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Comparing The Heatwaves of 1990 and 2019

August 19, 2019

By Paul Homewood




As we know, Britain recorded its hottest day on record in Cambridge last month. But does this mean that it was the hottest day for the country as a whole?

I now have the data from the Met Office, which proves that it was not as simple as that.

The BBC gave a clue as to what was happening, with the hottest of the weather over eastern and central areas of England:

UK temperatures heatmap


I asked the Met Office for a list of temperatures for that day, along with the record, for a range of stations giving a representative sample of the whole country.

Bold items are where new records were set last month:

Station Maximum Temperature (deg C) 25/07/2019 Highest Temperature at Station
Oxford 36.5 36.5 deg C on 25th July 2019
Kew Gardens 37.9 38.1 deg C on 10th August 2003
Sutton Bonington 36.0 36.0 deg C on 25th July 2019
Ross on Wye 32.4 35.0 deg C on 19th July 2006 & 3rd August 1990
Shawbury 31.2 34.9 deg C on 3rd August 1990
Sheffield 35.6 35.6 deg C on 25th July 2019
Bradford 33.9 33.9 deg C on 25th July 2019
Durham 32.9 32.9 deg c on 25th July 2019
Newton Rigg 30.1 31.1 deg C on 2nd August 1990
Eskdalemuir 29.8 29.9 deg C on 28th June 2018
Leuchars 21.7 30.8 deg C on 2nd August 1990
Braemar No 2 26.7 30.0 deg C on 28th June 2018
Chivenor 29.3 34.3 deg C on 3rd August 1990
Camborne 22.5 29.4 deg C on 3rd August 1990
Hurn 29.7 34.1 deg C on 4th August 1990
Valley 25.6 33.6 deg C on 19th July 2006
Aberporth 27.0 32.7 deg C on 19th July 2006
Pershore 34.2 34.9 deg C on 3rd August 1990
Rothamsted 36.6 36.6 deg C on 25th July 2019
Stonyhurst 32.0 32.6 deg C on 1st July 2015

As we can see, these new records were clustered in that area on the BBC map, which tends to be the warmest part of the country anyway.

If you’ll excuse my attempts at graphic design (!), I have tried to circle this area below:


If we go back to the chart, the records set in 1990 were:



Newton Rigg






These are mainly on the western half of the country, although Leuchars is in Fife, eastern Scotland, and Hurn in Dorset. In other words, quite a wide expanse of Britain.

The Met Office record temperatures by district back this up:



Whereas 2019 only features for England E & NE and East Anglia (Cambridge is effectively on the border of the two anyway), 1990 appears under England NW, Wales N, Midlands, England SW and Wales S.

It is therefore arguable that August 1990 was every bit as extreme as last month’s heatwave. Naturally the temperatures recorded in 1990 were not as high as that in Cambridge. But the latter is in one of the warmest regions, where you would expect temperatures to be higher than, say, Wales.

But in relative terms, the 2nd and 3rd of August 1990 was every bit as exceptional as 25th July 2019.



It is also interesting making the comparison with August 2003, when Faversham famously set the new UK record at the time.

As we can see from the chart, Kew is the only place with a record then. Similarly the Met Office table has the record only in the south east, and curiously the Scottish borders.

Clearly new national records tell us much less about the country as a whole than the media makes out.

  1. August 19, 2019 6:25 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate-

  2. Ian Magness permalink
    August 19, 2019 6:36 pm

    I wonder how many of these records, and indeed stations, would be deleted if the Met Office was honest about UHI effects invalidating them?
    This certainly applies to the station at Cambridge Botanic Garden – as reported by this good website. Results from that particular station are worthless as scientific data, as the Met Office knows full-well. It is abundantly clear that we can no more trust the Met Office than NASA GISS.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      August 20, 2019 12:02 am

      Ken’s Kingdom is surveying Australia’s “best” sites. Using the Bureau’s own maps he has found many which are non-compliant with their own guidelines. Their own maps, their own guidelines ignored and they still ADJUST the figures anyway. It has to be deliberate.
      I recommend a look. (there is a link from JoanneNova if that is easier).

    • paulpetley permalink
      August 20, 2019 10:12 am

      You should read this report on the 2003 figures from the Royal Meteorlogical Society. The Faversham figure was beyond a joke and was well known locally at the time to have been somewhat “rascally” manipulated by workmen on the site.

      • Immune to propganda permalink
        August 20, 2019 12:53 pm

        Can you post a link? I would like to read this report but couldn’t find it.


  3. A C Osborn permalink
    August 19, 2019 6:42 pm

    2019, 9 sites over 30C.
    1990, 13 sites over 30C and much more widespread.

  4. bobn permalink
    August 19, 2019 7:08 pm

    Paul, it is interesting that all the sites setting records in 2019 are in cities except Sutton Bonington. However what is the status and class of the recording site at sutton bonington as I cant see who would be recording there.
    In the case of Oxford the two nearest high class professional recording sites are at RAF Brize Norton 10 miles to the West and RAF Benson 10 miles to the south east. Benson is normally hotter than Oxford in the summer. How did these 2 more rural sites compare with Oxford city?

    • August 19, 2019 7:58 pm

      Sutton Bonnington is an RAF airfield in Lincs, I think

      • Martin Thomson permalink
        August 19, 2019 8:59 pm

        No, Sutton Bonnington is a site owned by Nottingham University for Schools of Biosciences and Veterinary science. It is well outside the city in a rural environment, but I have no knowledge about the siting of their weather station

      • August 19, 2019 9:28 pm

        Yes, sorry, I was getting mixed up with Waddington

  5. George L permalink
    August 19, 2019 7:48 pm

    East Anglia had a record – hmmm. I remember that as part of “hide the decline”

  6. Immune to propganda permalink
    August 19, 2019 8:15 pm

    But Paul, the records are not valid. Towns and City’s are expanding and every 2019 ‘ record’ claim has UHI contamination.

  7. C Lynch permalink
    August 19, 2019 8:15 pm

    BTW the Telegraph is hinting broadly that the fires on Gran Canaria are caused by global warming. It states that the fires are fuelled by 40°C temperatures. I’ve checked Accuweather and the hottest day so far only reached 33°C and that was relatively isolated with the majority of days being in the mid to high 20s – completely normal for Gran Canaria in August. The coming week anticipates temperatures in the low to mid 20s.
    Has the Telegraph some alternative meteorological source that is 10 or more degrees higher than every one else or is their source Michael Mann?

    • Paul H permalink
      August 19, 2019 8:27 pm

      Nah, just the usual arsonists, perhaps they’ve become international now, like arson tourism.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      August 20, 2019 1:30 pm

      The Telegraph – a dying excuse of a newspaper – could do with a bit of basic fire education. The temperature doesn’t ‘fuel’ anything. There has to be something that can burn and that could burn on a 40C day or a -40C day.

  8. Mike Jackson permalink
    August 19, 2019 8:19 pm

    I remember August 1990! I was at a wedding near Leicester. Everybody in formal dress, spongebag trousers, cravats, the works. I was wearing a kilt and was the only one that wasn’t melting! The groom’s father — who had been my best man — never forgave me!

    I don’t recall anyone blaming global warming. We just said they had a lovely day for it but it would have been nice to have had a bit more shade in the churchyard while the photographer was at work!

    • HotScot permalink
      August 19, 2019 9:23 pm

      Mike Jackson

      The Kilt. Perfect for any occasion. 🙂

  9. Chris Martin permalink
    August 19, 2019 8:27 pm

    And the other point is that other parts of the country have had similar ‘highs’ before. I posted in a previous thread that the all-time Yorkshire record of 35.6C (which was reached at Sheffield this year as you show on 25th July), was only the equal highest ever because 35.6C was also reached in Yorkshire – at Bawtry Hall, near Doncaster, as long ago as 1906 and in the month of September!!!! In that year 35C was reached quite widely in a similar area to the one you show on the map on 2nd September and there were 3 or 4 consecutive days of 32C over a wide area of the country, a record possibly barely equalled since at a number of stations in the east and north Midlands.

  10. August 19, 2019 8:52 pm

    On the 25th July I recorded 27.9 on my digital garden thermometer and 28 on my car thermometer. It was just over two degrees warmer than the days either side and much below the warmest days of last summer.

    That sudden peak above the values of the surrounding days suggests the heat plume that only affected us for that one day.

    This is for just outside Torquay so can be grouped with chivenor and Camborne.


    • August 20, 2019 7:16 am

      I agree and confirm that north Devon had the same one day ‘heatplume’ as Torquay, and itwas also much cooler than last year’s peak. Mind you, my digital thermometer did recordd a temperature well above 40C, although I suspect it may have been affected by poor siting and an ‘enhanced greenhouse effect’.

  11. Mack permalink
    August 19, 2019 8:57 pm

    Interesting. If you take out airfields (lots of tarmac, concrete and airborne hairdryers) and ‘garden centres’ i.e Faversham (National Fruit Collection site at Brogdale), Kew and Cambridge Botanical Gardens (glass, plastic, artificial venting, car parks etc etc) how do nearby truly rural, properly sited weather stations with lengthy records compare over the same period? It seems our glorious Met Office loves to declare records at sites that, even a layman, might consider dubious at best.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 19, 2019 9:57 pm

      Trouble is in the UK it’s not easy to find a location completely unaffected by a conurbation (boosting) or maritime (moderating) influence, so it’s a pretty rubbish country to be trying to discover a genuine CO2 caused climate change signal.

      • Mack permalink
        August 19, 2019 10:54 pm

        A site displaying ‘a genuine C02 caused climate change signal’? Wasn’t looking for one one of those as they’re like pixie dust. Merely, a comparison between non UHI affected sites and more genuine rural examples. But, in a country as small and as urbanised as the U.K, sitting in the windswept North Atlantic, you are right in saying that it is difficult to find a perfect example that is unaffected by UHI or maritime influences. However, there does appear to be a marked difference in temperature records from directly UHI impacted sites and their more rural neighbours.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      August 20, 2019 1:32 pm

      Kew could be a reasonable site given the area it has so there must be somewhere clean that could be used. Or there is the other side of the river at Syon Park – not the gardens bit but out in the pastures.

  12. August 19, 2019 9:16 pm

    O/T Right what we got is BBC networks are doing a Special Week on Farming
    and Day #1 is Farming and GUESS ???

    …. *Climate Change * AKA Global Warming
    I started collecting their tweets
    see my 6:58pm post

  13. The Old Bloke permalink
    August 19, 2019 9:45 pm

    In answer to Mack, on the day of the supposed record temperature from the dubious recording station at the Botanical gardens site, the recording stations on the edge of the Cambridge conurbation areas were showing two or three degrees cooler on all four points of the compass. A classic case of UHI effect. But the Met Office were determined to get their record whether UHI or not UHI

  14. August 20, 2019 3:06 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  15. Peter permalink
    August 20, 2019 5:09 am

    “highest-ever temperature has been officially recorded”

    I have always wondered how can we compare current highest and lowest temperature with measurements from the far past. Nowadays, we have equipment that logs a temperature measurement every minute, while (let’s say) 100yrs ago a person went outside a few times per day/night to look at the thermometer and write down the reading.

    Doesn’t the increased frequency of measurements increase the chance of a record reading?

    • donald penman permalink
      August 20, 2019 7:13 am

      I would agree with you I was using a digital thermometer when a heat spike a few years ago passed through where I was living, it only lasted twenty minutes. I was watching the met office website for Waddington which was giving hourly temperature readings and showed nothing unusual and yet they recorded a new maximum high the next day.

  16. Pancho Plail permalink
    August 20, 2019 8:24 am

    In climatological terms, is there any validity in claiming national record high temperatures on the basis of a transient reading taken at an entirely different location than the previous high and at a different time of day?
    They are quirks of microclimate and it worries me that “professional” meteorologists place so much emphasis on them.
    But then we all understand why they are doing this, don’t we.

  17. paulpetley permalink
    August 20, 2019 10:08 am

    The point linking the Scottish borders record at Greycrook and the SE “record” at Faversham is noteworthy. Firstly Greycrook was shut down only installed in the late 1990s and removed in 2005 for inaccurate readings. And everyone who has ever seen the Faversham site knows the station is as much of a joke of a site as the alleged Cambridge “record” site. The 2003 figures were actually the subject of an investigation by the Royal Meteorological Society who found the Faversham figure spurious to say the least and even the Stevenson Screen at Kew was at the wrong height!

  18. Stonyground permalink
    August 20, 2019 10:15 am

    New records a hundredth of a degree hotter than a previous one that was set decades ago are hardly evidence of rampant runaway warming anyway. If the alarmists were right these records would be tumbling constantly just about everywhere. They aren’t and they aren’t.

  19. paulpetley permalink
    August 20, 2019 10:20 am

    I recently looked up the exact locations of weather stations from this website
    I then went to google earth and having exactly located the ones near to me i wound the maps back to the 1940’s editions to see how their environments had changed over the intervening years. It is quite enlightening. My loclal station was in 1940 on the outer edge of a small hamlet……it is now in the centre of a large housing estate within the confines of a city.

  20. Ivan permalink
    August 20, 2019 10:31 am

    If you think picking locations to measure temperature meaningfully and get a representative sample of the country is difficult, you should try wind and rain. These are much more vairable over short distances. So what then, are representative locations? How many sites do we need to get a reliable record? What of the fact that some torrential downpour that affected much of the region didn’t affect the location of the Met Office’s gauge?

    As an example, you may recall that it is commonly stated that the wettest inhabited location in Britain is Seathwaite, Cumbria (the one near Borrowdale – not to be confused with the other one near Coniston). Apparently the farmer who has the record-breaking rain-gauge actually has two of them on his farm, about a couple of hundred yards apart (as far as I am aware he isn’t called Eric Olthwaite). The other one records about 10% less rain on average.

  21. Chris Martin permalink
    August 20, 2019 11:15 am

    To be fair – and in a strategic sense – the Sutton Bonington site is a great location for a long-term weather station. It is located on the borders of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, close to the River Soar. It is at least 3 miles away from the edge of the nearest urban area (Loughborough) and airport (East Midlands airport). The location is about half a mile to the small village of Sutton Bonington and based at what was the Midlands Agricultural College, then became Sutton Bonington Agricultural College and latterly the Sutton Bonington Campus of Nottingham University. As far as I can tell the location of the weather station is on the southern edge of the campus. The site has been a climatological station reporting to the Met Office since the 1920s and so has a long record. There is, however, a potential issue, micro climatologically, in that the actual campus has expanded in recent years. I believe that the met data are measured at a point close to Landcroft Lane, on the southern end of the campus. I haven’t visited to confirm. From Google Earth the view shows that what were previously open fields in this southern sector have now been built upon (in approximately 2007) so that the built edge of the campus now comes close to Landcroft Lane….. I would guess also that the amount of building generally has increased since the 1920s. To point out that last months max temp at this location was 36C. I do know this location reported 34.8C in 1990. It is also certain that 35C was recorded in this general area in 1911 (Sutton Bonington did not exist then, but we know this from other stations within the same counties) and it is also likely that between 34-35C was recorded in that general area only 5 years before in September 190…

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