The UK’s changing climate revealed with 60 years of Met Office data

Hull has been warmer on average than Heathrow used to be, while Argyll and Bute has seen the biggest increase in rainfall.

Emily Beament
Tuesday 14 December 2021 16:40
People on the Millennium Bridge in London during a rain shower (Ian West/PA)
People on the Millennium Bridge in London during a rain shower (Ian West/PA)

Temperatures have increased in the UK in recent decades, but the impacts of climate change have varied across the country, the Met Office has said.

Analysis comparing two 30-year periods – 1961-1990 and 1991-2020 – reveals the average temperature of the UK has increased by 0.8C, rainfall by 7.3%, and sunshine by 5.6%.

The biggest rises in temperature have been in parts of central and eastern England where areas such as Bedfordshire and Leicestershire have seen average conditions warm by more than 1C, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have risen by around 0.7C.

Higher temperatures are being felt further north than they used to be, so Hull has been warmer on average between 1991 and 2020 than Heathrow west London, was in the previous 30 years.

Average temperatures that were previously limited to London and parts of the far south of England are now being felt as much as 155 miles further north, Met Office experts said.

Conditions have also got wetter, with average rainfall increasing by more than 10% between the two periods across a large swathe of Scotland, as well as parts of south-west England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Argyll and Bute has seen average annual rainfall increase by more than 200mm (7.9 inches), the biggest increase by volume, while South Yorkshire saw the smallest rise, of just over 14mm per year.

The number of rainy days – when 1mm or more rainfall is recorded – has increased by an average of 5.6 days.

The result of human-induced climate change in the UK is that higher temperatures are felt further north than they used to be

Mark McCarthy, Met Office

The biggest increases were in Scotland, with Glasgow racking up an extra 12 days with rainfall recorded on average, compared with just one day in Cambridgeshire.

North-east and eastern England saw the greatest annual increase in sunshine, with a rise of more than 13%, while the number of days of air frost, when the air temperature drops below 0C, has reduced by 11.1 days on average.

The 30-year “averaging” periods are used as a benchmark against which observational records of weather and climate can be compared, and which can be used as context for future climate projections.

The analysis looking over 60 years comes as the Met Office publishes information from the latest 30-year period, 1991-2020, which ended on December 31 last year and will now be used as the benchmark for routine climate monitoring from January.

Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, which manages the UK’s climate records, said: “The publication of climate data from the latest 30-year period is a perfect opportunity to describe some of the changes taking place in UK climate over the last six decades.

“The result of human-induced climate change in the UK is that higher temperatures are felt further north than they used to be.

“Examining the pattern of climate change across the UK reveals an interesting pattern of regional variation.

“Over the periods, rainfall has generally increased with the greatest increases in the north and west.

“Average temperature has increased most in inland counties to the north of London, while sunshine has increased most in the north east of England.

“Much of what we are seeing at a local scale fits the national and international picture.

“It has long been known that the atmosphere has been warming… a reduction in days of air frost can also be anticipated in a warming climate.”

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