Freak heat hits UK in record-breaking February

Flowers and flames: Monday’s top temperature was 20.3C in Ceredigion, west Wales.

This week saw the hottest winter day in the UK since records began… twice. Many of us have been enjoying the early taste of summer, but should we, in fact, be terrified?

The sun shone, the bees buzzed, and the blossoms bloomed. For three days, T-shirt wearing Britons have delighted in the early sun. Some shops even ran out of ice cream.

But this is February. The average February temperature in the UK is 6C. On Tuesday, it was 21.2C in south-west London. This was not just the UK’s hottest ever February day (breaking a record set on Monday), but the first time a temperature above 20C has been recorded in winter.

The heat has made the ground harder and drier than it should be, with devastating effects. In the early hours of yesterday morning, firefighters were battling an “apocalyptic” wildfire on Marsden Moor in West Yorkshire.

In contrast, this time last year, Britain was gripped by the freezing “Beast from the East”. This was caused by sudden stratospheric warming, which is linked to climate change.

Now, the temperature is slowly creeping down, but why was it so hot?

The warm spell is down to an unusual weather pattern that swept warm air in from North Africa. However, as the Earth gets warmer, strange and extreme weather is becoming more frequent.

Last autumn, the UN delivered a stark warning: keep global warming below 2C or face climate devastation in communities across the planet.

A burning question

As Greta Thunberg says, “our house is on fire”. Why aren’t we panicking? Humans are bad at understanding long-term consequences. Will the increasingly weird weather be enough to open our eyes? Will it be too late?

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a huge global challenge. What difference can one person make? Is it worth trying to help? Your impact may feel small, but individuals add up. Giving up is the only way to guarantee failure, after all.

You Decide

  1. Should we feel guilty about enjoying the warm spell?


  1. Make a list of three small changes you could make in your life to reduce your impact on the climate.

Some People Say...

“Climate change is not the concern of just one or two nations. It is an issue that affects the whole of humanity and every living being on this Earth.”

The Dalai Lama

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
After a warm weekend, temperatures peaked at over 20C in some parts of the UK on Monday and Tuesday. Parts of Britain on Tuesday were hotter than Malibu, Athens, Crete and Barcelona.
What do we not know?
It’s hard to tell how much the warm spell is a direct sign of climate change.

Word Watch

Like the end of the world.
Marsden Moor
This is part of Saddleworth Moor, where a huge wildfire broke out last summer.
Sudden stratospheric warming
As the atmosphere heats up, it can slow down the cold air spinning around the Arctic and even cause it to reverse.
Earth is 1C hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution.
The Paris Climate Agreement, which has been signed by almost 200 countries, commits them to try to keep global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.