This week’s record winter heat in the UK was so far above normal trends that scientists have been forced to reconsider their statistical models, with one expert calling the temperature jump “incredible”.
UK temperature records have tumbled in the past 10 days. Last Thursday, Scotland experienced its highest winter warmth of 18.3C in Aboyne, in Aberdeenshire. On Tuesday, #Wales set a new UK high for the season for 20.8 in Porthmadog. This was beaten on Wednesday, when Kew registered 21.2C.
Even taking into account the underlying 1C of global heating from carbon emissions this was a surprise to some scientists. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate researcher at Royal Netherlands Meteorolgical Institute who has conducted a preliminary study of the trend data from Reading and central England, said the probability of this week’s temperatures was close to zero.
“This is an incredible jump in record temperatures. If you asked me a few months ago, I would have said it is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s at least a one-in 200-year event, but it could be more because my statistical tools break down because this was so far outside what we are used to in February.”
According to the Met Office, the mean maximum temperature in February was at up to 3.5C above the average between 1981 and 2010. This was due to large areas of high pressure over continental Europe that brought warm air from the Canaries and north Africa.
Government meteorologists are now studying exactly how much of this unusual heat can be attributed to man-made climate change.
Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the Met Office, said: “For a lot of people an opportunity to enjoy a nice day but for many others it was shocking to see values above 20C. Clearly having that warm weather record broken is, we think, largely to do with climate change, amplifying those warm events. That was widely recognised by the public.”
Previous Met Office studies show the man-made carbon emissions in the atmosphere made last summer’s heatwave 30 times more likely, and extremes of heat are now being recorded 10 times more often than extremes of cold.
The weirding of the weather – which was warmer than Bermuda this week and colder than the Arctic at the same time last year – has prompted mixed reactions. A study of the coverage by CarbonBrief highlights how images of wildfires on Saddleworth Moor and stories about water shortages contrasted with cheery headlines such as “Fabruary” and reports about ice-cream sales.