Met office: Why 2020 saw a record-breaking dry and sunny spring across the UK


As the UK officially enters meteorological summer (June to August), it offers a chance to look back at a remarkable, record-breaking spring.

The sunny weather of the past three months has grabbed the headlines , with March-to-May clocking in as the sunniest spring and May being the sunniest calendar month on record.

However, while many have enjoyed the fine weather, the season was also exceptionally dry.  May 2020 ranks as the driest May on record for England and the second driest for Wales. This comes in stark contrast to the extreme rainfall observed through the winter – including the UK’s wettest February on record .

In this article, we look back on the recent spring and the factors that contributed to it. Highlights include:

– The spring of 2020 was the sunniest UK spring in a series from 1929, with 626.2 hours of sunshine. This is more sunshine hours than most summer seasons with only the summers of 1955, 1976, 1989 seeing more sunshine.

– The spring of 2020 saw particularly warm and dry conditions, ranking as the eighth warmest and fifth driest spring on record for the UK overall, with parts of east and north east England recording their driest spring.

– These conditions were largely a result of the buckling of the jet stream, which allowed for the development of persistent high-pressure weather over or close to the UK. However, increasing temperature associated with climate change will also have played a role in the above-average spring temperatures.

– The latest climate projections for the UK suggest spring will tend to become sunnier on average in the future, but that a spring like that of 2020 would still be considered extreme. Further analysis is needed to determine the role of climate change on events like spring 2020.

Record-breaking sunshine

This spring has been a season of record-breaking sun. The month of May 2020 was the sunniest calendar month since records began in 1929 – and April 2020 was found to be the sunniest April on record.

The maps below show how this year’s spring (left) and May (right) compare to the long-term average. The dark orange shading shows the parts of the UK that saw the largest amount of sunshine above average.

UK sunshine duration for Spring 2020 (left) and May 2020 (right) relative to the 1981-2010 average. Note the different scales used on the colour bars of these two plots. Credit: Met Office

As might have been expected, these sunny months led to an exceptionally sunny spring season. Recording 626.2 hours of sunshine, the UK spring of March-May 2020 ranks as the sunniest spring on record, easily surpassing the previous record-holding spring of 1948, which saw 555 hours of sunshine. 

When focusing only on England, the numbers are even higher, with 695.5 sunshine hours recorded. This exceeds the previous record by more than 100 hours, amounting to an average...

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