Using Early Extremes to place the 2022 UK Heatwaves into Historical Context

Emma Yule, Gabi Hegerl, Andrew Schurer, Ed Hawkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

As global surface temperatures continue to rise, both the duration and the intensity of heat waves across most land areas are expected to increase. The 2022 European summer broke a number of temperature records where a new record daily maximum temperature of 40.3°C was reached on 19th July making it the hottest July heat wave event in the UK. This paper aims to detect and analyse historical heat wave events, particularly prior to 1927 and compare these with recent events, particularly, 2022, which featured four summer heat wave events in the UK. This allows us to understand how noteworthy historical extremes are in comparison to those in recent decades, to place modern events into historical context, and to extend the sample of extreme events. Summer heat wave events have been detected between 1878 and 2022 from long station data in the UK. Heat wave extent, duration, and intensity have been analysed to compare past heat waves to the recent 2022 heat waves. For each of the summer months at least one of the top 10 most intense events between 1878 and 2022 occurred in the earliest third of the dataset (before 1927) emphasising the value of analysing early heat events. In all detected events, the anomalous UK heat was part of large-scale European extreme heat when examining 20th-century reanalysis data, associated with a high-pressure system. The 2022 July event resembles in pattern of warming and circulation some earlier events, for example, in 1925. While there is a clear trend in the monthly data and the overall frequency of anomalously hot days, heat wave activity on daily scales even in the period 1878 and 1926 is considerable and in some cases comparable to modern heat wave events in the UK. The most intense events detected led to societal impacts based on UK newspaper articles from the period including impacts on the agricultural sector, health impacts, and travel disruptions, broadly comparable to impacts from recent events.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1159
JournalAtmospheric science letters
Issue number7
Early online date2 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • heat waves
  • impacts
  • mechanisms


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