on Monday and Tuesday the sun shined in all its glory and temperatures surged to levels not seen before during the cold, dark season.

The mercury shot up past 70 degrees Tuesday (21.2 Celsius) in southwest London’s Kew Gardens, breaking the record for the United Kingdom’s hottest temperature in February or any winter month (December through February), set just the day before.

Both Monday and Tuesday, several additional locations in the United Kingdom crossed the 20 Celsius (68 degrees) barrier for the first time in recorded history during February or any winter month, including two towns adjacent to the Irish Sea in Wales, where such weather would be unusually warm even in July or August. London’s Heathrow Airport, which hit 20.1 Celsius (68.2 degrees), was among the locations crossing this threshold.

The previous highest February (and winter) temperature observed in the United Kingdom was 67.5 degrees (19.7 Celsius) set Feb. 13, 1998, at Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London.

Following a mild weekend, the temperature in London flirted with 70 degrees (19 to 20 Celsius) both Monday and Tuesday.

Brits lucky enough to be outside and not tied to a desk in an office were seen sunbathing, eating ice cream and swapping their winter clothes for T-shirts and sunglasses.

The unusual dose of warm weather had some Brits hanging out in their gardens for the first time in months, while others headed to their local pub for a pint in the afternoon sun. Local parks were busier than usual — and one sun worshiper in south London was spotted in a bikini over the weekend.

For many, sun in the United Kingdom can only mean one thing: Get the barbecue going and the sausages sizzling.

“Absolute scenes tonight as the British public spend a Monday evening in February in a beer garden and decide to fire up the BBQ for their dinner,” wrote one Twitter user.

While many took to social media to celebrate, others commented that the warm weather should not be a cause of celebration but for concern:

“It’s 19C in London today, inching toward a new historical record for the UK in February. How disconcerting that a warm, sunny day can be at once pleasant and absolutely terrifying,” wrote author Jason Hickel on Twitter on Monday.

Monday’s historic temperature reached its peak during the continuation of a major, long-lived warm spell over western Europe. Etienne Kapikian, a meteorologist for Meteo France, described the responsible air mass as “exceptionnelle” in a tweet.

A massive ridge of high pressure, or heat dome, has sat over the region for almost a week.


A high-pressure ridge over western Europe, as simulated by the American GFS model on Feb. 25, has brought record warmth. (PivotalWeather.com)

The balmy weather comes just four days after Scotland recorded its highest February temperature. Aboyne, Scotland, soared to 65 degrees (18.3 Celsius) on Feb. 21.

Record warm weather spread into other parts of Western Europe as well.

The main weather station in the Netherlands at De Bilt logged a high temperature of 64 degrees (17.8 Celsius), its warmest ever recorded in February, on Monday, only to be exceeded Tuesday, when the mercury touched 66 degrees (18.9 Celsius). Kapikian tweeted that monthly warm-weather records were also falling in northern France on Monday.

Sweden notched its warmest February temperature Tuesday, when Karlshamn hit 62 degrees (16.7 Celsius) and Denmark tied its warmest February mark of 60.4 degrees (15.8 Celsius).

The warmth marks a stunning contrast from the weather exactly a year ago, when the United Kingdom and much of Europe shivered in a punishing Siberian cold blast dubbed the “beast from the east.” It unleashed not only frigid air but also heavy snowfall.


Pool of exceptionally cold air over Europe as simulated by the American GFS model for late February 2018. (PivotalWeather.com)

The weather pattern in place right now is the complete opposite.

But the “beast from the east” appears to be the exception rather than the norm in western Europe, which, like the rest of the world, is experiencing swiftly rising temperatures.

The summer of 2018 was Europe’s hottest on record, accentuated by a heat wave in July that brought the hottest weather ever observed in multiple locations in Norway, Finland and Sweden, as well as in Portugal; Glasgow, Scotland; Shannon, Ireland; Belfast and Castlederg in Northern Ireland; Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands; Copenhagen; and Berlin.


Time series of temperature difference from normal in Europe, 1901 to 2018. (NOAA)

Mild weather is expected to linger in the United Kingdom and Western Europe until the second half of this week, when the more customary cool, damp weather returns to ring in March.

Jennifer Hassan reported from London.