2011 second warmest on record in UK


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The Independent Online

The past year has been the second warmest on record, the Met Office said today, despite the summer being disappointingly cool.

It said provisional figures show that only 2006, with an average temperature of 9.73C (49.5F) was warmer than 2011's average temperature of 9.62C  (49.3F).

Unusually warm autumn and spring temperatures meant that apart from January, which endured the knock on from the cold December in 2010, the only other months that had below-average temperatures were June, July and August.

2011 was also one of the driest - or the wettest, depending on where you live - with Scotland suffering its dampest ever year but some English regions seeing some of their driest ever months and a drought order granted in the South East earlier this month.

Stephen Davenport, senior meteorologist at MeteoGroup, the Press Association's weather division, corroborated the statistics and said 2011 had been a "peculiar" year, including the second warmest November on record.

"It has been peculiar in that we have seen a relatively cool summer sandwiched between a warm spring and autumn," he said.

"There were only four months with below-average temperatures and one of them was January following on from the cold December last year."

All bar one of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997 and all the UK's top seven warmest years happened in the last decade.

Despite this year seeing high temperatures for long periods - including the warmest April and spring on record, the second warmest autumn and the warmest October day - early figures suggest we are ending 2011 with a "close to average" December.

The mean temperature so far this December has been 4.7C (40.5F), 0.5C above the 1971-2000 average. This is a big swing from 2010, when temperatures were 5C below average to notch up the coldest December on record.

John Prior, national climate manager at the Met Office, said: "While it may have felt mild for many so far this December, temperatures overall have been close to what we would expect.

"It may be that the stark change from last year, which was the coldest December on record for the UK, has led many to think it has been unseasonably warm."

The warmest temperature recorded this year - 33.1C (91.5F) on June 27 at Gravesend in Kent - was the warmest temperature recorded in the UK for five years.

But this was one of just a few hot days in a rather cool summer which was book-ended by the warm spring and autumn.

Gravesend was again the location for the warmest October temperature ever, when 29.9C (85.8F) was recorded on October 1, beating the previous record of 29.4C (84.9F) at March in Cambridgeshire on the same day in 1985.

The warm autumn especially seemed to have a marked impact on flora and fauna.

An abundance of holly, mistletoe and other berries such as sloe and hawthorn this autumn and early winter, far from being a predictor of cold and snow, has been a reaction to the warm spring when the trees could produce more blossoms.

Wildflowers burst forth again in November, and in December there have been reports of daffodils budding and blooming in sheltered areas, while growers in south-west England are already harvesting brassicas like cauliflower which they would usually expect to see mature in spring.

The coldest temperature of the year was minus 13C  (8.6F) at Altnaharra in the Highlands on January 8, while the strongest gust of wind was 165mph (265.5kph), recorded at the summit of the Cairngorms on December 8.

The amount of rainfall also varied massively across the country.

Scotland had its wettest year on record with 73.2in (1,859.5mm) of rain, beating the previous record set in 1990.

But further south, parts of England had very low rainfall.

East Anglia had its second driest year on record with just 17.6in (449mm) of rain and the Midlands had its third driest with 23in (586.5mm).

Just before Christmas, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) granted South East Water a drought order to help it refill Ardingly Reservoir, which was just 12% full by the end of November, because of "an exceptional lack of rain over the last eight months".

South East Water said at the time: "Normally we would expect rainfall in the early autumn to replenish our reservoirs after the summer, but an exceptionally dry September, October and November raised the urgency of the situation."

Mr Davenport added that this had been caused by weather systems which caused heavy rain in Scotland moving away or dying out before they reached the south and east of England.

Top ten warmest years for the UK:

1. 2006 - 9.73C

2. 2011 - 9.62C (provisional)

3. 2007 - 9.59C

4. 2003 - 9.50C

5. 2004 - 9.47C

6. 2002 - 9.47C

7. 2005 - 9.45C

8. 1990 - 9.41C

9. 1997 - 9.40C

10. 1949 - 9.38C

(Source: Met Office)