This year has been confirmed as the UK’s second warmest on record, continuing a trend of rising average annual temperatures.
But don’t be lulled into thinking December has been unseasonably mild. The same month’s big freeze in 2010 – the coldest December since records began in 1910 – probably just made us think it was warmer. This month has only been close to average. In contrast, this year’s April and spring were the warmest on record, and the autumn was the second warmest recorded.
“While it may have felt mild for many so far this December, temperatures overall have been close to what we would expect,” said John Prior, national climate manager at the Met Office. “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 issued provisional statistics for the year on Friday, confirming a trend of rising average annual temperatures – this year’s 9.62C (49.3F), up to 28 December, lagging only behind 2006’s 9.73C. The seven warmest years have all been reported in the last decade.
The mean temperature in December has been 4.7C, 0.5C above the 1971-2000 average and a big swing from 2010, when December was 5C below average.
The warm autumn especially seemed to have a marked impact on flora. An abundance of holly, mistletoe and other berries such as sloe and hawthorn this autumn and early winter, far from being a predictor of cold and snow, has been a reaction to the warm spring when the trees could produce more blossoms. Wildflowers burst forth again in November, and in December there have been reports of daffodils budding and blooming in sheltered areas, while growers in south-west England are already harvesting brassicas like cauliflower which they would expect to mature in spring.
There have been big differences in rainfall across the UK. Scotland had its wettest 12 months on record with 1,859.5mm of rain, beating its previous 1990 record. Some parts of England have had very low rainfall – East Anglia had its second driest year on record with 449mm of rain and the Midlands its third with 586.5mm.
Just before Christmas, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave South East Water a drought order to help it refill Ardingly Reservoir in West Sussex – just 12% full by the end of November – because of “an exceptional lack of rain over the last eight months”. South East Water blamed an exceptionally dry September, October and November.
Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary in England, has already warned about drought in some parts of the country during 2012 unless there are sustained downpours soon.
Gravesend in Kent had the warmest temperature recorded this year – 33.1C on 27 June – the highest in Britain for five years. Gravesend again had the warmest October temperature ever, with 29.9C on 1 October, beating the record of 29.4C at March in Cambridgeshire 26 years before.
Altnaharra in the Highlands recorded the coldest temperature, which was -13C on 8 January.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010