The changing UK climate
The UK climate is changing to reflect the global pattern of increasing average temperature.
Observations have shown that average Central England temperatures have risen by around 1.0°C since the 1970s. Winter precipitation rates have increased across the whole of the UK since the 1960s and snow cover has shown a strong downward trend over this time with the number of days of frost also decreasing. Sea levels around the UK have been rising by around 1mm per year during the last century and sea surface temperatures have also increased by 0.7°C over the past 30 years.
United Kingdom Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09)
In order to adapt our infrastructure and services to future climate change, we have to know by how much the climate is likely to change and what temperatures and rainfall patterns we can expect.
To further this understanding, the United Kingdom Climate Projections (UKCP09) (opens in a new window) were released in 2009. UKCP09 is the latest cutting edge climate modelling tool to help us plan and prepare for a future with climate change. It builds upon earlier modelling work (UKCIP02), and has been developed by the Hadley Centre, based at the Met Office in Exeter, in conjunction with the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Partnership (UKCIP) which is funded by Defra.
Unlike previous models which gave a single estimate of future change for a given climate variable (such as temperature or rainfall etc), UKCP09 provides probabilistic projections which show the potential range of possible changes as well as giving a clear indication of what is most likely within that range giving us a greater confidence of the local temperatures or precipitation patterns we are likely to experience in the future. UKCP09 provides data at a regional scale for the three emissions scenarios (high, medium and low) depending on how quickly we can cut our greenhouse gas emissions.
Future climate in the UK
The results from UKCP09 Projections suggest a broad trend of hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters across the whole of the UK by the end of the century with significant regional variations that will see average summer temperatures rise between 2°C in those areas least affected and up to 6°C in those areas most affected. Winter temperatures are estimated to increase between 2°C and 3°C. This does not mean that cold winters and snow and ice, such as the 2009/10 winter, will become consigned to the past, there will still be natural variability within our climate, they will just become less frequent.
Total annual precipitation rates will remain about the same however, there is likely to be an increase of between 10 - 30% in winter rainfall and conversely a similar expected decrease in summer rainfall. Alongside this warming trend, we are expected to experience more extreme weather events with an increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall, leading to flash flooding in summer and saturated soils leading to flooding in winter, more frequent heat waves and continuing sea level rise round the South West coast.