The U.K. has recorded its sunniest spring, with May being its sunniest calendar month, since records began over 90 years ago, according to data published by the Met Office—the U.K.’s national weather service—on June 1. For many people in the U.K, it has meant long days of soaking up the sun as lockdown restrictions eased from May 13. However, experts say that this record, along with other extreme weather trends globally appears to be consistent with what they expect from climate change.
There were more than 626 hours of sunshine between March 1 and June 1, surpassing the previous record of 555.3 hours in 1948, the Met Office said. In comparison, Italy’s capital city Rome, a popular holiday destination for Britons, sees an average of 621 hours in the spring and in the Turkish city, Istanbul – 548 hours. The U.K. usually gets about 440 hours each spring and only 10 years have had more than 500 hours of sunshine. According to Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, a leading independent expert on climate and the weather, there have only been three U.K. summers that have been sunnier.
These weather patterns are the result of jet streams — a strong core of winds around 5 to 7 miles above the earth’s surface — being directed north and around the U.K., according to Mark McCarthy, the head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre. “But we don’t quite understand why these statistics have been so extreme. And we can’t say that this how it will be from now on. Jet streams might behave differently. Compared to other countries in Europe, we get a lot of variability on our weather,” he adds.
Weather patterns have also created relatively dry conditions as the U.K. saw its driest May in 124 years, with less than 10 millimeters rain falling across England on average. Northamptonshire – a region located near the center of England – has been the driest county so far, recording only 1.5mm of rain during May.
The U.K’s sunny spring came off the back of an extremely wet winter. The Met Office recorded the U.K’s wettest February on record, with 237% the average rainfall for February, boosted by Storms Ciara and Dennis, which brought heavy rains to the whole of the country.
The U.K. has never seen such large differences in rainfall amounts from the wet winter to the dry spring in its national rainfall series that dates back to 1862. “Records like these are being broken on a much more frequent basis as our winters get warmer and wetter and our summers get hotter and drier,” she says.
“The concern around this comes from an indication of a longer term trend around climate change and the issues this may have related to potential droughts, agriculture, biodiversity and more,” says James Ford, Professor and Priestley Chair in Climate Adaptation at the U.K’s University of Leeds.
McCarthy of the Met Office says, “In isolation, we can’t say this [sunny spring] is about climate change. I expect it will trigger more research and analysis. But we know our climate is changing.” Average global temperatures have risen by more than 1°C since the 1880s and two-thirds of the warming has happened since 1975. And 19 of the 20 warmest years all have occurred since 2001 (with the exception of 1998). “The fact is we’re seeing extremes being broken globally and when we put this together it’s likely to be consistent with what we expect by climate change – we expect extremes to become more common, including more heat extremes, more droughts,” says Ford.