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 Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 11:49 GMT
UK 'close to record warmth'
Flood scene
Floods like this one could become more common

This year will come within a whisker of being the warmest recorded in the UK for 350 years, according to weather experts.

It is likely to be the fourth warmest in the last three and a half centuries.

Globally, they think it is going to be the second warmest year recorded since 1860.

A year ago British scientists correctly predicted where 2002 would come in the global record. They say that next year could enter the record books as the warmest since measurements began.

There's a really good chance 2003 will be warmer than this year as El Nino gathers strength

Professor Phil Jones, University of East Anglia
The evidence that the UK has had another warm year comes from the Central England Temperature (CET) series, which stretches back to 1659.

It is based on measurements taken at three points with the city of Birmingham at their centre.

Mild winter

The UK Met Office says the CET shows the first four months of 2002 were extremely mild, with maximum temperatures in February the second warmest on record.

Temperatures were mainly nearer to average over the rest of the year, leaving it probably the fourth warmest in the 344-year series, with an annual average of about 10.5 Celsius.

David Parker is at the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

He said: "Although 2002 has been very warm in Central England, the record is unlikely to be broken because temperatures would have to be more than 2 C higher than normal for the remainder of the year."

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says 2002 has been the second warmest across the globe since records began in 1860, with the mean surface temperature estimated at 0.49 C above the 1961-1990 average.

Nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1990, including 1999, 2000 and 2001; the only year warmer than 2002 was 1998.

Average global temperatures have risen by more than 0.6 C over the last century, although the increase has not been a steady linear progression.

Hotter to come

If temperatures over the oceans are excluded from the calculations, the scientists say, 2002's temperature equals that of 1998, the warmest year on record, when the average land air temperature was 0.88 C above the long-term mean.

In December 2001 scientists at the Hadley Centre correctly predicted that 2002's global surface temperature would be the second highest.

They said it would be 0.47 C above the 1961-1990 average, close to the actual 0.49 C. Now they are predicting that 2003 will be 0.55 C above the average, with a 95% confidence range of 0.41 C to 0.69 C.

They say there is a 50% probability that 2003 will be as warm as or warmer than 1998, the previous record breaker, but only a 20% probability that it will be cooler than this year.

Warm years globally generally occur during the latter stages of El Nino events in the eastern Pacific.

Professor Phil Jones, of the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK, told BBC News Online: "It's quite remarkable that 2002 was so warm considering how small El Nino's influence was.

"There's a really good chance 2003 will be warmer than this year as El Nino gathers strength, but whether it beats 1998 depends on how long the Pacific phenomenon lasts.

"Whether yet another warm year results from global warming we can't say on the basis of one year's record.

"But nine of the warmest years have occurred in the last 12, and that speaks for itself. It suggests something is going on."

See also:

19 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
28 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
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