Last year saw a series of new high temperatures as climate change exerts “an increasing impact” on the UK, the Met Office has said.
The latest annual State of the UK Climate review compiled by the meteorological experts shows how the country continues to warm, with 2019’s average temperature 1.1°C above long-term 1961-1990 levels.
The most recent decade has been 0.9°C warmer across the UK than the 1961-1990 average, the report said.
Last year was most notable for breaking records, with the UK recording its hottest temperature ever as the mercury soared to 38.7°C at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens on 25 July.
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That was not the only temperature high seen in 2019, with a new winter record of 21.2°C set on 26 February, at Kew Gardens in London, the first time 20°C has been reached in the UK in a winter month.
There was also a new December record of 18.7°C on the 28th of the month in Achfary, Sutherland.
A new record for the mildest daily minimum temperature for February was set when temperatures did not dip below 13.9°C in Achnagart in the Highlands on the 23rd.
No cold temperature records were set last year, the report said.
The changing climate is also bringing other extremes, with flooding hitting parts of Lincolnshire in mid-June, parts of the Pennines and northern England in late July, and South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire in November 2019.
All of the 10 warmest years in the UK in records dating back to 1884 have occurred since 2002, with 2019 coming in outside the top 10, in 12th place.
And the Central England Temperature series, the longest continuous temperature record in the world, which has data for an area of central England stretching back to 1659, provides evidence that the 21st Century so far has overall been warmer than the previous three centuries, the Met Office said.
Met Office lead author Mike Kendon 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 10 years in the series.
“By contrast, to find a year in the coldest 10 we have to go back to 1963 – over 50 years ago.”
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.”
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The report includes data on the changing seasons in the natural world, gathered by the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar citizen science scheme.
It showed the dates for when a range of common shrubs and trees were particularly early in putting out their first leaves – on average 9.7 days earlier than the 1999-2018 baseline, as a result of relatively warm conditions in winter and early spring.
The point at which trees were bare of leaves again in autumn was also slightly later than average.
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 10 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.
“Our trees, and all the wildlife they support, are on the front line of climate change and ultimately some species will be able to adapt better than others.
“This is a stark reminder of the need to take immediate action on climate change.”
Reader Q&A: Can trees predict the weather?
Asked by: Michael Hirst, via email
“Oak before ash, we’ll have only a splash. Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak.” This saying claims that if oak trees come into leaf in spring before ash trees, then there will be less rain in the summer.
Oak and ash trees do come into leaf at different times, because leaf growth in oaks is triggered by temperature, whereas ash trees use longer days as their signal. But there’s no evidence that a warmer spring results in less rain that summer. Pine trees do close their cones in humid weather, though, which can indicate that rain is on its way.