Climate change made UK's soggy winter even wetter, study finds

22 May 2024, 08:36 | Updated: 22 May 2024, 12:25

The wet weather in the UK and Ireland that seemed almost unrelenting last winter was made worse by climate change, scientists have said.

October 2023 to March 2024 was the second wettest such period on record for the UK and the third wettest for Ireland, bringing more than a dozen severe storms.

The weather caused 13 deaths and widespread damage across the two countries, as well as flooding and power outages, disrupted travel, damaged crops and livestock, and left farmers with waterlogged fields which they could not plant in the spring.

The World Weather Attribution group of scientists assessed how rising temperatures affected the storms and heavy rain.

They found the total rainfall in that period was made 10 times more likely and 20% wetter due to climate change.

One author issued a blunt warning that "climate change is already making life shittier" by adding to the cost of living crisis.

The harvest this year could be a fifth lower than last year due to the wet winter, and bread and beer prices are likely to rise, according to the energy thinktank ECIU.

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The research has not been peer-reviewed, but uses peer-reviewed methods, and was produced by a respected group of scientists from institutions including the Met Office, Met Eireann and Imperial College London.

They used weather data and climate models to compare the storm severity and associated rain, as well as rainfall over the storm season, between today's world and how the climate was before humans started burning fossil fuels at scale.

Where the intense storm rainfall would have occurred about once every 50 years in the pre-industrial period, now it is expected around every five years.

Global average temperatures have risen by 1.2C since pre-industrial times.

If temperatures rose further to 2C of warming, storm rainfall and seasonal rain would increase, the researchers said.

A warmer atmosphere is thirstier and holds more water, making rainfall heavier.

But the "storminess" of the extreme weather showed a decreasing trend in this study, highlighting that more research was needed on how climate change might influence the severity and frequency of wind storms in northern Europe, the researchers said.

Climate solutions will 'make life cheaper'

Dr Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said: "To put it bluntly, climate change is already making life shittier.

"Wetter winters are flooding farms, cancelling football matches, and overflowing sewage systems.

"Groceries are becoming more expensive and Brits holidaying in Europe are having to shelter from record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires.

"Thankfully, we know the solutions - replace oil, gas and coal with cleaner, cheaper renewable sources of energy, insulate homes, restore nature."

"All this will make life cheaper and better for all, not more expensive," she added.

Katie-Jo Luxton, global conservation director at the RSPB, said: "The flooded fields of this past winter show how farming is at the forefront of the impacts of climate change. Farmers are understandably extremely worried about a future with wetter, stormier, more unpredictable weather.

"So this study serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to support farmers to transition to low carbon and nature-friendly farming."