A local look at the record-breaking Spring and May weather

Both the month of May and the full spring season have been exceptional for the UK, as outlined in our recent news release. In this blog we look at the local detail of what has been an exceptionally sunny and dry few months.

Sunshine

Perhaps the most impressive of all the national statistics was the number of sunshine hours recorded across the UK. May 2020 was the sunniest calendar month on record for the UK, England and Wales. It has also been the sunniest spring for all UK countries.

As we have seen at the UK level, in May many weather station locations have also had their sunniest calendar month on record. A notable example of this is at the Radcliffe Meteorological Station in Oxford. This station has the longest continuous sunshine record in the world and it recorded 331.7 hours of sunshine in May 2020, beating the previous record of 310.4 hours set in July 1911. Data from this station stretches back to February 1880.

Top 10 sunniest ceremonial counties in May 2020

County Sunshine hours Anomaly (%) Previous record (hours)
Isle of Wight 378.2 168 322.9 in 1989
Bristol 352.1 172 295.3 in 1948
Hampshire 345.4 171 304.0 in 1989
Berkshire 342.4 179 294.3 in 1989
West Sussex 338.2 162 311.2 in 1989
Wiltshire 335.5 173 274.4 in 1989
Kent 335.4 164 311.2 in 1989
Dorset 335.0 163 295.7 in 1989
Oxfordshire 330.7 175 279.0 in 1989
Essex 329.9 166 305.6 in 1989

Shetland was the only location not to record more than its average sunshine hours, with 165.7 hours of sunshine in May, which is 92% of its average for the month.

For the spring season, the Isle of Wight was the sunniest location in the UK. It set a new spring sunshine record of 837.4 hours. The previous record was 718.6 hours recorded in the spring of 1990. All top ten sunshine counties in spring have set new records for the number of sunshine hours.

Top 10 sunniest ceremonial counties in Spring 2020

County Sunshine (hours) Anomaly (%) Previous record
Isle of Wight 837.4 155 718.6 in 1990
Kent 784.8 159 691.1 in 1990
Hampshire 776.8 159 662.6 in 1948
Bristol 775.9 157 689.2 in 1948
Berkshire 775.1 167 643.5 in 1990
Essex 773.9 163 658.8 in 1990
West Sussex 765.5 152 690.3 in 1990
Wiltshire 763.0 162 659.7 in 1948
Cambridgeshire 752.1 164 619.5 in 1990
Dorset 751.1 150 689.2 in 1948

Rainfall

The next most striking meteorological statistic has been the lack of rainfall. England has had its driest May on record and this is reflected in north-east England and eastern Scotland, especially where a number of counties have recorded their driest spring on record.

Another exceptional fact is that the station at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire recorded no measurable rainfall during May, with rain gauges left at 0.0mm at the start of June. Over the course of spring just 77.6mm was recorded here; the average is 141.4mm. A total of 10 Met Office weather stations recorded 1.0 mm or less though May, the majority of these in south-east England.

There has, however, been significant rainfall in parts of the UK through May, the highest accumulation recorded at a Met Office site being 226.4mm at Achnagart in Scotland. The Achnagart station also recorded its wettest May daily rainfall in 51 years with 97.2mm of rain in the 24 hours ending 0900 GMT on the 23rd.

Top 10 driest ceremonial counties in May 2020

County Rainfall (mm) Anomaly (%) Previous record (mm)
Northamptonshire 1.7 3 7.1 in 1990
Warwickshire 1.9 4 7.8 in 1896
Cambridgeshire 2.4 5 9.3 in 1896
Berkshire 2.5 4 5.6 in 1990
Hampshire 2.7 5 8.9 in 1991
Suffolk 3.0 6 5.9 in 1989
Hertfordshire 3.4 6 5.6 in 1990
West Midlands 3.5 6 6.8 in 1896
City of London 3.6 7 No new record
Merseyside 3.6 6 8.0 in 1991

For spring, only the Western Isles recorded more than average rainfall, with 317.7mm, 101% of the season’s average. In contrast most counties were well below average.

Spring rainfall top 10 driest counties

County Rainfall (mm) Anomaly (%) Previous record (mm)
Tyne and Wear 36.4 25 56.5 in 1875
Lincolnshire 37.3 27 41.5 in 2011
East Riding of Yorkshire 41.5 28 46.8 in 2011
Nottinghamshire 42.8 30 45.2 in 1990
Norfolk 47.1 33 No new record
South Yorkshire 48.9 29 60.2 in 2011
Cambridgeshire 50.4 39 No new record
City of Dundee 54.4 36 58.5 in 1870
Suffolk 55.0 41 No new record
Bedfordshire 59.4 42 No new record

Tyne and Wear set its record for lowest spring rainfall, beating 56.5mm recorded in 1875. All counties in the top 10 table above except Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Bedfordshire set new records for their lowest spring rainfall.

Temperature

Although exceptionally dry and sunny, both spring and May were not notable for the temperatures recorded. Almost all of our weather stations in the UK were above their average temperature for May, however only Morpeth in Northumberland set a new monthly average maximum temperature record. The station has been recording weather observations for 113 years.

Top 10 mean temperature ceremonial counties Spring 2020

County Mean Temperature (°C) Anomaly (°C)
City of London 11.83 1.18
Greater London 11.14 1.17
Bristol 10.94 1.30
South Glamorgan 10.61 1.33
Isle of Wight 10.6 1.13
East Sussex 10.4 1.19
Hampshire 10.37 1.19
Cornwall 10.37 1.19
Merseyside 10.34 1.05
Surrey 10.31 1.23

All counties other than Shetland recorded mean temperatures above the long-term average in May. For spring, all counties were above their mean temperature long-term average.

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Spring 2020: the sunniest on record in the UK

The UK has recorded the sunniest spring since records began in 1929. Since that time there have been only nine UK springs recording more than 500 hours of sunshine, with the previous sunniest being 555.3 hours in 1948.

However, up to 27 May, Spring 2020 has already recorded over 573 hours of sunshine; and with the forecast indicating an extension of the sunny conditions until the end of the month, Spring 2020 will surely cement its record even more firmly.

The weather patterns creating the sunny conditions have also created relatively dry ones too. Dr Mark McCarthy, from the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre, explains: “Much of spring has been dominated by successive areas of high pressure, leading to sunny and relatively dry conditions. In February, the Met Office was reporting record rainfall as Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge boosted totals, making February 2020 the wettest February on record.

“However, Spring 2020 has been very dry, and May in parts of England has been exceptionally dry. As it stands up to May 27, for England, May 2020 is the driest May on record since 1896, with less than 10mm rain falling across England on average.”

Some locations have recorded far less rainfall than this. Northamptonshire – the driest county so far – for example has only recorded 1.5mm of rain during May. To put that measurement into context 1.5mm is less than the thickness of a 20-pence coin – you could lay the coin flat in the month’s rainfall and the Queen’s head would remain dry!

Although spring as a whole has been relatively dry, the patterns of each of the spring months have been subtly different. Mark McCarthy explains: “The rainfall totals for each part of the UK for each month of spring (March, April and May) have followed different patterns. For example, parts of South West England had close to average rainfall in March, with drier conditions in April and very dry conditions in May. However, the pattern for other parts such as northern England was different with April being the driest month.”

The subtle differences in rainfall patterns across spring are largely influenced by the areas covered by the centre of the high pressure. Mark McCarthy explains: “You can perhaps see this effect most clearly in the May rainfall figures for north-west Scotland. During the month, the centre of the high pressure has been located to the south and east, leaving the Western Isles and other parts of north-west Scotland extending beyond the influence of the high pressure, leaving them exposed to weather fronts bringing more rainfall to the region, whereas southern England has been largely covered by the high pressure, suppressing rainfall.”

So far during May the Western Isles have received more than average rainfall (117%)

Until the month concludes some of the above may be liable to change. Full provisional climate statistics for May and Spring will be released on 1 June.

 

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Part II: Three decades of Met Office Hadley Centre science, and counting…

In Part I of this two-part blog series (published yesterday) Professor Albert Klein Tank described the history and highlights of the Met Office Hadley Centre over the past 30 years. Here the Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre focuses on the future.

The next 30 years

In the next 30 years, the role of climate science at the Met Office Hadley Centre will evolve to one of quantifying the predicted changes in climate, and providing more detailed information on what these changes mean to individuals.

How can we help societies plan for the future and manage the risks from extreme climate events and avoid impacts which are too drastic to cope with?

The next 30 years are extremely important regarding the need for stronger mitigation by proceeding towards a transition to a net zero emissions economy. Climate science will play an important part in informing adaptation to the consequences of climate changes that are already unavoidable, whilst informing the mitigation actions aiming to avoid more severe impacts. The emphasis on action and solutions implies a shift from climate science to climate services. But, underpinning science aimed at understanding climate system processes remains crucial.  Albert Klein Tank said: “I strongly believe that the climate services of the future rely on the pioneering and underpinning research of today.

“New frontiers of research including capability to robustly simulate and predict weather and climate extremes will bring additional utility to our forecasts and projections, both nationally and internationally.”

Following the 5th IPCC Assessment Report, the Paris Agreement in December 2015 marked a turning point in climate negotiations with 195 governments agreeing to take global action to tackle climate change and limit global temperature increase.

As a result of the Paris Agreement, the focus of climate research at the Met Office has changed to reflect these changing drivers:

  • moving from proving that climate change is happening and predictable to monitoring, understanding and managing current and future weather and climate risks
  • informing the development of strategies for lowering greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change and assessing the risk of abrupt, potentially irreversible, Earth system change (including so-called tipping points)

Preparing for inevitable climate changes will require more local information, an example of which is provided for the UK as part of the recently issued UK Climate Projections. Future projections require even more information on how global warming translates into local-scale changes in weather and climate extremes, such as windstorms, heat waves and coastal and inland flooding events.

© Crown copyright.Mark machin

The Met Office Hadley Centre is located in Exeter at the Met Office headquarters.

Importance of partnerships

Can the Met Office Hadley Centre do this on its own? The short answer is no. Building even stronger partnerships – both in the UK and internationally – will be essential to addressing the challenges we face in climate science and its applications. We will need to be able to deliver the science, given the increased complexity of observing and modelling the climate system. The Hadley Centre has a history of strong collaboration with: UK academics; partners sharing the same seamless modelling system; the World Climate Research Programme; and European partners. These will remain of high importance, despite the UK leaving the EU.

Climate Science Roadmap

The Roadmap for Hadley Centre research describes our specific contributions over the coming years. It details how we can deliver both the needs of customers, and the fundamental climate science questions to prepare for a changing future and help limit the impacts of climate change.

Albert Klein Tank added: “We do this by careful consideration of the changes in the demands for climate science, awareness of the next big things in science and technology, and bridging of the gap between the core science and solutions.” Quantifying, explaining, forecasting and projecting global and UK climate to inform early warnings, and adaptation-and-mitigation decision making will continue to be a key component. We will provide scientific evidence required to support the UK Government goals to reach NetZero by 2050.

For Met Office Hadley Centre scientist Ailsa Barrow – who was born on the opening day (25 May 1990) – the Roadmap gives direction to the priority areas she will be working on with colleagues across the global science community in the coming decades. Ailsa said: “I have witnessed first-hand, during my secondment to the Climate Evidence team in Defra, the recognition of Met Office Hadley Centre science in informing policy decisions of the UK Government.

“The breadth and versatility of our data helps users develop climate services as well as powerful tailored climate science communication.

“Now more than ever, in the lead up to COP26, the range of skills, experience and expertise across the Met Office Hadley Centre are required to equip policy makers, public, media and the academic communities with the evidence to make informed decisions to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Increasing the public’s understanding of climate science through traditional media and social media will become an ever-more vitally important activity to maximise the reach of important findings revealed by the scientific research. Albert Klein Tank added: “I am convinced that maintaining our impartiality does not need to conflict with increased evidence-based support for action as our contributions to COP over the past years have demonstrated.”

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Professor Albert Klein Tank, Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services.

The role of science in decision making

The current coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of an evidence-based scientifically informed approach to inform society’s response to challenges. If applied to dealing with climate change this would mean that governments accept early warnings and future projections from experts about the risks (despite uncertainty) and adopt adequate measures. The recent changes in ways of working for our scientists, enforced by the coronavirus, are giving us valuable experience (such as working from home and holding virtual meetings and conferences) that we will use in future as we aim to reduce the impact of our working lives on the planet.

No doubt that climate science will remain vitally important for the forthcoming challenges that we will face as a society over the coming thirty years and I am confident that the next 30 years will be as acclaimed for climate science in the Met Office Hadley Centre as the past 30 years has been.

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Three decades of Met Office Hadley Centre science, and counting..

This week marks the 30th Anniversary of the opening of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on 25 May, 1990.

Professor Albert Klein Tank, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, reflects on the first three decades of our history.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher opening the Met Office Hadley Centre with Sir John Houghton

The Hadley Centre is a lasting legacy for the late Sir John Houghton (pictured above with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) who founded it with the aim of developing a centre of excellence in the UK for climate science. Sir John sadly passed away earlier this month.

In the last 30 years, climate science has advanced rapidly, and the Hadley Centre has been at the forefront of this development.

James Murphy, who has worked within the Hadley Centre since its opening, commented: “Margaret Thatcher’s original question was: can we predict the future changes in our climate, and potential consequences? This has been answered, but our subsequent research has also exposed the complex challenges associated with projecting future changes with regional detail and understanding better the human contributions to past changes. Our answers are conditional upon our knowledge, which has evolved substantially during the past 30 years, and must continue to do so in the future.”

Professor Klein Tank said: “When I joined as the new Director of the Hadley Centre two years ago, the increasing demand for climate services had already led to the changed name: Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services, with services always based on the highest quality science. At this time, we started thinking hard about the next decades to ensure the Hadley Centre is ready for a changing future. An activity that resulted in the new Met Office Research and Innovation strategy and the related roadmap for climate science.

The first 30 years

The impacts of climate change are already evident both in the UK and worldwide, through rising temperatures, diminishing snow and ice, rising sea levels and changes in extreme weather events. The development of global observation datasets such as HadCRUT (Hadley Centre and Climatic Research Unit global mean surface temperature dataset) and advances in attribution science have allowed these changes in our climate system to be detected and the human influence on these changes to be quantified.

The subsequent generations of Met Office HadGEM family of climate models have helped understand the importance of processes related to aerosols and clouds, and carbon cycle feedbacks. These models also demonstrated that it is possible to make skilful and meaningful predictions of future climate on seasonal to decadal timescales to provide early warnings and on centennial timescales to inform adaptation and mitigation. I’m particularly proud of the unique use of a seamless modelling system, developed in the Met Office over the last 30 years, allowing us to test the physical basis of our climate models through verification of weather forecasts and seasonal predictions.

Contributions to the UN Climate Panel IPCC and UK assessment reports

The Hadley Centre has a tradition of making significant contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process. Hadley Centre climate models, observational datasets and numerous peer-reviewed papers have been extensively assessed in all of the previous Assessment Reports and Special Reports and Hadley Centre scientists being authors and reviewers for these.

Hadley Centre scientist Richard Wood (back row, far right) at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, 2007, jointly awarded to the IPCC/Al Gore for efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures need to counteract such change. Back row from left: John Houghton (WG1 Co-Chair for the I and III Assessment Reports), Robert Watson (IPCC former chair). Front row: Qin Dahe and Susan Solomon (WGI Co-Chairs for AR4); Dan Albritton.

The Hadley Centre has also previously hosted the so-called technical support units for Working Group I and II. The Hadley Centre is making a significant contribution to the IPCC for its 6th Assessment Report, which will be published from 2021/22. Hadley Centre research has also underpinned the first three UK Climate Change Risk Assessments (CCRA) that inform the National Adaptation Programme. The 3rd CCRA is currently underway, and the Technical Chapters of the main report are being written by a consortium of academics and consultants led by the University of Exeter and the Hadley Centre. We will continue making significant contributions to the IPCC process and the CCRA as we have done in the past.

Professor Klein Tank’s review of Met Office Hadley Centre science concludes tomorrow with a look at the future of climate science.

 

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Celebrating nature in a time of crisis

As the world celebrates, today, the International Day for Biological Diversity, we turn our attention to the efforts to create a natural haven for wildlife and people at our Exeter headquarters.

Met Office biodiversity

The wildflower meadow is a key element of the Met Office’s most precious wildlife habitats. Picture: Phillip Gill.

Grahame Madge is the chair of the Met Office Biodiversity working group – a group of wildlife enthusiasts from across the office who have been helping boost nature on site for the benefit of wildlife and staff since 2008. He said: “As the lives of people around the world have been transformed by the pandemic, many people have begun to pay more attention to nature. Whether it’s being accompanied by the buzz of insects on a walk, or the snatches of birdsong that brighten a video conference call, nature is being noticed and appreciated, bringing the occasional smile or warm glow in otherwise challenging times.

“Although the decline in the abundance of some species across the UK is a crisis, we are never far from nature: it is all around us. Access to nature has proven benefits that can help people’s mental and physical health, but it also creates a responsibility: wildlife is part of our community and we have a duty of care to protect it.

“That’s very much the view of the Biodiversity Working Group which has strived to improve the fortunes of species around our site for over a decade, while creating opportunities for staff and visitors to connect with nature.”

The working group helps the Met Office improve the diversity of wildlife on its sites, especially at its Devon headquarters. Although compact, the site, on the outskirts of Exeter, contains some wildlife-rich areas, including: two ponds; numerous stands of trees and hedgerow; and a botanically-diverse area of grassland.

Bee-orchid

Bee-orchid is a priority species for Met Office conservation management.

One of the greatest successes has been the work to boost the population of bee-orchids, which have flourished on site and increased year on year so we now have over 300 individual bee orchid plants, thanks to sensitive management, including a specific grass-mowing regime.

The botanically-rich grassland includes several species of note, especially corky-fruited water dropwort and crested dogstail grass. Grahame Madge added: “In summer, the grassland is studded with the colours of meadow flowers, including knapweed, vetches and ox-eye daisies. The flowers provide nectar or pollen for a diversity of insects flitting from bloom to bloom, including marbled white butterflies, burnet moths and a variety of bumble-bees.

“The ponds attract a diversity of wetland wildlife, including reed warblers and newts. Occasionally, we’re visited by scarcer species, including a kingfisher and even an otter, which has spotted by one extremely lucky night-shift worker. However, although these highlights provide a talking point for staff, we really manage the site for the regularly-visiting species like the two species of newt, and the selection of bat species which take gnats and other insects from above the ponds on warm summer evenings.

Hedgehog

By working with neighbouring residents, the Met Office is hoping to provide a sustainable haven for hedgehogs. The hedgehog, which has dramatically declined over the last few decades in the UK, is one of 23 species for which we will try to take action.

“The tapestry of wildlife is continually changing as climate and local development exert an influence, and we carry out routine monitoring of the species on site to help monitor trends. Last year, we recorded small red-eyed damselfly for the first time. This species is spreading through the UK, after colonising from continental Europe, presumably boosted by climate change.

The Met Office site is increasingly fringed with housing and we can expect the balance of species on the site to change. Predation by cats may affect our population of slow-worms, for example, but building relationships with our neighbours may help boost the populations of other wildlife such as hedgehogs, song thrushes or pollinating insects. Grahame Madge added: “We have met with representatives from local housing developments and we’re keen to work with them to boost nature in our shared community. Hedgehogs and insects will disperse across the neighbourhood and won’t stop at our boundaries. So by working with our neighbours we can introduce complementary management to help those species living in the wider community.”

The working group has just helped the Met Office refine the list of species that occur on site and would benefit most from conservation assistance.

Kathy Gray is the Met Office’s environmental advisor. She said: “Across the list of 24 species, or species groups, we have tried to include those which are declining nationally or are species special to our part of Devon.

“We take our wildlife and environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and we are proud of the fact that our efforts are nationally recognised. The Met Office was the first UK Government organisation to hold the Wildlife Trusts’ Biodiversity Benchmark and we have been using our experience of wildlife management to work with Defra on the development of the Network for Nature initiative.”

Peter Dorans is the Corporate Relations Manager for The Wildlife Trusts. He said: “Biodiversity Benchmark is a very demanding certification and provides assurance that the Met Office is managing its land to the very highest standards for wildlife.  The Met Office has demonstrated that even in the grounds of a modern office in an urban location, wildlife can thrive.

“Our professional auditors have been particularly impressed by the efforts of the Biodiversity Working Group at the site to use all available areas for wildlife, such as converting amenity grassland to meadow, whilst still retaining a ‘corporate’ appearance.  A great example of this is the project to display the Met Office logo in wildflowers.  We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of wildlife every day and we know the site is highly valued by Met Office as a place for relaxing, enjoying nature and supporting wellbeing.”

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Exceptional research and innovation continue to drive improvements in our science

Now more than ever, it is clear that we are living in uncertain times, and we have all felt unsure of what the future will bring. At this time of great need, science has given us a beacon of hope, providing governments with the information it needs to take action and help society combat a global threat. Thanks to science, we can see a way to a day when the situation will be brighter again.

Professor Stephen Belcher Met Office chief scientist

Professor Stephen Belcher Met Office chief scientist. Pic: Simon Hammett.

Against the backdrop of a pandemic is perhaps a poignant time to launch the Met Office’s latest science strategy, priming us to provide the best support and advice to cope with the twin global threats of climate change and extreme weather events.

There are other changes in our world that we must also respond to. From technological innovation, to the need for clean growth, to the change in the climate itself. We need to ensure that our exceptional research and innovation continue to drive improvements in our science, technology and operations – and vice versa. As the Met Office Chief Scientist, it’s important to me that the Met Office takes a key role in the development of weather and climate science and we can ensure we continue to deliver improvements in our services for our sponsors and the society, in our ever-changing world.

Part of the Met Office supercomputer

The supercomputer provides the backbone to the Met Office’s scientific and forecasting capabilities. Pic: Simon Hammett.

I’ve been at the Met Office since 2012: formerly as Director of the Hadley Centre and more recently as Chief Scientist, overseeing a team of 500 scientists. I feel immensely proud of the work the Met Office has done to boost its science base even further, but this goes hand-in-hand with a huge feeling of responsibility. People’s lives and livelihoods increasingly depend on avoiding the worst impacts of extreme weather events and climate change, and the Met Office has a responsibility to help people make the best decisions to stay safe and thrive. If anyone doubts the threats, the weather and climate records chart them perfectly. The period from 2015-2019 has seen the highest average global temperatures recorded since before the start of the industrial revolution. This isn’t just happening at a global scale, as last year we saw records for the highest overall and winter temperature broken.

But we don’t just passively monitor the records: We recently showed that the odds of us experiencing another heatwave like 2018 are thirty times greater now than they were in pre-industrial times. By continuing pioneering research like this, we will be better able to prepare for the challenges of our changing climate.

How can we do this? In the past we’ve had a Science strategy, which gave direction to the Science programme. But now, the focus needs to shift to encompass the broader research and innovation activities across Science, Technology and Operations. In this way, we can better respond to the emerging needs of society and get the best value from our increased computing capacity. As our ability to better understand and predict future weather and climate continues to expand, so too do the expectations of our customers and stakeholders.

These evolving demands, together with the opportunities provided by new technology, such as the announcement of a new high-performance computer, provide the drivers for this Research and Innovation Strategy.

The strategy responds to these challenges and sets out the priorities needed to develop our exceptional science, technology and operations over the next 10 years. This gives us a pathway to take us through from fundamental science that will improve our weather observations, and models of weather and climate, right through to developing new tailored services that will really make a difference.

Met Office

To discover more about the Met Office’s Research and Innovation Strategy you can view a video from the following link: https://youtu.be/BcBUN0aMxSk

The R&I Strategy describes how we do research and innovation in three activities:

1. The reason we work at the Met Office, is that we drive our Science to Services.
2. Weather and climate is ‘big science’ that needs large-scale observations, software and IT. So, one of our responsibilities is to maintain and develop this National Capability.
3. Our changing world will require new services, which in turn will require new Pioneering Research.

Met Office Research and Innovation strategy

The Met Office Research and Innovation strategy sets out the priorities needed to develop our exceptional science, technology and operations over the next 10 years for more information and to access the report visit: bit.ly/2WtTtCj

Under each of these three activities are three R&I themes, alongside which we have thee cross-cutting themes. You can explore the nine R&I themes and the three cross-cutting themes on our dedicated web pages. We have included some case studies to help bring these to life with real examples of the strategy in action.

In the first year we are going to particularly push three of these R&I themes as strategic actions, namely: exploiting the future of data sciences, delivering next-generation modelling capability and developing and nurturing capability partnerships.

This new strategy will ensure we continue the research and innovation that underpins all we do at the Met Office, and continue to be recognised as global leaders in weather, climate science and services in a changing world.

If we can deliver this strategy, we will have delivered better weather forecasts tailored to help decision making, a clearer view on what the world will look like in future climates, and a much better view of how we can transition to a resilient net zero economy.

Professor Stephen Belcher
Chief Scientist

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Coronavirus will impact the atmospheric CO2 record – but not enough to slow global heating

The drop in global carbon-dioxide emissions following the coronavirus pandemic could be large enough to noticeably slow the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere this year, a team of scientists at the Met Office and Scripps Institution for Oceanography have predicted.

But this will not be enough to slow the rise in global temperatures.

The Met Office has a successful track record of predicting the rise in CO2 concentrations each year, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Scripps Institution and NOAA. The CO2 rise speeds up and slows down as natural carbon sinks – parts of the environment which can absorb carbon-dioxide – become temporarily weaker or stronger due to swings in the climate.  2020 was initially predicted to see a relatively fast rise due to weaker carbon sinks linked to the weather conditions in recent months, such as in the Australian bushfires. But the impact of weaker sinks now looks likely to be offset by reduced emissions from fossil burning this year.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects global fossil fuel emissions to decrease by 8% in 2020 due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the Met Office and Scripps team predict the CO2 rise measured at Mauna Loa to be 2.48 ± 0.57 parts per million (ppm), smaller than the 2.8 ppm rise predicted without the coronavirus impacts.

“Although emissions are reducing this year, this does not mean the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere will reverse – it will just be slightly slower” said Professor Richard Betts MBE, who leads the CO2 forecast production for the Met Office. “An analogy is filling a bath from a tap – it’s like we are turning down the tap, but because we are not turning off the tap completely, the water level is still rising”.

If you think of the atmospheric concentration of carbon-dioxide like a bath, you can think of the flow of emissions like water flowing through a bath tap, which can be turned up or down.

The team predict the average CO2 in May to be 417.1 ± 0.6 ppm, 0.4 ppm lower than it would have been without the pandemic, but still be the highest CO2 concentration for at least two million years.

Revised 2020 CO2 forecast updated for COVID mitigationFrom June onwards, CO2 concentrations will fall – not because of reduced emissions, but due to uptake of carbon by plants in the northern hemisphere growing season. “Plants don’t grow equally all year” explains Professor Ralph Keeling, leader of the Scripps programme for monitoring CO2 at Mauna Loa and whose father David Keeling discovered the seasonal cycle in atmospheric CO2.  “The CO2 goes down in the summer months and then back up”, says Ralph.

After a minimum in September, now predicted to be 0.5 ppm lower than without the coronavirus impacts, the CO2 will rise until the end of the year and onwards until next year’s peak.

Crucially, the reduction in the CO2 rise this year will not be enough to slow the ongoing rise in global temperatures. To halt the CO2 rise and prevent further warming, CO2 emissions would initially need to halve, and reduce by even more in the long term.

A more in-depth feature on this topic is being hosted by Carbon Brief.

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Met Office Academic Partnership welcomes new Universities

The Met Office is joining forces with two more leading UK universities to tackle the key research challenges related to weather prediction and a changing climate.  

The Met Office Academic Partnership (MOAP) is a cluster of research excellence that brings together the Met Office and leading UK Universities in weather and climate science, to advance the science and skill of weather and climate prediction. The Met Office and Universities of Exeter, Leeds, Oxford and Reading are delighted to welcome the University of Bristol and University College London to MOAP, and look forward to working together as an expanded, more diverse and more powerful partnership. 

moap_graphic-01

Professor Stephen Belcher, Met Office Chief Scientist, said “I am delighted that UCL and University of Bristol are to join the Met Office Academic Partnership. They bring a wealth of talent and expertise to this thriving partnership that will ensure the Met Office delivers its research and innovation strategy and improves weather and climate science and services.” 

More than 1000 scientific papers have been co-authored by MOAP with key scientific developments delivered through collaborations between MOAP scientistsHowever, over the last decade since MOAP was established, the nature of the science we undertake has changed. The Met Office is embracing machine learning and data sciences in its research and seeking to understand how weather and climaterelated hazards impact our day-to-day lives and decisions. This increasing complexity has driven the expansion of MOAP.

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People are key to the success of the MOAP and the partnership invests in the role of a Joint Chair at each partner University to provide scientific leadership. Dr Dann Mitchell, Met Office Joint Chair at the University of Bristol is an expert in climate dynamics and impacts.  Dr Mitchell said: “When I applied for my University of Bristol faculty position I wrote in my cover letter that I’d be keen to push for an academic partnership with the Met Office, and 3 years later I’m delighted that I was able to be part of the team that did that. Some of my best research has been done through working closely with Met Office scientists over the years, and I’m looking forward to linking up other academics at Bristol with this fantastic research centre.” 

Professor Serge Guillas is an environmental statistician and the new Met Office Joint Chair at UCL. Professor Guillas said: “I feel very privileged that an exceptional team of data scientists, machine learners, mathematicians and environmental scientists at UCL are enthusiastically collaborating with the Met Office. The fields of data science and machine learning have recently matured to a point where this partnership will concretely transform the way we understand and model weather and climate and their impacts, for instance by fusing rich sets of observations with simulations or providing new ways of quantifying uncertainties in climate predictions.” 

You can find out more about MOAP on the Met Office website and for more information on our key collaborative projects, check out the following links: IMPALAGungHo, and Paracon . 

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New study highlights increasing vulnerability of Arctic sea ice

The Arctic is one of the regions of the world warming most rapidly because of climate change; the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice cover has been one of the most visible indicators of climate change in recent years.

Satellite observations, which started in 1979, show Arctic sea ice extent has declined in all seasons – with the largest losses in summer. Arctic sea ice extent at the September summer minimum has declined at an average rate of almost 12% per decade since satellite records began in 1979. This equates to an average loss each year of over 87,000 square kilometres – an area greater than Scotland, or more than four times the size of Wales.

Arctic sea ice

Satellite observations, which began in 1979, show #Arctic sea ice extent has declined in all seasons. At the September summer minimum it had declined at an average rate of 12% per decade. This equates to an average loss each year of over 87,000 km2 – an area larger than Scotland.

Now a new study involving an international team of scientists, led by the University of Hamburg and including the Met Office Hadley Centre, shows the potential for significant further stress on summer sea-ice in the Arctic.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, uses results from the latest generation of climate models (known collectively as CMIP6). When these models are compared, the authors have shown that the majority of models project ice-free summers before 2050, almost completely irrespective of the future scenario of greenhouse gas emissions. For the purpose of climate studies the Arctic Ocean is said to be “ice-free” when the sea ice extent falls below one million square kilometres. As a comparison, the 1981-2010 long-term September average from our HadISST.2.2.0.0 dataset is 7.27 million square kilometres.

Dr Ed Blockley is the lead for the Met Office Polar Climate programme and an author on the paper. He said: “The Arctic has already proved vulnerable to climate change and it is already one of the regions on Earth showing the most rapid warming.

“The findings in our latest study provide further concern about the increasing vulnerability of the Arctic to climate change. Alarmingly the models used in the study repeatedly show the potential for ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean to occur before 2050, almost irrespective of the measures taken to mitigate the effects of climate change. However, the study shows that the scenarios displaying the greatest cuts in greenhouse gas emissions have the least likelihood of the creation of ice-free summers, but the signal is there in all possible futures – this was unexpected and is extremely worrying.”

Bearded Seal

Many species, like this bearded seal, depend on summer sea ice in the Arctic. Projections show that in some years Arctic sea ice could disappear in summer, even under lower emissions scenarios. Higher emission scenarios are likely to lead to even more years with summer sea ice loss.

Currently, the North Pole is covered by sea ice year-round. Each summer, the area of the sea ice cover decreases, in winter it grows again. In response to ongoing global warming, the overall area of the Arctic Ocean that is covered by sea ice has rapidly been reduced over the past few decades. This substantially affects the Arctic ecosystem and climate: The sea-ice cover is a hunting ground and habitat for polar bears and seals, and keeps the Arctic cool by reflecting sunlight.

Met Office Chief Scientist Stephen Belcher , said: “The science is progressively informing us that climate change is likely to have increasingly significant impacts on our world. How often the Arctic Ocean will be seasonally ice-free in future critically depends on future CO2 emissions. If emissions are reduced rapidly, ice-free years are expected to occur less frequently. With higher emissions, the Arctic Ocean will become ice free in most years.”

The study involved 21 research institutes from around the world, and was coordinated by Dr Dirk Notz from the University of Hamburg, Germany, through the international SIMIP (Sea Ice Model Inter-comparison Project) community.

The research team has analysed recent results from 40 different climate models.

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Dry and sunny April so far

It has been a dry and sunny picture for the first half of April.

Provisional mid-month statistics (1-15th April) show areas such as the City of London, Kent, Surrey, West Sussex and the Isle of Wight having recorded around half a millimetre of rainfall so far this month, just 1% of the monthly average. In fact, for many areas of the UK there has been no appreciable rainfall since 19th March.

Provisional Rainfall Sunshine
1-15 April Actual mm % of monthly average  Actual hours % of monthly average 
UK 9.2 13.0 98.5 66.0
England 2.9 5.0 117.0 75.0
Wales 8.3 9.0 111.2 72.0
Scotland 19.8 22.0 66.2 49.0
Northern Ireland 8.9 12.0 88.9 60.0

Northern Scotland has been the wettest area of the UK, but even there they have only seen 29% of their monthly average.

Rainfall 1-15th April 2020 compared to the monthly average

The provisional mid-month figures (1-15th April) show the first half of April has also been sunny for England and Wales with around three quarters of the normal monthly sunshine. Areas such as the West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Berkshire and Rutland having seen more than 80%.

Daytime temperatures for the country as a whole are so far 2.5°C above the monthly average (1-15th April) with mean temperatures 1.6°C above the average for April.

Provisional Max temp Mean temp
1-15th April Actual °C °C above average  Actual °C °C above average 
UK 14.0 2.5 9.0 1.6
England 15.8 3.4 10.2 2.1
Wales 15.1 3.5 9.7 2.1
Scotland 10.8 1.0 7.0 0.9
Northern Ireland 13.3 1.7 8.9 1.3

However, as we look ahead at the second half of April the prolonged spell of dry weather may be about to end with rain on the way for some.

Whatever the weather we are all being urged to remember the Government Coronavirus guidelines to stay at home. Do not go out to meet others, even friends or family, as it is possible to spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms. Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home), always stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people and wash your hands as soon as you return home.

You can get the most accurate and up to date forecast for your area using our forecast pages and by following us on Twitter and Facebook, as well as using our mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store. You can check the latest weather warnings on our severe weather warnings pages.

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