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Met Office: 2011 was UK’s second warmest year

  • 09 Jan 2012, 14:25
  • Verity Payne

Now that December is over and the temperature data for the whole year has been collected, the Met Office have said, provisionally, that 2011 was the UK's second warmest year on record.

It reports:

"The mean temperature so far this December has been 4.7 °C, 0.5 °C above the 1971-2000 average. This is a big swing from 2010, when temperatures were 5 °C below average to notch up the coldest December on record."

But as Met Office National Climate Manager John Prior points out:

"While it may have felt mild for many so far this December, temperatures overall have been close to what we would expect.

"It may be that the stark change from last year, which was the coldest December on record for the UK, has led many to think it has been unseasonably warm."

The Met Office goes on to say that 2011 has been a record-breaking year:

"It was the warmest April and Spring on record, and the second warmest Autumn on record.

"The highest single-day temperature for October was also broken - with Gravesend in Kent notching up 29.9 °C on 1 October, beating the previous record of 29.4 °C at March in Cambridgeshire on 1 October 1985.

"The top temperature in 2011 was 33.1 °C on 27 June at Gravesend in Kent - which was the warmest temperature recorded in the UK for five years."

And it's not just temperature records that have been broken:

"... with Scotland having its wettest year on record with 1859.5mm of rain (beating the previous record set in 1990). On the other hand, some parts of England have had very low levels of rainfall - East Anglia had its second driest year on record with 449mm of rain and the Midlands its third driest with 586.5mm."

What does this tell us about climate change?

The Met Office points out that there is a continuing temperature difference from one year to the next:

"... The annual figures for 2011... show the year is expected to be the second warmest on record for the UK.

"Up to 28 December, 2011 currently has an average temperature of 9.62 °C. This is a big change from 2010, which was the 12th coldest year on record with 7.97 °C."

This sort of dramatic temperature variation from one year to the next highlights the need to consider longer time-periods when trying to uncover a long-term temperature trend.

The following video succinctly explains the difference between short-term variation and long-term trend.

 From Climate Denial Crock of the Week

So considering data from just one year cannot tell us much about longer-term climate change.

In this case, as the Met Office point out, the 2011 average temperature is in line with the UK's long-term temperature trend, being above the 1971 - 2000 average:

"This year marks a return to a trend of warmer than average annual temperatures - all the UK's top seven warmest years happened in the last decade, with 2006 leading the list with 9.73 °C."

The Met Office have also released its annual global temperature forecast for 2012, which states:

"2012 is expected to be around 0.48 °C warmer than the long-term (1961-1990) global average of 14.0 °C, with a predicted likely range of between 0.34 °C and 0.62 °C."

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