Growing concern as further evidence shows climate change is impacting the UK

Laura Tobin explains more about the recent paper released regarding the state of the UK climate

Today the annual "State of the UK Climate 2020" report has been published by the Royal Meteorological Society. It gives a summary of the UK weather and climate through 2020 and puts into context how it compares to our climate records. It shows that climate change is already being felt across the UK.

Man made greenhouse gases release into the atmosphere, cause the planet to rise Credit: PA

2020 was third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest on record for the UK. It’s the first year that all three (rainfall, temperature and sunshine) have been in the top ten in the same year. 2020 will be remembered for many other notable events:

  • Record daily rainfall total

  • Record monthly sunshine hours

  • As well as some significant weather extremes including severe flooding from heavy rainfall in February and a major heatwave in early August.

State of the Climate Infographic Credit: Met Office


  • The top 10 warmest years (going back to 1884) have occurred since 2002

  • While the top 10 coldest years all occurred before 1963

  • The 21st century (so far) has been warmer than the previous three centuries (for Central England)

  • The warming trend is evident across all months and all countries in the UK

  • The greatest warming compared to the 1961-1990 average has been across the east Midlands and East Anglia where average annual temperatures have increased by more than 1°C

  • The least warming has been around western coastal fringes and parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland

  • We had the UK’s third warmest day on record with 37.8°C recorded at Heathrow on 31 July 2020

  • 34ºC was recorded 7 out of the last 10 years. It only occurred 7 out of the 50 years before that. It’s clear to see the base line is changing and what we consider ‘normal’ is changing.

Flooding in Haverhill


  • February saw Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis hit the UK only one week apart causing devastating flooding affecting homes and businesses

  • February was the wettest February ever recorded

  • Most of the UK had double the average rainfall in February. Three times in the north and the west. The wettest was the Pennies with four times the average February rainfall - 400%

  • Six of the ten wettest years for the UK have occurred since 1998, going back to 1862

  • The UK has been on average 6% wetter over the last 30 years (1991-2020) than the 30 years before that (1961-1990)

  • May 2020 was England’s driest calendar month since August 1995, with the dry weather making conditions difficult for farmers and growers

  • On 3rd October the UK had its wettest day ever recorded due to exceptionally heavy and widespread rainfall. Is now two and a half times more likely in our current climate

  • Four of top 40 wettest days occurred in 2020. That is out of a daily series of over 47,000 days from 1891

Sun seekers soak up the sunshine and play volleyball on the beach


  • Spring 2020 was the sunniest Spring ever recorded by a very big margin, especially across the southern half of the UK with over 150% of normal sunshine across England and Wales

  • Remarkably Spring 2020 was so sunny it was sunnier than all but three summers in UK. (Sunshine records going back to 1919)

Sea level rise, attributed from melting glaciers Credit: PA

Sea level rise

  • Sea level rise has accelerated in the UK over recent years

  • The rate of sea level rise was 1.5mm/yr from the start of the 20th century, however more recently from 1993-2019 it has increased to over 3mm/yr

Sea surface temperatures

  • The average sea-surface temperature in 2020 for near-coast waters around the UK was 11.9°C, 0.5°C above the 1981-2010 long-term average. It was the eighth-warmest year for UK near-coast sea-surface temperatures in records dating back to 1870

  • Nine of the ten warmest years in near-coast sea-surface temperatures have occurred since 2002

Prof Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said “We recognise the importance of this annual report, published in our International Journal of Climatology, for climate monitoring and collating observations in the UK. This rich legacy of observational data in the UK, stretching as far back as the 17th century, is extremely valuable for ongoing work in climate science, highlighting our changing climate in the UK and our understanding of climate trends, variations and extremes." “Publishing this data and updates to the trends in an international, peer reviewed journal offers scrutiny and validation of the work, ensures there is a permanent record of the report and increases the reach of this important work that can be cited in other scientific studies. The report can help to update government, businesses, scientists and the public about changes in our climate and the impacts. I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the authors who compiled this report.”

All of these changes to our weather and climate impacts us but also nature, wildlife and biodiversity. It’s depressing what we are finding but to understand it and communicate is rewarding.

The most important thing is to understand what will happen to the climate in the future. That’s why this is so important, to know what is happening right now in the UK climate. It shows that out climate is changing right now, climate change is on our doorstep.

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