Met Office: was 2022 the UK’s warmest year on record, what are the figures - and effects of climate change

2022 was the UK’s hottest year with all four nations seeing record-high temperatures

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2022 was the UK’s hottest year on record with an average temperature of more than 10C recorded for the first time, the Met Office has confirmed.

Research by Met Office scientists found all four seasons were in the top 10 warmest on record, with winter being the eighth warmest, spring the fifth, summer the fourth and autumn the third. They also found climate change driven by humans made the UK’s record-breaking annual temperature around 160 times more likely to occur.

The full temperature data for 2022 shows that the country saw a provisional annual average temperature of 10.03C - the highest in records dating back to 1884 and 0.15C higher than the previous record of 9.88C set in 2014.

All four UK nations set new records in 2022, with England seeing the highest average temperature at 10.94C, followed by Wales (10.23C), Northern Ireland (9.85C) and Scotland (8.50C).

The warm conditions would have been expected once in 500 years under a natural climate, without humans warming the planet through activities such as burning fossil fuels. However, the experts said it is now likely every three to four years in the current climate.

2022 will also be the warmest year on record in the 364-year Central England temperature series from 1659, the world’s longest instrumental record of temperature.

The UK's meteorological agency on Friday issued its first ever "red" warning for exceptional heat, forecasting record highs of 40 degrees CelsiusThe UK's meteorological agency on Friday issued its first ever "red" warning for exceptional heat, forecasting record highs of 40 degrees Celsius
The UK's meteorological agency on Friday issued its first ever "red" warning for exceptional heat, forecasting record highs of 40 degrees Celsius

‘Notable moment in our climatological history’

Met Office climate attribution scientist, Dr Nikos Christidis, said: “To assess the impact of human-induced climate change on the record-breaking year of 2022, we used climate models to compare the likelihood of a UK mean temperature of 10C in both the current climate and with historical human climate influences removed. The results showed that recording 10C in a natural climate would occur around once every 500 years, whereas in our current climate it could be as frequently as once every three to four years.”

He also said that by the end of the century with medium levels of greenhouse gas emissions, a UK average temperature of 10C could occur almost every year.

The new figures mean 15 of the UK’s top 20 warmest years on record have all occurred this century – with the entire top 10 in the past two decades.

Dr Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, said: “Although an arbitrary number, the UK surpassing an annual average temperature of 10C is a notable moment in our climatological history. This moment comes as no surprise, since 1884 all the 10 years recording the highest annual temperature have occurred from 2003.

“It is clear from the observational record that human-induced global warming is already impacting the UK’s climate.”

Commenting on the figures, Prof Richard Allan, from the University of Reading, said: “Human-caused climate change explains the unprecedented nature of the summer heatwave in the UK as well as the sustained warmth seen throughout most of 2022, with an annual temperature above 10C for the first time in our observational record. But sharp cold snaps like the one experienced in December are still possible in a warmer world.

“Higher temperatures in the UK are contributing to more severe heatwaves, droughts and wildfires but also more intense rainfall events and associated flooding and these impacts will become progressively worse until global temperatures are stabilised by cutting global carbon emissions to net zero.”

The effects of climate change

These figures show the extent of the climate crisis, Met Office scientists said. Dr Mark McCarthy, head of the National Climate Information Centre, commented: “2022 is going to be the warmest year on record for the UK. While many will remember the summer’s extreme heat, what has been noteworthy this year has been the relatively consistent heat through the year, with every month except December being warmer than average.

“The warm year is in line with the genuine impacts we expect as a result of human-induced climate change. Although it doesn’t mean every year will be the warmest on record, climate change continues to increase the chances of increasingly warm years over the coming decades.”

Dr McCarthy also said that although the record-breaking temperatures in July boosted the overall temperature, that isn’t the full story.

He said: "Temperatures have been above the 1991-2020 long-term average for a large proportion of the year, and this is something that we can anticipate as we become increasingly affected by climate change. Met Office science has shown that the temperatures witnessed in mid-July would have been extremely unlikely in the pre-industrial period – the era before humanity started emitting lots of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

“However, as we have seen in the first two weeks of December, our climate is still subject to notable cold spells during the winter season, but our observational data show these have generally become less frequent and less severe as our climate warms.”

‘The new normal’

A report released by the National Trust said these extreme weather conditions are set to become "the new normal". They have also said that this weather has set a benchmark for what a typical year could look like from now on.

However, the high temperatures, drought and back-to-back storms have created major challenges in the future, where many UK species could have difficulties without more action to tackle climate change.

The drought and high temperatures devastated populations of young trees planted in the last year. Many trees at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire and the Buscot and Coleshill Estate in Oxfordshire were too young to establish themselves to deal with the conditions.

But new trees in areas of Wales had an 80% survival rate due to higher levels of rain and moisture in the soil. However, the calm, dry spring weather created a few success stories, especially for this year’s apple harvest due to the lack of late frosts and blossom lasting on the trees for longer.

Many parts of the UK also saw an abundance of seeds and nuts such as acorns, beech masts, rowan berries and elderberries including the east of England, North and Northern Ireland. This phenomenon is known as a mast year and usually happens every four to five years but this year has been unusual, with trees fruiting earlier than normal.

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