Has there been a recent increase in UK weather records?

There have been a striking number of temperature and rainfall records broken in recent years, according to an analysis by the Met Office which is published in the journal Weather.

The paper examines whether recent decades have seen an unusually high number of records broken in the UK. It looks at the number of records over time in the UK national statistics compiled by the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre (NCIC).

Records were collated from long-running national and regional series of monthly, seasonal and annual temperature, rainfall, and sunshine.

The analysis counts records by decade and weights them according to their relative importance. More weight is given to national records compared to regions, and more weight to annual records compared to individual months.

The UK’s climate shows a large variability and this is bound to also be reflected in weather records. Even so, the analysis does reveal some interesting patterns.

Temperature records:

  • Since 2000, there have been 10 times as many hot records as cold records.
  • Taking into account the weighting, the period since 2000 accounts for two-thirds of all hot records in a national series from 1910, but only 3% of cold-records.
  • The longer Central England Temperature (CET) series, which dates back to 1659, reveals a similar trend – with seven out of a possible 17 records set since 2000 but no record cold periods.
  • The increase in hot records and decrease in cold records seen in recent decades is consistent with the long-term climate change signal. Seven of the warmest years in the UK series from 1910 have occurred since 2000.

Rainfall records:

  • Since 2000 there have been almost 10 times as many wet records as dry records.
  • Taking into account the weighting, the period since 2000 accounts for 45% of all wet records in a national series from 1910, but only 2% of dry records.
  • Remarkably, period since 2010 accounts for more wet records than any other decade – even though this only a 5 year period. The most prominent wet records in this period were winter 2013/2014 and April, June and year 2012.
  • The longer England & Wales Precipitation (EWP) series, which dates back to 1766, shows a similar trend – with six out of a possible 17 records set since 2000, but no record dry periods.
  • The large number of recent wet records may be indicative of trends in underlying rainfall patterns. We would expect an increase in heavy rainfall with climate change and this is an area of active research within the Met Office Hadley Centre.

Sunshine records:

  • In contrast with the other measures, there are no clear trends apparent in the sunshine records.

Exactly why we have seen these records is an ongoing area of research. You can see some discussion points related to this theme in a Met Office research paper on the drivers and impacts of our seasonal weather.

You can explore the Met Office’s climate data for the UK on our climate pages.

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18 Responses to Has there been a recent increase in UK weather records?

  1. jbenton2013 says:

    Another disingenuous article from the MO. Given that we are probably still emerging from the Little Ice Age it’s hardly surprising that we are seeing more warm records than cold records being broken in the short length of time the CET has existed. This is exactly what you would expect to see.

    In fact if you did not see this pattern, then you would have to conclude something was seriously amiss with your data.

    Historical rainfall records are much more uncertain than the Met Office are acknowledging here, and it is therefore difficult to say with ant certainty what is happening on that front.

  2. Let’s turn it around. In all the centuries of CET how many times have we heard about the coldest periods such as the 1690s when up to a quarter of Scotland’s population died.

    Compare that to today! It is now so warm that -37,000 extra people die in the non-winter months. So, that’s -37,000 who die because of heat induced …

    Oops, that’s a MINUS figure. What does that means?

    I know! That means that people don’t die in the summer, they die in the winter.

    Wow!! Haven’t things changed. People still die as a result of winter cold and what are the Met Office yapping on about? Is it the fantastic way that the warmer years recently would have saved lives — or are they jumping on the bandwagon trying to scare the public into giving them another massive supercomputer and trying to kill pensioners by putting up winter fuel bill.

    Well season’s greetings to you all in the cold-hearted institute of Scrooge.

  3. robinedwards36 says:

    I fear that the Met Office is relying a bit too heavily on Records, rather than looking a the patterns embedded in the data, that are not visible to the casual observer, and neither, it seems, to the Met Office. Short term “records” are just that – ephemeral. They will happen all the time, somewhere in the country or the Globe. Highest daytime temperature in Basildon, Rainfall in a single month in Penzance, Snow in monthly average snow depth in Kent. As they say, rainfall is subject to very large variability, very far from “normally” distributed, however you measure it. The usual inferential statistics will be invalid for such data. One thinks of a log transform, which is ruled out by zero values, which occur occasionally even for monthly averages. Try the square root transform. At least there are no infeasible values here, and the back transform is simple.

    These are not the things climate is made from. For most people it is described best by temperatures, which are easy to measure, though growers may be more influenced by rainfall, and the pattern of rainfall. To see it all for yourself, just form the cumulative sum of (seasonally adjusted) differences from the overall monthly averages for the period you are interested in. Plot these against time, and lo and behold, some understandable graphics emerge from seemingly uncooperative data. You will see periods of stability on many (time) scales, and be able to identify unusual events, such as volcanic activity, or going back a long way the mysterious “event” that happened in 535 AD.

    It is observational patterns that matter, not isolated (time and space) individual values.

  4. xmetman says:

    I have looked at the assertion that the Met Office make in this blog about an increase in extreme temperature records with regard to Central England Temperature. I’ve analysed the daily data back to 1772, and generated six graphs that I believe don’t show any real increase in temperature records having occurred in recent decades. Please make your own mind up:

    • jbenton2013 says:

      That’s exactly the kind of sensible analysis the Met Office don’t want people to see. Peter Stott will be mightily upset.

      Still waiting for the data to back up your claims, made in the media at the time, of AGW causing the flooding in January 2014 Peter.

    • robinedwards36 says:

      Xmetman, I guess that you have a very large file of daily data. I also began to contemplate looking at daily data, and downloaded quite a lot, but soon concluded that the files are too enormous to handle comfortably in my system. I would be very happy to send you some graphics derived from CET monthly averages, which may possibly influence the way in which you examine these long time series. This would have to be done via email.


  5. I trust the Met Office more than unknown bloggers – and people with a very poorly concealed anti Met Office agenda.

    • xmetman says:

      There speaks the voice of a true scientist!

      And by the way I joined the Met Office in 1970, and the only thing I hold against them is that I went into IT and never made it into forecasting, by and large I loved my career which took me right round the country.

      I don’t conceal anything, have a look at my blog for proof of that, I say it as I see it, neither do I have any anti Met Office agenda – just because I worked for them doesn’t mean that I blindly accept everything that they say about weather and climate – and the last time I checked, free speech was still part of what this country holds dear.

    • jbenton2013 says:

      That’s the problem with CAGW religious believers. Not interested in the quality of the data or logic.

      • The person I accused of a poorly concealed anti Met Office agenda was jbenton. The person with the religion is not me. The person interested in data such as how often Met Office weather forecasts have been broadly correct does not appear to be you.

      • xmetman says:

        Thanks for that – Happy Christmas!

      • jbenton2013 says:

        On the contrary Mr Haworth-Roberts all I am interested in is data.

        Since you appear to claim to know “how often Met Office weather forecasts have been broadly correct” perhaps you can share your data so that we can all judge for ourselves if your point is valid.

  6. I am sorry but I am under no obligation to provide any data here. However, the onus is on you at least to explain to us what you are looking for in your stated request to Peter Stott to provide “data to back up” his claims “of AGW causing the flooding in January 2014”. You are disputing that that flooding could reflect a long-term signal of AGW/climate change, even though there has been a pattern of wetness records being broken since around 2000. You also stated that in referring to a “long-term climate change signal”, with that rather large number of warmth and wetness records being broken in recent decades, the Met Office were being ‘disingenuous’ ie you appeared to allege that the data in question have nothing to do with man-caused climate change and instead asserted that we are merely still recovering from the little ice age. In addition, contrary to your suggestion, I have not expressly stated how often Met Office weather forecasts have been “broadly correct” recently. But yes I am interested – despite your allegation to the contrary – in data on eg how often Met Office forecasts for major weather events have been correct or incorrect (they don’t issue proper seasonal forecasts nowadays). I will for instance admit that on 24 Dec last they were suggesting that the explosive low arriving on 26 Dec could bring lying snow to central Scotland (the forecast was corrected on 25 Dec). By contrast their forecast re the December ‘weather bomb’ was more or less spot on as I recall. Less recently, I recall a MO article showing that they were correct about all the major snow events of 2009-10 bar one (I think the snow in question did not materialise though it might be that it did and was poorly predicted). They were slow to forecast the early Dec 2013 gale and North Sea storm surge but they and the Environment Agency still provided suitable warnings in good time. The forecast for the St Jude’s Day storm in 2013 was pretty much spot on and was made days before the event and before the depression in question had formed.

    • jbenton2013 says:

      I ask for data sets, and you offer a series of homilies. You’re going to have to do a lot batter than that Haworth-Roberts.

      When you, or Peter Stott, make extraordinary claims like Stott’s one in the media that the Somerset flooding was caused (to an unspecified, but by implication from his interview a significant degree) by climate change, then it is up to those making the claim to substantiate their position by producing the data to support their claims. It is not up to those who are unconvinced by their claims to produce data to refute their fantasies.

      That’s how science works Haworth-Roberts. Haven’t you heard the term, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

      • Your very belated response fails to acknowledge what I actually wrote Benton. I have made NO ‘extraordinary’ claims here, despite your false allegation to the contrary. You may think you can lecture me about science – but you need to have facts on your side before doing so.

      • jbenton2013 says:

        If you don’t support Peter Stott’s claims that the Somerset flooding was caused by AGW then perhaps it would be better if you stepped aside and allow Peter Stott himself to supply the empirical data to support his media claims.

  7. I do tend to support them, unless I see evidence to the contrary.

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