Britain is likely to regularly see temperatures above 40°C even if global warning is limited to 1.5°C, meteorologists have warned.
Research shows that over the past three decades, the UK was 0.9°C warmer than in the preceding 30 years. In addition, the 10 warmest years for the UK in records back to 1884 have all occurred since 2002.
Prof Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said the world was already seeing extreme heat as a result of warming of 1.1°C to 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels.
“If you take that up by another 0.3°C, these (heatwaves) are just going to become much more intense – we’re likely to see 40°C in the UK although we have never seen those kinds of temperatures (before),” she said.
“As we hit 1.5°C of global warming, that’s going to not just become something that we see once or twice, it’ll start to become something that we see on a much more regular basis.”
As well as its increased temperature, the UK was 6 per cent wetter, on average, over the past 30 years than in the previous three-decade period.
“2020 was another notable year for the UK climate, with records broken for daily rainfall and monthly sunshine hours,” said lead author Mike Kendon, senior climate scientist at the Met Office.
“Average temperatures for the UK continue to climb, with nearly a degree of warming when comparing the most recent 30 years with the preceding 30-year period. Last year saw some significant weather extremes, including severe flooding from heavy rainfall in February and a major heatwave in early August.”
In 2020, Britain was devastated by eight storms as Storms Ciara and Dennis struck only weeks apart. They were part of the UK’s wettest February on record, and brought devastating flooding to homes and businesses in much of the country.
The spring and summer of 2020 were also especially warm. People in Britain experienced over 150 per cent of normal sunshine across England and Wales during those seasons, making them among the warmest and sunniest ever.
The UK recorded 626 hours of sunshine, about 144 per cent more than the historical average. May 2020 was England’s driest calendar month since August 1995, making conditions difficult for farmers and growers.
Other notable weather extremes include the UK’s third-warmest day on record, when 37.8°C was recorded at London’s Heathrow Airport on July 31; the southern England heatwave in August, extreme rainfall in Norfolk on August 16 and exceptionally heavy, widespread rainfall on October 3, making this the UK’s wettest day on record.
Prof Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said: “This rich legacy of observational data in the UK, stretching as far back as the 17th century, is extremely valuable for ongoing work in climate science, highlighting our changing climate in the UK and our understanding of climate trends, variations and extremes.”