Thursday, 15 January 2015

Hottest Year Ever - A Gardener’s Perspective

The UK Met Office have confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded in the Central England Temperature (CET) Record which goes back to 1669. I've been examining my weather station records for Ossett for 2014 and comparing them with the CET figures and considering exactly how that hottest year ever affected our gardening year.

First things first a table comparing last year’s CET figures with my figures recorded in Ossett.
Considering that I don’t think we are situated within the Central England Temperature area I don’t think my figures are too bad at all. Figures for the early part of the year are almost the same, with my summer temperatures a little higher and autumn figures a little lower.

I think I understand how the anomaly figure is worked out. Records from the CET between 1961 and 1990 are averaged out for each month and Jan 2014 is compared against the average value for the Januarys between 1961 and 1990 records. The difference between these two values is the anomaly. The result is that January 2014 was 1.9°C warmer than the long term average.

So how did the hottest year ever impact on our gardening year. Despite seeing a record breaking warm year, we didn't have any major heat waves, and no new monthly CET records were set in 2014. Instead, each month was consistently warm. Only one month, August, had below average temperatures, which is a bit surprising as for the hottest year ever you’d tend to think the summer months would have to be hot record breaking months. I've read that 2014 had the lowest number of frosts since 1961.

For the gardener mild weather in spring with virtually no frosts to speak of got the gardening year off to a great start. Lack of frosts meant blossom on fruit trees set well and early sowing of seeds germinated and grew on well.
Spring turned into summer and the mild weather continued. June and July continued with excellent growing conditions. July was the best of the summer months although I can't remember having too much watering to do on the plots. 
I think that the crop that received the most watering was our runner beans which were watered on a regular basis for a few weeks in July through the hottest and driest weather of the year. In the end rainfall for both June and July was around average. For much of the month the weather was warm and humid which lead to our early potatoes suffering from an early attack of blight. Luckily for us our second early potatoes were unaffected and went on to produce some very good harvests.

Then when everything was going so well, August came along and put a spanner in the works. It was the only month of the year with temperatures below that long term average and the cooler days were a bit of a shock to plants after the fine weather of June and July. Rainfall for August was almost double what we might expect.

Once August was out of the way the return was to milder conditions with all the months from September through to December turning in higher than long term average temperatures. Autumn’s fine mild weather was excellent for harvesting in the tree fruit crops and second early potatoes. 
In summary I can't say that any of our crops suffered through 2014 being the hottest year on record. In fact it was the opposite and our crops faired rather well. It turns out that we can have hot years without having a blistering hot summer. It might mean however that those plans I had for growing Mediterranean crops outdoors on the plot aren’t going to materialise. 

Perhaps it’s  more likely that winter storms bringing mild but wet and windy weather in winter, and keeping frosts at bay in early spring are leading to higher annual average temperatures. Good news for all those overwintering pests.

It’s extremely early in the year  but after the first 14 days of the year our average January temperature is 6.5°C already well above the long term average for the month. Where will this year’s temperature finish up? Watch this space.


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