Climate change played role in record winter heat, experts suggest

Climate change has played a role in pushing winter temperatures to new record highs in the UK, experts have suggested.

While the variability of weather makes it hard to link any single event to climate change, global warming is heating up the whole system and making extremes more likely, scientists say.

The UK has seen a new record for winter temperatures set for the second time in two days, as the mercury climbed to 20.8C in Porthmadog, Gwynedd, North Wales.

And there has been a run of warm weather, with daily maximum temperatures at Kew Gardens in London not dropping below the month’s average of 7.4C since February 2, and staying above 15C for at least seven days.

The weather is dramatically different to a year ago, when the first day of spring on March 1 saw the UK gripped by subzero temperatures.

Grahame Madge, Met Office climate spokesman, said the warm conditions were caused by high pressure over western Europe, warm air coming from the south and dry conditions which helped warm the ground up more quickly.

Those conditions, at the very end of winter, come against a backdrop of 1C of warming since pre-industrial times as a result of human activity, helping lead to record temperatures for the time of year.

“Climate change has made what would have already been an extremely warm event even warmer and is probably responsible for tipping it over the 20C threshold,” he said.

Dr Jo House, from the University of Bristol, said: “Weather is always variable so it is hard to link a single event to climate change.

“What we do know is that climate change is warming the whole system and makes events like these more likely to happen.

“We can already observe clear trends in higher temperatures and earlier phenological events like flowers coming into bud in many regions throughout the world.

“The longest running record of temperature measurements is in the UK and shows the last decade was 1C warmer than the pre-industrial period of 1850 to 1900. This is consistent with observations of global warming.”

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: “Today’s record for the UK’s winter temperature is consistent with the clear climate change signal that we are seeing in the UK.”

He said the climate was transforming towards warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers – such as last year’s heatwave summer – with impacts on people and wildlife.

“While warmer winters might seem pleasant for many people, it is worth remembering that this is the result of a climate change trend that is also making heatwaves and heavy rainfall more frequent, as well as coastal flooding due to sea level rise,” he said.