How often do we hear claims that British weather is getting more extreme? Whether it’s heatwaves, droughts, rain or storms, it’s always ‘worse than it used to be’. We even had David Cameron saying that the winter floods of 2014 were linked to climate change. And it is not just laymen who make claims like these, but climate scientists. It does not help, of course, that we tend to have selective memories about the past.
However a new study by the Global Warming Policy Foundation has closely examined official Met Office data and found that such claims are baseless. In reality, apart from the fact that it is slightly warmer than a century ago, the UK climate has changed remarkably little during that time.
In particular, the report – Defra Versus Met Office: Fact-checking the State of the UK Climate – finds that:
- Heatwaves have been much less intense in the last decade than before, with no summer comparable to the heat of 1976 since then. (See Fig 1)
- There has been a marked reduction in the number of extremely cold days in the last three decades.
- Apart from Scotland, where rainfall has been increasing in recent years, there has been little long-term trend in precipitation. (See Fig 2)
- In particular, winters are no wetter than they used to be in England and Wales, and summers no drier, contrary to popular myth.
- Rainfall has also not become more extreme. The wettest year since records started in 1766 was 1872, followed by 1768. The wettest decade was the 1870s, and the wettest month was October 1903.
- Droughts are also not becoming more common or severe.
Figure 1: Distribution of extreme temperatures in Central England Temperature Record
(a) days over 30C; (b) days under -10C
Fig 2 : Long Term Precipitation Record for England & Wales
In recent years the Met Office has taken great delight in naming all storms, although most of these have not technically reached storm force. In reality, as their own figures show, storms have not got any worse in the last four decades.
And despite misinformation to the contrary, sea levels around our coasts are rising only very slowly, and at a similar rate to the early 20th century.
What about temperatures? The data shows that there was a steady rise during the 1990s and early 2000s, but that this rise has since petered out and average temperatures levelled off. There was a very similar increase in temperatures in the early 18th century.
Even this summer was not a record-breaker. According to the long-running Central England Temperature series, it was only the fifth-warmest, and not even as hot as the summer of 1826.
The British climate has always been notable for its volatility, with big swings in weather from week to week, month to month, and year to year. This variability swamps whatever underlying trends there may be. But what we do know is that whatever weather we get now, we have had in the past.
British weather is also extremely unpredictable, so what does the future hold?
Official projections from DEFRA anticipate that by the 2080s:
- Average summer temperatures will rise by up to 8C
- Winter rainfall will increase by up to 70 per cent
- Summer rainfall will fall by up to 60 per cent
- Sea levels will rise by 700mm
But recent climate trends offer absolutely no support for such outlandish forecasts, which are of course the product of those computer models we hear so much about.
It is time that the government abandoned such nonsensical projections around which so much of their planning is based, and instead accepted that we have always had mixed weather, and always will.