Extreme weather in the UK: heatwaves, floods and their links to climate change

11 Aug 2020
4 min read

Last year set a number of new climate records – and it’s no cause for celebration.

The Met Office has released its sixth ‘State of the UK Climate’ report, and it’s not good news. According to the research – which is published every year to monitor the relationship between climate change and extreme weather – 2019 was the 12th hottest year in the UK since 1884. The last decade (2010-2019), meanwhile, was on average 0.9C warmer than the period 1961-1990.

Of course, 0.9C might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that climate scientists have warned that an increase of 2C will bring devastating consequences, its significance is clear. As greenhouse gases accumulate in our atmosphere we face hotter and hotter weather. Additionally, 2019 set four high temperature records, including:

  • A new all-time record of 38.7C (on 25th July, in Cambridgeshire)
  • A new winter record of 21.2C, the first time 20C has ever been reached in the UK in a winter month (on 26th February in Kew Gardens)
  • A new December record of 18.7C (on 28th December in Sutherland)
  • A new minimum February record (the coldest temperature) of 13.9C (on 23rd February in the Scottish Highlands).

Now, you’d be forgiven for welcoming these results – after all, what’s not to like about a bit of warmer weather? The problem is what they represent: a warming climate. And that’s bad news for us all, for ever.

Dr Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre, explains: “The climate statistics over time reveal an undeniable warming trend for the UK. We are also reporting on changes in other aspects of our weather and environment such as rainfall, snow, sunshine, sea level and even tree leafing dates.”

In other words, all of these changes are adding up to more extreme weather events, not just in the form of heatwaves and drought, but in flooding and storms. The report also found, for example, that the UK rainfall total for 2019 was 1,227 mm, 112% of the 1961-1990 average. Most of the UK, in fact, received above average rainfall.

“Parts of northern England, particularly South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, experienced some very severe flooding in early November. It’s worth noting that since 2009 the UK has now had its wettest February, April, June, November and December on record – five out of 12 months,” Dr McCarthy added.

Meanwhile, the increasing temperatures are contributing to rising sea levels due to a quickening rate of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. As National Oceanography Centre director Professor Edward Hill explains: “An immediate consequence will be higher extreme sea-levels, which cause flooding and threaten lives, property and key infrastructure.” Potentially, this could cost 20% of GDP with losses over $14 trillion!

And there’s the impact on plants and animals, too, which will ultimately have an impact on human life. Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, says that ‘nature’s calendar’ is being disrupted by rising temperatures. “In response to the warm winter and mild spring temperatures, the first leaves appeared on trees nearly ten days earlier in 2019, compared to our baseline period. Whilst this may not sound like much, research using these citizen science records has shown this can have dire impacts further down the food chain.” Many species rely on daylight, not temperatures so there is a mismatch between food sources available and animal’s needs.

He added: “This is a stark reminder of the need to take immediate action on climate change. Trees are not only a measure of what’s happening, they’re a vital part of the solution. As natural carbon stores they’re key agents in fighting climate change and mitigating against its impacts, for example in their role in lessening the devastating effects of flooding.”

The bottom line

The climate crisis is a very real and increasing threat to both humanity and the planet. This report from the Met Office, using data that spans hundreds of years, only confirms the irreversible consequences already on our doorstep.  If we don’t take action the will become far worse. So take a look around the One Home site, learn more about climate change, and read how you can make a difference. It’s vital that everyone acts in order to protect our one home.


The information in this article was correct at the time of writing and is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.

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