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What will British weather actually be like in 2050? We asked an expert

Spoiler alert: pretty darn hot

Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

UK temperatures are forecast to soar to ferocious new heights on Tuesday, and everyone is in a serious sweat trying to keep cool. London and parts of southern England have been forecast to hit a record of 40C, while a rare amber weather warning has been issued in Scotland, where some places could reach more than 30C.

Recently, an image went viral comparing the extreme temperature forecasts this week to a hypothetical weather forecast made by the Met Office two years ago, which forecast 23 July 2050 based on UK climate projections. It predicted London would reach 40C, Scotland would reach 30C, and Manchester would reach 39C. Now, no less than 28 years earlier, it seems like we’ve already made it. Tomorrow’s forecast and 2050’s look shockingly similar:

If things are already getting this extreme, what will British weather really be like in 2050? To find out more, we spoke to Professor Joanna D. Haigh, the former co-director of the Institute of Climate Change at Imperial College London and emeritus professor of Atmospheric Physics.

What could UK temperatures really be like in July 2050?

According to Haigh, we shouldn’t really be surprised about the 40C heat this week. ‘The possibility of 40 degrees is getting more and more likely,’ she says. ‘We’ve known about that for years.’ But when it comes to 2050, there are two things to think about: the average temperatures of parts of the UK, and the temperatures of heatwaves on top of that

‘It’s very clear that the average temperature in July will be higher [than it is now],’ Haigh says. ‘The extreme heat that we’re experiencing at the moment will be a typical temperature by the time we get to 2050. The other thing to think about is extra intensity of heatwaves on top of that, which would be more than five degrees hotter.’

If efforts to tackle global heating don’t improve, parts of the UK could theoretically average 40C in July 2050, as shown in the Met Office image. But then there will also be individual weather events like today, where heatwaves could reach 45C, or closer to 50C, in 2050. According to Haigh, the frequency of extreme weather events is also going up, meaning we’ll see even more heatwaves in coming years. Time to start saving up for that Dyson fan. 

The variation in temperatures across the UK will probably remain similar to how it is now, and cities will generally still be hotter than the countryside. ‘That’s largely due to the black tarmac [in cities] that absorbs heat and radiates it out again,’ Haigh says. ‘Planting more trees and green areas in cities is a simple thing to do to make them better for the temperature and environment.’

What about other kinds of extreme weather?

In July last year, there was extreme flash flooding across the UK – with images of London stations submerged in water and people being rescued from sunken buses plastered all over the news. That means there’s also the other end of the scale to think about, and flooding is more tricky to predict. 

’It’s more difficult to forecast intense precipitation events and more difficult to analyse the data from previous ones,’ says Haigh. ‘[But] what seems to be clear, and what was in the recent United Nations Climate Report, is that there’s been an increase in heavy precipitation everywhere in the globe with a signal.’ 

According to Haigh, we might also see ‘compound extreme events’. This can vary from heatwaves combined with droughts to heatwaves combined with heavy wind events, and brings the threat of extreme weather to a whole other level. Yikes. 

So how can we stop it from getting worse?

Listen, you don’t need us to tell you that we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases. But we also need to be doing much more than just that. ‘We need to start extracting greenhouse gases back out of the atmosphere,’ Haigh says. ‘And we need to put pressure on the polluters to do something about the pollution. If we don’t stop [emitting greenhouse gases], it’ll just keep getting warmer and there will be more extreme events. There’s no way out.’

Need to cool off? These are the 17 best lidos in the UK according to us.

Plus: here are 11 of the best waterparks in the UK.

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