Past climate in Kent
A changing climate is nothing new to Kent, as wider climatic trends in the South East have already had an impact. For instance:
- Between 1961 and 2006, average temperatures rose annually in the UK, between 1.0°C and 1.7°C, in all 4 seasons. This increase has tended to be largest in the South East
- Since the mid-20th century average sea levels have risen around the South East coastline by about 1mm per year, a rate which has increased in the 1990s and 2000s
- Over the past 45 years, the South East has experienced an increase in the amount of winter rain that falls in heavy downpours
- In summer, the region has already shown decreases in rainfall.
More gradual changes have been recorded in Kent which suggest that climate change is already having an impact on the county. These include:
- Sea level rise at Sheerness
- Emergence dates for butterfly species (up to 20 days earlier in the case of the Adonis Blue, symbol of the Kent Wildlife Trust)
- Earlier arrival and breeding success of bird species like the Hobby, which require a warmer climate.
Extreme weather events around the UK have also become more frequent in the past few decades and Kent has experienced its fair share:
- The Great Storm of October 1987 recorded gusts of 103mph in parts of Kent, driving a ferry ashore at Folkestone and capsizing a ship at Dover
- Extensive and repeated winter flooding in 2000
- The heatwave in 2003 recorded temperatures of 38.5ºC at Brogdale, near Faversham – the highest UK temperature since records began
- The heatwave in July 2006 broke records for the highest average temperature for the month of July.
- The rain and cold spells of 2012/2013.
The future for Kent
Kent’s geographical location, long coastline and population density means that it is likely to suffer from some of the severest impacts of climate change in the United Kingdom.
Key findings from the UK Climate Projections 2009 for the South East suggest that by 2050:
- Winters are likely to be warmer by around 2.2°C.
- Summers are likely to be hotter by around 2.8°C.
- The hottest summer days could increase by up to 3.7°C.
- Summer night time temperatures are likely to increase by 3°C.
- Winter rainfall is likely to increase by 16%.
- Summer rainfall is likely to decrease by 19%.
The maps above are from the UK Climate Projections 2009 and show how our annual average temperature is likely to change over the 21st century, based on a medium scenario of greenhouse gas emissions.
To see climate change scenarios based on low and high emissions, or to see maps for other climate variables, please refer to the UK Climate Projections website.
These findings indicate Kent’s increasing vulnerability to extreme weather events, with:
- More ‘very hot’ days (the 2003 heatwave will be considered an average temperature by the 2040s)
- More intense downpours of rain (flash flooding)
- Increased flood events (at least 8.5% of Kent’s population are already at risk)
- Increased risk of coastal flooding
- Changes in storminess and high winds.
How will climate change affect life in Kent?
As can be seen above, with wetter milder winters, hotter drier summers and sea level rise, the extreme weather events of the past will become more common in the future and in a lot of cases be considered mild!
As such we need to reduce the negative impacts facing Kent and maximise the opportunities that a changing climate can bring. More details can be found on the project community pages.
- Increased occurrences of flooding, bridge scouring, melted roads and buckled train tracks will increase the chance of transport delays at any time of the year.
- Searing summer temperatures will make for uncomfortable travel, particularly in urban areas.
- In Canterbury roads melted and pipes exploded during the 1997 heatwave.
- The 2009 Cumbrian floods caused a number of bridges to collapse.
- Hot, dry summers may present big opportunities for coastal and rural tourism.
- By 2050 our gardens may be able to grow more exotic plants and trees, such as citrus and pomegranate.
- Low water levels may disrupt river leisure activities.
- Fishing trips on the River Teise were forbidden in 1997 because of low water levels.
- Tourism increased by 42% in Kent during the 2003 heatwave.
- Earlier springs and longer autumns will alter the variety and dominance of common species.
- Crops favouring warmer climates, like the Champagne grape, will thrive in Kent, but more traditional crops like rhubarb may struggle to grow.
- The Adonis butterfly emerges 20 days earlier than it used to.
- Frogspawn is now commonly seen before Christmas.
- Fewer winter deaths from cold-related illness and falls.
- More deaths from heat and pollution-related illness.
- More cases of food poisoning, sunburn and skin cancer.
- During the 2003 heatwave, UK mortality increased by 16% and led to more than 2,000 excess deaths.
- Higher insurance costs for those living in flood risk areas.
- Higher fuel and energy prices could transform the way we view energy use, with electric cars and solar panels becoming a common sight within our communities.
- Kent’s water scarce status has led to most water companies adopting compulsory water metering.