There was nothing exceptional about the overall weather in 2021 in the context of climate change, according to the Met Office.
Annual temperature, precipitation and sunshine were all close to normal over the past two decades, it said in its annual weather review from the previous year.
Still, it was “unremarkable” because “our perception of what is normal is changing as our climate changes,” said Mike Kendon of the Met Office.
“And these changes are quite rapid” and “quite concerning,” he told reporters at a press briefing.
The peer-reviewed study compares things like temperature, precipitation and sunshine with the 1991-2020 period and with the previous climate period of 1961-1990.
Temperatures in 2021, now considered normal, would have been near record highs just over 30 years ago – before 1990, 2021 would have been the second hottest year since records began in 1884.
While last year was only the 18th hottest on record, 16 of the hottest years have occurred since 1990.
Responding to a question from Sky News, Mr Kendon said: ‘You can’t believe every year will break records.
Yet “every year of the year there are extreme and very notable events,” he added, citing powerful storm Arwen in November which left thousands of homes without power and water.
The report also points to exceptional rains in October and a new temperature record in Northern Ireland in July.
But this year’s weather has already broken records, with the country enduring heat of up to 40.3C (104.5F) last week that has fueled wildfires, warped tracks and made melt the roads.
“This is a moment in climate history for the UK – an absolutely exceptional event with truly breaking temperature records,” Mr Kendon later told Sky News in an interview.
“We will see more extremes of this type – so we will see more severe, more intense and more prolonged heat waves moving towards 2100,” he added. “The severity of those depends on what we do next – where the shows go.”
The UK climate is not only getting warmer, but also wetter and sunnier. The most recent decade, 2012-2021, was around 2% wetter than the average for 1991-2020 and 10% wetter than 1961-1990 for the UK as a whole.
The last decade has also been 8% sunnier than the 1961-1990 average. Sea levels have risen around 16.5cm around the UK since 1990, according to the report.
“The climate my children will consider normal when they grow up is different from the climate I consider normal now, and which is different from the climate my father considered normal when he was my age,” he said.
A warm October meant trees shed their leaves later, with the average ‘bare tree’ date in autumn being delayed for all species monitored.
Prof Tim Sparks, a volunteer expert for the Woodland Trust – whose citizen science program Nature’s Calendar records the signs of the seasons, said changes in species’ behavior in response to climate change could throw them out of sync.
“Each species can change at a different rate, which is where there are potential problems.
“The oak, which is one of our most important for biodiversity, can leaf early but does that match the development rate of the caterpillars that feed on those leaves, and match the development rate of the great tits and blue tits feeding their chicks on the caterpillars,” he said.
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