Electric fans could soon be as indispensable in British weather as umbrellas: a report has revealed the UK is becoming hotter and wetter, while snow days have become rarer.
The annual report into the state of the UK’s climate, the fifth of its kind, has been released by the Met Office and comes just days after meteorologists confirmed that Cambridge recently set a new record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK.
The report looked at the weather around the country during 2018, as well as examining trends over the decades, allowing researchers to shed light on how the UK climate is changing in the face of global heating.
Among their findings, the team reveal that the average sea surface temperature recorded near the coast for 2009-2018 was 0.6C warmer than the average between 1961 and 1990, while the number of days of air and ground frost per year have fallen by 15% compared with the average between 1961 and 1990.
Mike Kendon, a climate information scientist and co-author of the report, said the results reflect the trend in global heating. “What affects the globe also affects the UK,” he said.
“Climate change is not some abstract thing in the future that we are predicting is going to happen. The point is that climate change is happening and it is happening now,” he added.
Published in the International Journal of Climatology, the Met Office team looked at data stretching back to 1884, finding that the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 2002, with 2014 taking the top spot. On average, the temperature across the UK between 2009 and 2018 was 0.9C warmer than the average for 1961–1990.
By contrast the coldest 10 years, with the exception of 1962 and 1963 when the big freeze took hold, all occurred before 1920, with the chilliest in 1892.
Kendon added that looking at annual average temperatures for central England only, for which records go back to 1659, it can be seen that the warmth of the period since 2000 is unprecedented. “These are very profound changes in the climate that are very disturbing to see,” he said, saying that such trends are likely to affect everything from public health to infrastructure.
But the UK is not only becoming warmer: it seems it is getting wetter too. For winter rainfall, figures for 2009-2018 were on average 5% and 12% higher than the average for 1981-2010 and 1961-1990 respectively. There also appears to be a slight increase in overall average annual rainfall in recent years, although the team notes there are large fluctuations from year to year.
“There is a clustering of wetter years in the last 20 or so years, and there are some suggestions that the climate is getting a little bit wetter,” said Kendon adding that extreme rainfall events also seem to be becoming more common.
Sunshine also appears to be on the up: average hours of bright weather for 2009-2018 were up 7% on the average for 1961-1990, while the team found the period from May to June 2018 was the sunniest three month stretch since 1929, with a total of of 709 hours.
The report also found that despite the white winter of 2010 and 2018’s snowy spring – known as the Beast from the East – the trend in the number and severity of snow events has shown a drop since the 1960s.
Kate Sambrook, a climate researcher at the University of Leeds who was not involved in the report, said the findings should be a wake-up call.
“This is clear evidence of the impact of human-induced climate change on the UK,” she said. “Having recorded the 10 hottest years since 2002 is not surprising; this is all part of a pattern. Climate change has increased the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves in the UK”.
Experts have noted that increasing temperatures, as well as other changes revealed in the report, can pose serious health risks, particularly for vulnerable members of society – including the elderly and those with health problems, not least because care homes are at risk of overheating.
“Despite these stark risks, international comparisons of public climate change beliefs indicate that UK residents are unconcerned about climate change and favour the prospect of hotter summers,” said Sambrook, adding that more needs to be done to convey the full implications of the UK’s changing climate.
“Understanding what shapes public perceptions of climate change is significantly important, as this could provide scientists, policymakers and campaigners with the tools they need to communicate climate change more effectively and as a result motivate more people to act.”
Hotter, wetter, sunnier: UK’s 10 warmest years have all occurred since 2002 – The Guardian