By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
Despite expectations that it would turn out the hottest year ever, 2003 looks unlikely to enter the record books.
The UK enjoyed many summer days in the high 30s
Provisional data from the UK Met Office suggest it will prove to have been only the third warmest year globally, and the fifth warmest recorded in the UK.
The global temperature was lower than expected because of a weak El Nino, the periodic weather upset in the Pacific.
The UK experienced a cooler October than usual, which helped to kill any chance of setting a new British record.
The Met Office said the summer's record-breaking temperatures and a prolonged dry spell were not enough to move 2003 higher than fifth place since records began in 1659.
UK - A LONG, HOT SUMMER
The mercury rocketed in Brogdale near Faversham
It said: "The mean Central England Temperature (CET) so far this year has been 10.82 Celsius, 1.09 C above the long-term average.
"1949, 1990, 1999 and 2002 were warmer, with a CET between 1.1 and 1.2 C above average. These comparisons are made with the CET series which covers the past 345 years."
The series is based on measurements taken at three points, with the city of Birmingham at their centre.
The mean CET this summer was 17.3 C, the fourth warmest summer period recorded, and the UK's maximum temperature record was broken with 38.5 C (101.3 Fahrenheit) at Brogdale in Kent on 10 August.
Figures compiled by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia, UK, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) show 2003 to have been the third warmest year worldwide since records began in 1861.
Heat killed thousands in France
The global mean surface temperature is estimated to be 0.45 C above the long-term average. All of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1990, including each year since 1997.
David Parker of the Met Office said: "Six out of the seven warmest years since 1659 have occurred since 1990. Average global temperatures have risen by around 0.7 C over the past 100 years.
"Our research shows that the warming over the past 50 years is mainly due to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels."
A year ago the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research predicted that the global surface temperature for 2003 would be 0.55 C above the 1961-1990 average, with a 95% confidence range of 0.41C to 0.69 C.
The Met Office said: "The observed temperature, 0.45 C so far, has been near the lower end of the predicted range, because of the more rapid than expected disappearance of the weak 2002 El Nino event in the eastern tropical Pacific."
An El Nino is a seasonal climatic phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean which causes widespread weather disruption. It occurs roughly every five to seven years.
Averaged over land areas only, the 2003 temperature so far is 0.64 C above the 1961-1990 average, making it the third warmest year since records began in 1856.
Professor Phil Jones, of the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK, said: "The world has experienced another warm year with the four warmest years occurring since 1997.
Russians cool off in a canal
"The summer over much of central Europe was the warmest ever recorded, not just in the instrumental record which goes back to 1781, but also in documentary-based extensions that go back to 1500."
The best estimated forecast for 2004 is a global temperature increase between 0.38 and 0.62 C, which would make next year the second warmest recorded.
The Met Office points out that all its figures must remain provisional, but says the global temperature ranking relative to other years is unlikely to change.
Professor Jones told BBC News Online: "October was about 2 C below normal in the UK, and although November was warmer than average it was not enough to compensate.
"The unusual aspect of this year for me was the summer heat in Europe, with nights in Italy which didn't dip below 25 C.
"I won't be going to Italy in August again. But we can expect nights like that here some time soon, though not as regular events.
"Globally, I expect the five years from 2006 to 2010 will be about a tenth of a degree warmer than 2001 to 2005."