In Britain it ended in freezing temperatures and weeks of snow and ice. Globally, though, 2010 was still the second warmest year on record, according to Met Office scientists who yesterday reaffirmed that the world is continuing to get warmer.
Preliminary data gathered from thousands of weather stations, ships and buoys stationed across the world show that 2010 was second only to 1998 in terms of global average temperatures and that nine out of the 10 hottest years on record have now occurred between 2001 and 2010.
The Met Office analysis found that 2010 was exceeded only by 1998, when there was a large El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, associated with warmer global temperatures. However, two other organisations involved in analysing global temperature records found that 2010 was in fact the hottest year.
Adam Scaife, head of long-range forecasting at the Met Office, said: "The three leading global temperature data sets show 2010 is clearly warmer than 2009. They also show that 2010 is the warmest or second warmest year on record as suggested in the Met Office's annual forecast of global temperatures."
The two other organisations, the US's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), gathered land and sea temperature data from a slightly different set of weather stations and analysed them using different statistical techniques.
However, all three temperature records follow one another very closely over the past century. All three temperature graphs show a particularly rapid warming over the past three decades and all three show that the last decade was the warmest on record.
Professor Phil Jones, director of research at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which collaborates closely with the Met Office, said there was a clear pattern emerging from the data. "The warmest 10 years in all three datasets are the same and have all occurred since 1998. The last 10 years 2001-2010 were warmer than the previous 10 years by 0.2C," Professor Jones said.
Some climate "contrarians" have suggested that global warming "stopped" after 1998 and that over the past few years global temperatures have levelled off. However, James Hansen of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York has said that in reality nothing is further from the truth because global temperatures have continued to rise steadily. He said: "It's not particularly important whether 2010, 2005 or 1998 was the hottest year on record. It is the underlying trend that is important.
"Contrary to frequent assertions that global warming slowed in the past decade, global warming has proceeded in the current decade just as fast as in the prior two decades. The warmth of 2010 is especially noteworthy given the strong La Niña that developed in the second half of 2010," he said.
A warming El Niño event early in the year gave way to a cooling La Niña, which is currently at a 30-year high in terms of activity. This has been linked with heavy rains in the western Pacific over Indonesia and Australia. Weather patterns in 2010 were marked by some unusual events. There was a heat wave in Russia and heavy rains and flooding in Pakistan, as well as north-eastern Australia.
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