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UK faces regular bouts of 40°C heat even if climate change is tackled

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The UK will experience higher temperatures and wetter weather for the foreseeable future even if climate change is kept in check, the Met Office has said in a report.

The latest data from its State Of The UK Climate 2020 report shows that 2020 was the first year to have temperature, rain and sunshine rankings all in the top 10 since the beginning of weather data collection.

All of the top-ten warmest years for the UK in records back to 1884 have occurred since 2002, and, for central England, the 21st century so far has been warmer than the previous three centuries.

Furthermore, the last 30-year period (1991-2020) has been 0.9°C warmer than the preceding 30 years (1961-1990) and this warming trend is evident across all months and all countries in the UK.

The greatest warming compared to 1961-1990 has been across the East Midlands and East Anglia where average annual temperatures have increased by more than 1°C, with the least warming around western coastal fringes and parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland

As well as increased temperatures, the UK has been on average 6 per cent wetter over the last 30 years (1991-2020) than the preceding 30 years (1961-1990). Six of the ten wettest years for the UK in a series from 1862 have occurred since 1998.

Professor 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.”

The lead author of the report, Mike Kendon, said: “2020 was another notable year for the UK climate, with records broken for daily rainfall and monthly sunshine hours.

“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.”

Earlier this week, homes, roads and Tube stations in London saw significant flooding while hospitals asked patients to stay away after thunderstorms battered the south of England.

In February 2020, Storms Ciara and Dennis hit the UK just one week apart, making it the wettest February on record. Most of the UK received more than twice the February long-term average rainfall, with 300 per cent quite widely reported in the north and west, and over 400 per cent in parts of the Pennines.

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