Arctic sea ice decline continues, with 2021 the 12th lowest summer minimum extent on record

On 16 September 2021, Arctic sea ice reached its annual minimum extent, signifying the end of the summer melting period. According to the National Snow and Ice Data centre (NSIDC), Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.72 million square kilometres on 16 September, which is the 12th lowest September minimum on record since satellite observations began in 1979.

The extent of Arctic sea ice has on average been declining over the last thirty years, reaching its annual minimum every year in September. Whilst this year is higher than the record low sea ice extent of 3.41 million square kilometres reached in 2012, it is still around 25% lower than the long-term (1981-2010) average of 6.33 million square kilometres.

Arctic summer sea ice extent is naturally influenced by changing weather patterns, such as temperature, cloud cover, summer storms and wind patterns. Whilst this can cause fluctuations in sea ice extent from year to year, when comparing recent satellite observational records there is a clear and significant downward trend.

Manager of the Met Office Polar Climate Group, Ed Blockley, said:“Although this year’s minimum sea ice extent is not record-breaking, it is yet another year that sea ice extent has continued to follow the prevailing long-term trend of decline. We have seen a sustained long-term decline in Arctic sea ice cover over the last 4 decades, which is most pronounced at the summer minimum in September. Although there are year-to-year variations associated with the weather in individual years, we have lost, on average, around 87,000 square km of September sea ice extent each year, an area more than 4 times the size of Wales!

“Sea ice is a significant part of our climate system, and it can be heavily impacted by even minor changes in temperature. We can see these changes in the annual cycle of sea ice melt and growth, where ice is starting to melt earlier in the spring and freeze-up later in the autumn.“As global temperatures continue to increase, the Arctic is likely to heat up faster than the planet due to polar amplification. So it is really important to pay close attention to these broader trends that tell us our climate is changing.”

You can find out more about Arctic sea ice and look out for our upcoming Arctic and Antarctic end of season report here.

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Met Office science: narrowing the range of climate uncertainty

The United Nations has today (Thursday 16 September, 2021) published a synthesis report on the perils of climate change and the need for urgent climate action.

The report features hard-hitting forewords from both Antonio Guterres – Secretary-General of the United Nations – and Prof Peter Talaas – Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization.

The United in Science 2021 report draws heavily on the latest scientific evidence, including pivotal findings from the Met Office.

Arctic weather station
Obtaining meteorological information from fast-changing regions like the Arctic provides greater granularity on the scale of the changing climate. Pic: Shutterstock

Professor Adam Scaife is one of the key Met Office contributors to the report. He said: “2021 is a vital year for climate change, as decision makers assemble in November in Glasgow for COP26. Everyone knows that many hopes are pinned on the final outcomes from the conference, but before decision makers can begin to agree meaningful action, it is vital for them to have access to the best-available climate data and predictions.”

The Met Office’s contribution to the report has concentrated on two principal areas: monitoring of global temperature and sea ice; and narrowing the uncertainty about what will happen to the climate in the next few years.

Adam Scaife continued: “The earth’s temperature is continuing to rise and as decision makers continue to decide on future policies to avert the worst outcomes of climate change and stay on a pathway within Paris Agreement limits, they require the best scientific information available.”

In an attempt to understand more about the latest global temperature rises and what will happen over the next five years, Met Office scientists continue to develop capacity in the science of observing and predicting variations in our climate.

For predicting climate in the near term, the Met Office Hadley Centre leads the World Meteorological Organisation’s effort to combine multiyear predictions from the best computer models available. Professor Scaife said: “This synthesis report takes the very latest observations and predictions and gives a stark warning that temporary exceedance of the 1.5°C level is quite possible in the next few years and that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C will be impossible.”

In December 2020, the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit announced a series of key improvements to their long-running global temperature data set, HadCRUT, which contains data stretching back to 1850.

HadCRUT brings together measurements of near-surface air temperature made at weather stations around the world with measurements of the temperature of the top-most layer of the ocean (or sea-surface temperature). The updates to HadCRUT (now known as HadCRUT5) include:

  • updated adjustments to handle the changing biases between different ways of measuring sea-surface temperatures over time;
  • A significant increase in the number of weather stations used over land;
  • Using statistical methods to extend the data set’s coverage in the early record and in areas that are still data-sparse today, including the rapidly warming Arctic. This provides more accurate estimates of global, hemispheric and regional temperature changes.

John Kennedy of the Met Office Hadley Centre said: “These revisions show slightly more warming in recent times, compared with previous iterations of the data set. The new data set provides decision makers with our best estimate yet of the rate of warming and its uncertainty and also serves as a reminder that the world has warmed considerably since 1850.”

The United in Science 2021 report, the third in a series, is coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with input from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Carbon Project (GCP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Met Office (UK).

The United in Science report provides details on:

  • Greenhouse Gas Concentrations in the Atmosphere (WMO)
  • Global greenhouse gas emissions and budgets (Global Carbon Project)
  • Emissions Gap (UN Environment Programme)
  • Global Climate in 2017-2021 and 2021-2025 (WMO, UK Met Office)
  • Highlights of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report – the Physical Science basis
  • Sea level rise and coastal impacts (World Climate Research Programme)
  • Heatwaves, widlfires and air pollution (World Health Organization/WMO)
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How will Hurricane Larry influence the UK’s weather?  

The hurricane season in the Tropical North Atlantic frequently plays a role in dictating the state of play with the UK’s dominant weather patterns, but with various stories circulating in the media about ex-Hurricane Larry’s influence over the forecast, we thought we’d clear up the current picture from across the Atlantic Ocean.  

Hurricane Larry struck North America last week as a Category 1 hurricane and brought widespread disruption to Newfoundland and Greenland before moving out to sea. The breakdown of Larry late on Friday led to some significant uncertainty in the forecasts for the UK, as conditions in the west of the Atlantic often help to drive the weather we see in the UK. It’s this uncertainty that led to some reports of warmer weather to come, but that isn’t the case on this occasion as Larry’s influence on our weather weakens from now on.  

Ex-Hurricane Larry’s influence over the UK weather is somewhat confined to helping to keep our current unsettled weather pattern in place and fairly slow moving. The remnants of Larry are now loosely aligned with a low pressure to the south of Greenland and is set to have little impact on the medium and long term forecasts for the UK.  

Aidan McGivern gives Monday evening’s Met Office forecast for the UK

As the UK’s current weather pattern develops later in the week, some warmer air will be drawn in from the south, but this will be associated with some thick cloud and, at times, heavy rain. This isn’t linked to the remnants of Larry in the North of the Atlantic.  

Met Office Deputy Chief Meteorologist Adam Thornhill said, “One of the main impacts of ex-Hurricane Larry on the UK weather has been the uncertainty it brought to the forecast over the past weekend. Hurricanes that affect North America often play a role in the UK’s weather when they move into the North Atlantic.  However, the way Larry transitioned from a Hurricane into a North Atlantic low, means its impacts on the UK’s weather systems were and are limited to holding some of our unsettled weather in place into the middle of this week.  

“Ex-Hurricane Larry no longer exists, but the low which has some legacy ‘Larry’ air, has moved to the south of Greenland and is set to have little impact on us in the UK as it continues to lose intensity and move into the Arctic Sea.  Although there may be some warmer air moving across the southeast of England through Tuesday and Wednesday, any temperature rise is likely to be subdued with some thick cloud and rain at times. Some sunny spells are most likely on Thursday, where temperatures in the East and Southeast of England may reach the mid-twenties before another band of rain moves east across the UK later Thursday and through Friday.” 

The high pressure moving into the south from Thursday could bring temperatures to the low or mid 20s in the southeast where there’s the best of the sunshine, but cloud will likely subdue temperatures in other areas before some more unsettled weather moves in from the west.  

Get the latest forecast on the Met Office website.  

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Will Hurricane Ida affect the UK’s weather?

Hurricane Ida has seen winds of up to 150mph and intense rainfall bringing widespread flash flooding to a swathe of America, in what has been the fifth strongest storm to hit the US mainland.

Ida formed over the Caribbean Sea at the end of August, and then moved north westwards becoming a tropical storm. As Ida moved over the Gulf of Mexico it tracked across a deep area of warm water and developed rapidly into a Category 4 Hurricane and made landfall over Louisiana on Sunday evening, UK time. After making landfall Ida started to lose her strength; like all hurricanes, she drew her energy from warm seas. However, although Ida’s winds quickly eased, she has (as forecast) continued to bring a trail of extreme rainfall to the north-eastern United States, notably New York. The heavy rainfall lasts longer and can affect more people than the damaging winds do.

Hurricane Ida has been the fifth strongest hurricane to make landfall on the mainland of the United States.

Impacts in the US from Ida have been severe, with reports of at least three inches of rain falling in New York’s Central Park within an hour and Louisiana seeing similarly devastating conditions earlier in the week. One million are reported to be without power, and sadly there have been a high number of fatalities.

Met Office Expert Operational Meteorologist Chris Almond, said: “The sheer amount of rainfall within this warm tropical air saw fairly widespread totals of 150 to 250 millimeters, which fell over a couple of days, and is quite exceptional in itself. But Central Park in New York actually recorded 80 millimeters in just one hour, which is a phenomenal amount of rain. That’s nearly over a month’s worth of rainfall in just an hour, and almost double the previous record, which was around 50 millimeters in an hour: and that was only set earlier in August. It has been an exceptional spell of weather for parts of the southern and eastern parts of the United States.”

While Ida’s affects are still being felt across America, bringing a deluge of rain and continued strong winds, some are now wondering if Ida will travel across the Atlantic and impact on the UK’s weather.

In short, no, not directly. But, as is often the case in the North Atlantic hurricane season, the set up in North America can have an influence on the dominant weather we’re likely to see in the UK because of the effects it can have on the jet stream, which straddles the Atlantic and drives a lot of the UK’s weather.

In recent days, the UK has been under the influence of a high-pressure system (a ‘blocking high’ set up). This has seen largely benign weather over the UK, with relatively dry conditions, along with spells of sunshine, but more prolonged cloud for some.

According to Met Office models, Ida is set to break up when it enters the Atlantic and is very unlikely to travel across the ocean intact. However, it will have an influence on the position and strength of the jet stream across the Atlantic – currently the jet stream is very weak, but it will strengthen as the remnants of Ida move northeast away from North America.  The strength of the jet stream can be determined by the temperatures on either side of the flow, with cool air to the north and warm air to the south. When the temperature contrast is greater, such as now with Ida bringing a lot of warm air to the south, the jet becomes more energised. The direction the jet stream then takes will help determine weather patterns for the UK this weekend, with a more northerly position helping to hold high pressure close to the UK.

Met Office Expert Operational Meteorologist David Oliver said: “Ida has obviously had some significant impacts in the US, but that weather system is not expected to travel across the Atlantic and reach the UK as an active system.

“However, it is common for the hurricane season in North America to play a factor in the weather patterns affecting the UK, and in most cases that’s down to its role in shifting the upper air that drives our weather systems.

Hurricanes have a major impact on the transport of heat and moisture from the tropics into the North Atlantic.

David added: “As Ida breaks up, the low-pressure system and warm tropical air associated with it will help to accelerate and shift the jet stream over the Atlantic. The behaviour of the jet stream is complex but overall it will tend to lie to the north of the UK, this helping to hold high pressure close by. So, whilst rain is likely to spread to some northern parts of the UK on Sunday and into Monday, for many places conditions will remain dry and increasingly warm this weekend and into the first half of next week.”

A shift toward more widely unsettled weather isn’t currently expected until later next week as the high pressure finally gets unseated from its current position close to the UK.

Check the latest Met Office forecast on the Met Office website, app or on social media.

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Notably warm summer so far for UK – but not for everyone

The summer so far has been around 1°C warmer than average for the UK, which would potentially place it within the top ten warmest summers on record, but it’s still too early to make a confident statement about final rankings. This may come as a surprise to some, especially for those in the southeast and London, who have had a much wetter and duller summer than average, with many areas seeing more than 50% more rainfall than their long-term averages.  

With a few days still to go until the full figures are published for summer 2021 at the start of September, high temperatures in Scotland and Northern Ireland have helped pull the UK to within the top 10 for warmest summers according to mean temperature, with still some room for manoeuvre before the season is out. The UK has a mean temperature for summer around a degree higher than the average, currently sat at 15.4°C, with still some time to change.  

Map of the UK showing average mean temperatures for summer so far in the UK. The map shows warmer than average conditions in the north of the UK in particular, while slightly cooler in the south.
Average mean temperatures for the UK for summer so far.

In fact, Northern Ireland has so far seen one of its warmer summers using the same measurement (15.0°C), and Scotland (13.8°C) has also been notably warm. Western areas, and especially western Scotland, have also seen much less rainfall than the averages, with Scotland, so far, seeing just 62% (188.1mm) of its average rainfall for the season, and Wales 66% (189.5mm).  

With the best of the dry and warm conditions to be found in northern and western areas of the UK, it has been a markedly different story for the southeast and some southern areas this summer so far.  

Greater London has so far seen an average of 220.2mm of rain, which is 48% more than their long-term average for summer, although not enough to trouble the all-time records for the area. They’re joined by Hampshire (245.2mm, 49% more than average), Surrey (240.3mm, 54% more than average) and West Sussex (250.9mm, 52% more than average) in seeing significantly more rain than their usual summer conditions.  

Map of the UK showing rainfall amounts versus the long term average. The map shows that many northern and western areas have been drier than average, while some areas in the southeast and south have been much wetter than average.
Rainfall amounts versus the long term average for summer so far.

As you might expect, these areas have also seen less of the sun than average, although there is still time in the season for this to shift more with some good spells of sunshine expected before the end of the month.  

Map showing the UK's average sunshine duration. The map shows that the south had been duller than average, but northern areas have already seen more sunshine than average.
Sunshine duration for the UK versus the long term averages

Of course, this summer did see a heatwave in July, which saw the Met Office issue its first ever amber extreme heat warning, as Northern Ireland broke its all-time temperature record on 21 July with 31.3°C recorded at Castlederg. This extended spell of warm weather in July, with stubbornly high night-time temperatures, has helped to lift the averages for the season, with the highest temperatures in that period also seen over western areas, although the rest of the UK was widely warm.  

However, perceptions that summer has been below average for some could come from the fact that August hasn’t yet served up particularly high individual maximum temperatures. So far, the highest temperature recorded this month was at Tyndrum, Scotland with 27.2°C. Only two times in the last ten years has 30°C not been reached in August in the UK and on every occasion in the last 20 years the highest temperature for August was reported in England.  

Temperatures have, however, been fairly consistent over the month of August. So, although there hasn’t been any creeping up past 30°C just yet, the average maximum temperature is actually near to the long-term average at the moment, at 19.1°C. August has also been slightly drier than average so far for most, although some regions are close to or above average such as Northern Ireland, eastern Scotland and parts of southeast England. 

Dr Mark McCarthy of the National Climate Information Centre said, “Obviously there’s still time before the month and season is over, but summer so far is certainly looking drier and warmer than average, that’s despite some of the wet, dull conditions we’ve seen in the southeast in particular.  

“Some of the flooding seen in London in July has seen some individual stations report almost twice their normal summer rainfall but the north and west of the country has experienced plenty of sunshine through June and July, although most of the country has been duller than average through August.” 

Get the latest forecast for the rest of the month on the Met Office website.  

Note: Statistics in this blog are representative of the period to 25 August 2021. The full statistics will be released at the end of the month. Summer, as defined in these statistics, runs from the 1 June.  

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Invoking the oak – nature’s veteran recorder helping scientists understand the rate and scale of climate change

Ancient oak trees – individuals more than 400 years old – extend back into the deep and dark recesses of history.

During that time, these senior trees will have been surrounded by huge fluctuations in climate; to say nothing of the monumental changes in human history and how we have modified landscapes.

For those that can read them, the patterns of tree rings can provide a hint of past seasons, since the growing trees lock in valuable data about the climate for every year of their life.

Oak trees can live for centuries, providing a climate record spanning their lifetime but by monitoring the living tree and recording factors the first appearance of leaves and when the tree becomes bare can provide climatologists with a raft of data the current growing season. During 2020, the growing season for pedunculate oak was extended in the UK by 12 days. Picture: Ted Green/WTML (Woodland Trust media library).

However, that is not the only assistance that oak trees can provide to those researchers looking to understand more about our climate and how it is changing. By observing and charting the changes when individual trees come into leaf or shed their leaves, scientists and climatologists can glean valuable data about fundamental shifts in climate since individual plants respond to the shifting waves of weather and climate patterns from one year to the next.

Meteorologists have often been interested in how the weather and climate have profound impacts on phenology: the study of recurring events in nature and their relationships with climate. And indeed in 1875 the (Royal) Meteorological Society embraced the timing of natural events within the growing interest of phenology.

Dr Debbie Hemming is a Met Office scientist conducting research to improve understanding and modelling of the interactions between vegetation and climate. She said: “Trees and other species are natural data stores. They can be used in so many ways to inform us about the past and present of our changing world.”

With climate change already affecting the world, including the UK, there is a rapidly expanding interest in phenology and how the timing of natural events are responding to climate shifts, like rising temperatures and fluctuations in rainfall patterns.

For 31 years the BAMS Global State of the Climate report has been monitoring climate trends to provide a snapshot of the shifts in global and regional climate. The latest report is published today [25 August 2021] covers 2020.

Using results from phenology studies across the globe, the report states the seasonal cycle of vegetation across the Northern Hemisphere showed a generally earlier spring and later autumn (fall) in 2020 compared to recent decades. These differences were larger across Eurasia than North America.

Debbie Hemming added: “Satellite observations analysed by colleagues at the NASA Ames Research Centre, in the United States, showed that about 55 per cent of the Northern Hemisphere experienced an earlier spring and about 65 per cent a later autumn (fall) in 2020 compared to recent decades.”

Volunteer citizen scientists can make valuable contributions to the understanding of our changing climate by making phenological records. Picture: Michael Hefferman/WTML (Woodland Trust media library).

One UK study – involving citizen scientists from the Woodland Trust’s Nature Calendar project – has been charting the duration of leaves on the pedunculate oak from first leaf to bare tree. The pedunculate oak – colloquially known as the English oak – actually has a range across much of temperate Europe and Asia Minor, and it is the national tree of several European nations, not solely the UK.

Oak trees came into leaf across the UK earlier in 2020 than in any of the previous 20 years.

The average first ‘leaf date’ for the 2000–09 baseline was 26 April (day 116), and average ‘bare tree’ date was 30 November (day 334), giving a 218-day growing season.

Both events are strongly influenced by temperature; the first leaf date advances by approximately six days for every 1°C increase in mean February–April temperature; and the ‘bare tree’ date is  delayed by approximately three days for every 1°C increase in October temperature.

The year 2020, like 2019, had a very warm spring, and this resulted in the earliest United Kingdom first leaf date in the 20-year series (10 days earlier than the in-situ baseline).

October temperature was similar to recent years, and the bare tree date (note these were predicted from the temperature relationship due to COVID-19 monitoring restrictions) was approximately two days later than the baseline.

Professor Tim Sparks, speaking on behalf of the Woodland Trust, said: “The net result was a United Kingdom “oak season” 12 days longer than the baseline. The earlier spring and later autumn (fall) vegetation was associated with warmer than average temperatures during these seasons. Nature is having to keep pace with rapid changes – perhaps never more rapid.

“However, not all species are changing at the same rate. Whilst some species can take advantage of a warmer climate, for others climate change will be a further threat to their existence.”

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Met Office science at the heart of climate assessments

The Met Office Hadley Centre – which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year – has a long and proud history of working and supporting the IPCC. Indeed, one of the foremost scientists who propelled the IPCC, serving as co-chair and chairman of its scientific advisory group from its inception until 2002, was the late Sir John Houghton.

Sir John was Met Office Director General/Chief Executive from 1983-1991 and was instrumental in establishing the Met Office Hadley Centre, which was formerly opened by the then Prime Minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, on 25 May 1990. This was the same day that the IPCC First Assessment Report was published.

Professor Peter Stott has been working on climate research at the Met Office since 1996.

Professor Peter Stott joined the Met Office in 1996, a date which coincidentally aligned with the publication of the IPCC’s Second Assessment report. Before the days of widespread email use, Peter remembers fondly that this hefty volume arrived in a large envelope on the doormat at his home just before he started his Met Office career. He said: “Reading through the report, I immediately realised that this was the first official document to make a link between human activities and global warming, using the phrase that there was a discernible human influence on the global climate.”

The following year, Peter attended the global climate conference in Kyoto. Peter said: “Those of us who went were able to present the Met Office Hadley Centre’s work and the conclusions of that second IPCC report.

“It was an important moment because it was when governments first agreed to do something about climate change when they signed the Kyoto Protocol, based largely on the growing evidence from the IPCC’s second report.

“So it was already recognised there was a human influence of greenhouse gas emissions on the climate, but it was still very early days for putting any precision on what that may mean in terms of impacts; such as extreme weather for example.”

Peter added: “Looking back now to the late 1990s our predictions about global warming and global temperature rise were very accurate, even though we weren’t able to rely on the vast supercomputer power that we have today.

“Though, relatively speaking, the information we had from those projections and what it may mean for rising sea levels or agriculture, for example, were very broad brush.”

After two decades of scientific research and increasing technological capability, the sophistication and resolution of climate projections have increased enormously

Peter added: “It is only now with our climate models, that we can simulate climate aspects such as really heavy rainfall and extreme heatwaves at a regional level, putting a local precision on high-impact weather.”

Commenting on the current impacts of climate change, Peter Stott added: “What we are now seeing in 2021 is the very clear effects of climate change playing out in real time, with floods, wildfires and heatwaves.”

The sixth Assessment Report – published on 9 August 2021 – is the first IPCC report to state that it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.

Peter added: “The latest IPCC report is a big step forward because it is laying out clearly the risks of climate change at least in terms of some of the irreversible impacts of climate such as sea level rise for example which will continue to rise for many centuries. We are still at the early stages of mapping out those risks.

“The better we can understand those risks the better we can mitigate them. That is a big challenge for societies now to be more resilient to heatwaves and other climate risks. The big challenges to come will include being able to provide more information about high-impact climate risks such as heavy rainfall. This is an exciting development that will help us all be better prepared for what is coming at us in the future.

“New scientific information such as the latest IPCC report also helps governments as they seek to reach international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rapidly enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“This historical and continued contribution the Met Office Hadley Centre has enjoyed with the IPCC acknowledges our status as a world-leading centre for climate science research and has helped to ensure that our observational datasets, climate modelling and peer-reviewed research is incorporated into the heart of the scientific assessments.”

Chris Jones has also recently been selected as an author for a future IPCC report, due for release in 2022. Chris said: “The IPCC represents the “go to” place to understand the state-of-the-science for policy makers and scientists alike. The rigour and comprehensiveness of the assessment brings together experts from all over the world. It’s been a huge honour, and immensely enjoyable, to be a part of this community activity.”

Bringing the Met Office’s journey with the IPCC to a full circle, during the press conference for the latest Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) publication, IPCC Chair, Hoesung Lee, announced that the report is dedicated to the memory of Sir John Houghton.

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Europe needs to prepare for temperatures of 50C in future

Syracuse, in Sicily, has provisionally exceeded the previous European highest temperature with a record of 48.8°C yesterday. If the record is confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization, this temperature will break the previous record of 48.0°C in Athens in 1977.

It will also raise concerns that even higher temperatures are potential in future, possibly even exceeding 50.0C.

Professor Peter Stott is the Met Office’s lead on climate attribution. He has studied European heatwaves for nearly two decades, including the notable ones in 2003 and 2019.

He said: “Climate change is making heat-related extremes of weather more intense and when we think about those record-breaking temperature the chance of breaking temperature records – or coming close to breaking records – is greatly increased.

“Record-breaking temperatures in June 2019 saw the French temperature record exceed 45.0°C for the first time, and our analysis found that event was at least five times more likely because of climate change. Although we haven’t yet been able to run an in-depth study on the current situation, I think it’s going to be clear that climate change has made this current event more extreme.

“The chances each summer of seeing really extreme temperatures are pretty high now. We can’t say exactly when it is likely to happen, but Europe will need to prepare for the eventuality of further records being broken with temperatures above 50.0°C being possible in Europe in future, most likely close to the Mediterranean where the influence of hot air from North Africa is strongest.”

The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by around 1.1°C since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900), but the average temperature in some regions has increased by a greater amount. The average temperature in North Africa, for example, has increased by around 2.0°C over the same period.

Potentially Syracuse has broken the European temperature record as heat builds further west into Iberia

Chris Almond is a meteorologist working with the Met Office’s Global Guidance Unit. Commenting on the conditions leading up to this event, he said: “There is a large area of high pressure in the upper atmosphere affecting much of the Mediterranean, as well as northern Africa.

“High pressure leads to sinking motion in the atmosphere which compresses the air and heats it up, and this added to the heat from the sun can lead to very high temperatures at this time of year. Also under high pressure, winds tend to be light, so the heat doesn’t get dispersed as much this also helps conditions to get hotter and hotter.

“This weather situation is not particularly unusual, high pressure often sits over these areas in the summer – it’s the temperatures which are more unusual, which are the result of many factors coming together at the same time.

“With climate change, we are expecting, and are already seeing, more frequent and severe events, and will continue to do in the future.”

The exceptional heat in the central Mediterranean is building after extreme conditions in Greece and Turkey last week.

This heat is expected to extend into Iberia and Morocco through the next couple of days. Further national records could be achieved in the coming days, including for Spain, where the current record is 47.3C in Cordoba in 2003.

Chris Almond added: “A high wildfire threat continues, which could result in the rapid spread of new fires and limit containment activities of existing fires. It will be next week before temperatures are expected to slowly decrease across the region.

“Adverse human health impacts are likely, particularly to those exposed to the extreme heat for prolonged periods or are part of vulnerable population groups. This is combined with poor air quality in some places due to ongoing wildfires and smoke.”

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Heatwave helps mark fifth warmest July on record

The mid-month heatwave has helped the UK to its joint fifth warmest July on record according to provisional Met Office figures, with Scotland and Northern Ireland recording their third warmest July, in a month where Northern Ireland also broke its all-time high temperature record, exceeding 31C multiple times.  

The mean temperature for July 2021 in the UK was 16.6°C, which put it level with July 1995’s figure, although still some way short of the record figure of 17.8C in 2006. Northern Ireland (16.4° C) and Scotland (15.1°C) saw their third warmest Julys, Wales (16.5°C) its ninth warmest and England (17.5°C) its eleventh warmest.  

A Mean temperature map of the UK for July 2021, showing above average temperatures throughout, especially in western Scotland and Northern Ireland.
July 2021 mean temperature map

While the high mean temperatures were spurred on by the mid-month heatwave, the figure was helped to its elevated position in the standings with notably high night-time temperatures recorded across the month, with the average minimum temperature for the UK putting it at joint-second for the warmest recorded in July, at 12.1°C.  

Of course, most people will remember July 2021 for the heatwave during the middle of the month, which saw the Met Office issue its first ever extreme heat warning. Western areas in particular got the most consistently hot conditions, and Northern Ireland even broke its all-time temperature record with a figure of 31.3°C recorded at Castlederg on 21st *.  

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland had average maximum temperatures for the month in their top 10 ever recorded, with 21.2°C in Northern Ireland being the fifth highest and 19.2°C in Scotland being their sixth highest.  

On a similar theme, Scotland and Northern Ireland were also far drier and sunnier than average for July. Both countries saw 25% more sunshine hours than average, with 175.6 sunshine hours for Scotland, and 175.5 for Northern Ireland. Scotland got 67% (66.4mm) of average rain in the month, while Northern Ireland got just 53% (43.3mm).  

A map of the UK showing average sunshine duration for regions versus the long term average. The map shows many western areas had above average hours of sunshine in the month, especially western Scotland. Eastern areas have closer to average sunshine hours.
July 2021 average sunshine hours map

Despite the dry month for western areas in particular, intense summer downpours affected some areas of the country and resulted in some places exceeding twice their average rainfall for July. The Isle of Wight had its seventh wettest July on record – and its wettest since 1920 – with 115.4mm of rain, while parts of London recorded more than double the average rainfall they’d expect in the month. The localised nature of some of the summer downpours meant there could be some sharp contrasts with, for example, some parts of London receiving much closer to average rainfall. 

A map showing the rainfall across the UK versus the average for July 2021. It shows many southern areas had above average rainfall, while western areas, especially Northern Ireland and western Scotland, had below average rainfall.
July 2021 rainfall amount map

In addition, despite the mid-month heatwave, some unsettled and thundery conditions were in force for much of the second part of the month, which even saw Storm Evert named and sweep across southern areas of England and Wales, bringing with it gusty winds and some persistent rain.  

Tim Legg of the National Climate Information Centre said, “Early July was relatively unsettled, with frequent heavy showers, especially over parts of England. The early subdued temperatures were replaced with a very warm spell for much of the UK as a high pressure system moved in and settled down, resulting in temperatures regularly getting in to the low 30s Celsius by day and remaining warm overnight.  

“The hot spell is largely responsible for the above average temperatures recorded for the UK, with western areas in particular reporting temperatures well above their July averages. This warm period broke down later in the month, bringing with it rain, thunderstorms and even the first storm we’ve named in July when Storm Evert crossed our shores from the 30th.” 

Provisional July 2021Mean temp (°C) Sunshine (hours) Rainfall (mm) 
 Actual Diff from avg (°C)Actual% of avgActual% of avg
UK 16.6 1.5 191.6111  72.5 93
England 17.5 1.2 200.7104 78.3 125
Wales 16.5 1.4 203.4114 79.7 86
Scotland 15.1 1.8 175.6125 66.4 67
N Ireland 16.5 1.9 175.5125 43.3 53

* A provisional temperature of 31.4 C was recorded at Armagh on 22nd July, which did not pass all subsequent verification checks.  

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COP26 – 100 days to go

COP – or Conference of Parties, is an annual United Nations climate summit where world leaders meet to discuss and make decisions on key global issues. In attendance will be countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) back in 1994. This year sees the arrival of the much-awaited COP26, following postponement from November 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every year a different nation takes on presidency of the summit, and this year’s UK presidency, in partnership with Italy, will see the conference taking place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. There are just under 100 days to go until COP26 begins, so we’ll be sharing lots of news in the coming weeks about our preparations here at the Met Office and how you can get involved. 

COP26 - In Partnership with Italy
COP26 is taking place in Glasgow later this year

This year’s COP is the 26th annual summit and is of particular significance as it will mark 5 years since the signing of the Paris agreement at COP21 in 2015. The Paris Agreement commits participating nations to the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees, preferably 1.5 degrees, above pre-industrial levels. Progress on the agreement will be reviewed every five years and updated plans laid out for the future, making this the first COP summit where progress is discussed amongst all committed nations. Following the declaration by the UK Government in 2020, that this is a “year of climate action”, there is much anticipation as to what this year’s COP will deliver.   

At COP25 back in 2019, many key issues remained without unanimous resolution. In light of this, as well as the ever-increasing threat of global warming, COP26 is considered to be an event of particular urgency, and one that experts hope will signify an acceleration of proactive global efforts to combat climate change. Over 190 world leaders are expected to attend the conference in Glasgow, where they will be joined by government representatives, businesses, non-profit organisations and citizens for 12 days of climate talks. Amongst the discussion points of the summit, there are some fundamental goals that the UK will strive to achieve. These include: 

  • securing global Net Zero emissions by the middle of the century and continuing to strive towards limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels; 
  • the deployment of adaptation measures to protect vulnerable communities and natural habitats from the impacts of climate change;  
  • the mobilisation of financial aid by developed countries to achieve global Net Zero; and 
  • acceleration of collaborations between governments, business and society in order to achieve ambitious climate goals.  

Preparation is well and truly underway ahead of the conference in November, with a busy timeline of events aimed to further the UK’s progress towards delivery of its goals. More information on the pre-COP26 event schedule can be found on the COP26 website.

At the Met Office, we’ve also been busy with preparations ahead of the start of the summit in just under 100 days’ time. We’ve coordinated several COP related events, such as our Climate Science Conference in May, which brought together scientists, policy makers and communicators in a virtual conference to explore how climate science and services can create a more sustainable and resilient future. The event focused on a number of climate themes, with the goal of laying out a scientific agenda to inform climate policy during the COP26 event itself and until the end of the decade. 

"We know that the climate has changed and we know it will continue to change over the next 30 years as we transition to Net Zero." - Stephen Belcher, Chief Scientist
Chief Scientist Stephen Belcher at the Climate Science Conference earlier this year

We’ve also made our own commitment towards the government’s Net Zero pledge, with our own Journey to Net Zero by 2030. As part of this commitment, we will work towards achieving Net Zero emissions through all of our activities by investing in renewable energy solutions, reducing carbon emissions and engaging in carbon offsetting schemes to counterbalance any unavoidable outputs.  

Much of our ongoing climate research informs government policy and is of particular relevance to the COP26 aims and ambitions. Our Hadley Centre Climate Programme undertakes research into climate change to determine the cause of such changes and develop services to manage climate risk. 

Albert Klein Tank, scientific director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, one of the UK’s leading climate research centres, discusses how Met Office research informs COP negotiations: 
 
“At the Met Office, the run up to COP is perhaps even more important than the event itself, where our role is less visible. In the run up to COP, the Hadley Centre keeps the government informed on the latest science and information on climate projections. We will contribute to the latest IPCC report which will come out in August, which will also inform the international negotiations. It’s really about aligning and making all of the latest evidence available so that the impacts and the local impacts of particular extreme events and how they can be attributed to climate change and to human interference is clear.” 

Some people have said that COP is a large gathering of people without much progress, but I feel much more optimistic. I think the fact that international communities and governments are coming together demonstrates that this really is at the top of their agenda, and with climate change growing and with the evidence of the impacts of climate change growing, this collaboration is really needed, and it is really timely.” 

For COP26 and future COP events, the Met Office will continue to collaborate with other research organisations, governments and policy makers on the shared goal of tackling climate change and moving towards a resilient net zero future. By working with other organisations and communicating our findings to key audiences, we hope to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in tackling climate change and as a key provider of robust global science. In doing this we will ensure our credibility as hosts of COP26 in November whilst also maintaining a legacy which extends into the coming decades, when a united global response to climate research will become increasingly urgent. 

You can learn more about COP26 and how the Met Office is involved through the following links: 

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