Summer 2022's record breaking 40C heat was ‘sign of things to come’ for UK climate, says Met Office

Last summer's heatwave caused serious disruption to the UK, but soon these temperatures could be the norm, as ITV News' Martin Stew reports

Wildfires, record breaking 40C temperatures and the devastating impacts of summer 2022's "extraordinary" heatwave will soon become the norm in the UK.

It was the hottest year the country has ever seen - but it will be considered cool by the standards of 2100, according to future projections by the Met Office.

Not only was 2022 the hottest year in the UK since Met Office records began in 1884, it also holds the Central England Temperature record – the longest-running series in the world – that stretches back to 1659.

This shows the direction of travel for Britain's climate, over the coming decades, the Met Office said.

The forecaster added if people continue to burn unlimited greenhouse gases the Earth will continue to heat up.

The destruction wrought by last year’s wildfires will continue unless the Government improves its adaptation plan, the CCC said. Credit: PA

Mike Kendon, climate scientist at the Met Office and lead author of its new report, titled State Of The UK Climate 2022, described the 40C mark as “a real moment of climate history”.

He said: “This was a rare event in the context of the current climate but our extremes of temperature are changing faster than our mean temperature and we know that climate change increases the frequency, duration and spatial extent of heat waves.”

On our current emissions trajectory, 2022 would be considered a cool year by the standards of 2100, Mr Kendon added.

What will British summers be like now?

Professor Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said: “If you look at future climate projections, we are on a path to go for hotter, drier summers.

“So 2022 for me was very much a sign of things to come in future years with our changing climate.”

The Met Office report, which tracks the progress of the UK’s changing climate each year, noted that temperatures are rising above 36C more frequently than in the past.

How are temperatures in Britain rising?

In the half-century of the UK there have been 10 years where temperatures have breached 35C, with 7 of them this century.

The list looks like this:

  • 1976 35.9 C

  • 1990 37.1 C

  • 1995 35.2 C

  • 2003 38.5 C

  • 2006 36.5 C

  • 2015 36.7 C

  • 2018 35.9 C

  • 2019 38.7 C

  • 2022 37.8 C

  • 2022 40.3 C

How is this impacting Britain's nature and wildlife?

Data from a citizen science project called Nature’s Calendar was also included to track how plants and animals are responding to the changing seasons.

Fritha West, a research scientist with the Woodland Trust and one of the report’s authors, said 2022 had a mild February and a warm October which meant an early spring and a late autumn.

Leaves were on the trees for 16 days longer than the 1999-2021 average and some flowers and insects emerged days earlier than usual.

Winter storms are likely to bring more flooding as the sea level rises Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

Rainfall and water levels

It's not all about heat- while summers are getting hotter and drier, the year-long climate trends show the UK is getting wetter generally.

Rainfall was 94% of the 1991-2020 average last year.

Five of the 10 wettest years the UK has seen since 1836 have been recorded since the year 2000.

Last year was relatively dry, though not as extreme as 1976.

Sea levels are also continuing to rise due to the melting ice sheets in the polar regions with long term trends showing the rate has doubled in recent years compared to the 20th century, said report author Dr Svetlana Jevrejeva of the National Oceanography Centre.

Last summer saw parts of England placed under drought status. Credit: PA

The UK’s top political parties have openly talked about watering down their environmental policies after the narrow victory of the Conservatives in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, which many put down to opposition to the Ultra Low Emission Zone expansion plans.

Dr Jevrejeva said in response: “It is important which path we choose and which scenario we follow, but sea level will rise for the next few hundred years in any case.

“It just depends on what kind of rate of sea level rise we will see, because heat is already in the ocean and ice sheets have already started to lose ice mass and the glaciers are disappearing.

“To get to equilibrium point it will take a few hundred years. We try to communicate our science and to make clear our understanding of what could happen. That’s our role and that’s what we do.”

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