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UK climate breaks new records in 2019

Four national temperature records were set in 2019, the Met Office’s annual State of the UK Climate report has found.

Released on one of the hottest days of the year, the report shows that 2019 was the 12th warmest year for the UK on record since 1884.

The four UK high temperature records that were set were: an all-time record high of 38.7 degrees; a new winter record of 21.2 degrees, a new December record temperature of 18.7 degrees, and a new February minimum record, at 13.9 degrees. No national low temperature records were set.

Released in the International Journal of Climatology, the report’s findings provide more startling evidence of the rapid changes in UK weather as a result of the climate crisis. Whilst 2019 was the 12th warmest year in the UK since 1884, all of the top 10 warmest years have occurred since 2002. Whilst the 2010s have been on average 0.9 degrees warmer than 1961-1990, 2019 was a full 1.1 degrees above this long-term average.

Aside from countless impacts on the natural world, some of the consequences of warming temperatures included significant rail network damage and disruption, as well as an estimated 500 excess deaths in England during the July heatwave. The report’s authors said that whilst a temperature of 40 degrees in the UK is “plausible” it is still a “low probability”, though this could become more likely if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they have been. In 2019’s record-breaking summer, southern France recorded temperatures of 46 degrees.

Mike Kendon, the lead author of the report, said: “Our report shows climate change is exerting an increasing impact on the UK’s climate. This year was warmer than any other year in the UK between 1884 and 1990, and since 2002 we have seen the warmest ten years in the series. By contrast, to find a year in the coldest ten we have to go back to 1963; over 50 years ago.”

Whilst temperature records will grab headlines, the report also drew a number of other significant findings. 2019 witnessed the highest mean sea levels around the UK since records began in 1901. Professor Edward Hill of the National Oceanography Centre, which contributed to the sea-level section of the report, said, “Sea-level around the UK is expected to continue to rise due to an increased rate of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets, as well as continued glacier mass loss and warming of the ocean. An immediate consequence will be higher extreme sea-levels, which cause flooding and threaten lives, property and key infrastructure.”

In addition, England and Wales had its fifth wettest autumn in a series since 1766; in November alone, there were almost 50 flood warnings in England, with flooding affecting over 10,000 properties, and flood defences featuring in the General Election campaign. Since 2009, five UK months have set new rainfall records.

Dr Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre, said: ““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. The observed changes are to varying degrees a consequence of both global climate change and natural variability in our climate.”

The report also included a section on phenology, studying how climate variations influence natural seasons and cycles in nature, such as the dates of first leaves appearing on trees, and bare tree dates. According to the authors, “The year 2019 was a year of notably early first leaf dates and slightly later bare tree dates across the UK, relative to the 1999– 20 18 baseline period, for four com-mon shrub/tree species: Elder, Hawthorn, Silver Birch and Pedunculate Oak.”

Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said: ““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.”

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.”

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) is Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue for the summer vacation and Michelmas 2020. He is entering his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.