UK's hottest ever day a year on: Was it climate change?

heatwave 2022
Credit: PA

On 19 July 2022, the UK's hottest ever temperature was recorded at Coningsby in Lincolnshire. The figure of 40.3C was the first time the mercury had ever topped 40C. Here, ITV News weather presenter Kerrie Gosney looks back at a history-making heatwave and what it said about our changing climate.

There were a number of heatwaves in 2022 and it was our hottest year on record, but the spell of extreme heat between 16 and 19 July was unprecedented, reaching a milestone in UK climate history.

Yorkshire and Lincolnshire were right at the centre of this remarkable weather event, as hot air brought intense temperatures never before experienced in the UK.

For climate scientists, meteorologists and weather presenters across the globe it was a barely believable few days. 

Defying predictions

Until 19 July 2022, the record for the whole of the UK stood at 38.7C, recorded three years earlier. 

Never before had the UK reached 40C. Climate science had predicted it would happen, but not for another five years at least.

Surely the forecast models, developed a fortnight in advance, highlighting the possibility of this record-breaker in 2023 were wrong?

But with all eyes on the thermometer, the temperature kept rising, and rising – firstly above the previous record, then above 40C, and then much further north than had previously been deemed possible.

Several places saw record temperatures on 18 and 19 July 2022.

How the records tumbled

As the heat began to build, some local records were broken on 18 July.

These temperatures were already exceptional, but then on the 19th they rose 5C higher, making this date unprecedented in the context of long-term climate records.

Coningsby, Lincolnshire, saw the temperature peak at 40.3C, making it the highest recorded maximum daily temperature on record for the UK, beating the previous record by 1.6C and its own local record by a staggering 5.5C (34.8C in 2020).

A total of 46 stations across the UK exceeded the previous UK record. In Yorkshire and Lincolnshire several long-running weather stations recorded their hottest day on record by extraordinary margins:

  • Sheffield rose to from 33.2C to 37.2C

  • Scarborough rose to from 31.4C to 35.8C

  • Bramham rose to from 33.5C to 39.8C

  • Coningsby rose to from 34.8C to 40.3C

  • Whitby rose to from 33.1C to 37.9C

Maximum temperatures for 18 and 19 July 2022 compared with the long-term average. Credit: Met Office

There are now just four dates in UK climate history where somewhere in the UK has surpassed 38C:

  • 10 August 2003

  • 25 July 2019

  • 18 and 19 July 2022

What about the heatwave of 1976?

Many people remember the summer of ‘76, and if not, they’ve almost certainly heard about it.

The summer of 1976 was a more prolonged spell of hot and dry weather, but the hottest temperatures didn’t reach anywhere near the levels they did in 2022. 

In addition, the night time temperatures in 2022 were also record breaking, and it was this intense heat and a number of extremely hot days followed by tropical nights, that made it more dangerous.

Was it climate change?

Records are being broken more frequently and by greater margins. The numbers used to increase by a fraction of a degree at a time and would do so every few years, if not decades.

Out of the top ten hottest ever days in the UK, nine have occurred since 1990.

Until 1990 the record stood for 80 years. It took another 13 years to be beaten again in 2003, and then the subsequent seven hottest days have been within the last 20 years.

The world is warming and it is warming more rapidly.

Will it happen again?

Weather patterns fluctuate from month to month and year to year, but climate patterns, when looking across decades and the entire planet, show a very clear picture.

Our world is warming sooner than we thought and more rapidly than we perceived possible.

A rapid study by Met Office scientists found the chance of beating a previous June record, like we have this year, has at least doubled in the last 80 years due to our changing climate.

There are now eight out of our 12 calendar months that have an average temperature record set post-2006, in a series going back to 1884.

Our seas were also warm. The long settled spell helped to create a "marine heatwave" in the waters surrounding the UK, and in turn amplified land temperatures even further to the record levels seen during June.

The records just keep being broken. And it’s really nothing to celebrate.

  • Sourced data: Met Office.  The full UK report can be found here.

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