Britain warned it needs to brace for flood and heat threats

The UK has been told that it is warming at a rate which is outstripping the current average as the treat of annual heatwaves, and winter floods becomes a reality.

The UK Met Office has launched its State of the UK Climate report which found 2022 was a record-breaking year for weather and showed clear signs of the UK’s changing climate.

The report highlighted how the UK’s climate continues to change, with recent decades warmer, wetter and sunnier than the 20th century.

“Although the UK has warmed at a broadly consistent rate compared to the observed change in global mean temperature, observations show that in the UK temperature extremes are changing much faster than the average temperature,” it added. “A new all-time temperature record of 40.3°C was set on 19 July during an unprecedented heatwave, exceeding the previous record by a wide margin and smashing records for many long-running stations.”

The Met Office added: “Not only was 2022 the first year in the UK when 40°C was recorded, it was also the warmest year in records back to 1884. The world’s longest running instrumental temperature series dating back to 1659, the Central England Temperature (CET) record, also recorded its hottest year on record.”

It added the study found both the record warm year and July heatwave were made more likely by human induced climate change.

A key feature of 2022 was the persistent warmth throughout the year. All months of the year except December were warmer than the 1991-2020 average. The graph below of UK average daily maximum temperature clearly shows how many more days in the year were above average than below average. The unprecedented July heatwave stands out, as does the cold spell in December as the only significant cold spell of the year.

The ten-year period 2013-2022, representing a ‘snapshot’ of the UK’s current climate, is also the warmest ten-year period in both the UK series from 1884 and CET series from 1659.

The report also puts the UK’s observed climate into future context, adding by 2060 a year like 2022 would be considered an average year, by 2100 it would be considered a ‘cool’ year.

Mike Kendon of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre explained: “In terms of weather and climate, 2022 was an extraordinary year for the UK. It was the warmest year for the UK in our long-running record national series back to 1884, and for Central England in a series of more than three centuries. We also had an unprecedented heatwave, with 40°C recorded in the UK for the first time, marking a moment of climate history.

“However, we should not necessarily be surprised by these events: studies have shown that both the record warm year and July heatwave were both made much more likely by climate change. The observations show that extremes of temperature are changing faster than the average, and as our climate warms, we expect far more high temperature records to be broken, potentially by wide margins, and far fewer low temperature records.

“UK climate projections show that even under a medium emissions scenario a year like 2022, currently the warmest year on record, could be the norm by the middle of the century and relatively cool buy the end of the century. Our climate in the UK has a lot of year-to-year variability, but taken overall, 2022 is a potential warning of what we should expect in the future.”

Prof Liz Bentley, CEO at the Royal Meteorological Society, added: “This report is the authoritative annual summary of the UK climate. It not only helps to highlight the latest knowledge on our changing climate but also enables us to understand the trends, risks and impacts to help inform how we will need to adapt, now and in the future.

“2022 was certainly a record-breaking year for the UK and is another example that extreme heat events are becoming more frequent, intense and prolonged because of human-induced climate change – something we are seeing being played out across Europe as the report is being published”.

It wasn’t just temperatures that were record breaking last year. 2022, was the warmest year for UK near-coast sea-surface temperature (SST) in a series from 1870.

In terms of rainfall, it was a relatively dry year overall. However, five of the 10 wettest years for the UK in a series from 1836 have occurred in the 21st century so far, and since 2009, the UK has experienced its wettest February, April, June, November and December on record. There has been a slight increase in heavy rainfall across the UK in recent decades.

Since the 1900s, the sea level around the UK has risen by around 18.5cm, with roughly 11.4cm of that over the past 30 years (1993-2022). The rate in which the sea level is rising is also increasing, from 1.5 ± 0.1 mm per year since the 1900s to 3.8 ± 0.9 mm per year between 1993-2022.

“Sea level rise can have devastating consequences for coastal communities,” added the Met Office. “As well as the background rise in sea level, a particular threat is from storm surges where low atmospheric pressure and strong winds push the sea even higher into coastal areas.”

Dr Andrew Matthews from the National Oceanography Centre said: “Tide gauge records demonstrate that sea levels around the UK are continuing to rise as water warms and ice sheets melt. 11.4 cm in the past thirty years may not sound like much, but the rate of sea level rise is increasing, and each extra centimetre increases the danger of a major storm overtopping flood defences.

“The confidence of this report in these observations highlights the ongoing need to adequately maintain the observational networks, in particular the UK weather station and tide gauge networks, to ensure that UK climate monitoring capability continues.”