Dawlish storms
Giant waves in Dawlish, south-west EnglandReuters

The severe storms that have lashed southern England are almost certainly linked to climate change, the Met Office's top scientist has said.

Dame Julia Slingo said: "In a nutshell, while there is no definitive answer for the current weather patterns that we have seen, all the evidence suggests that climate change has a role to play in it."

Slingo was speaking before the publication of the Met Office's latest analysis on recent climatic events, by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology. The report finds that persistent weather disturbances over the Pacific had triggered the weather system that has sent wave after wave of storms to North America and across the Atlantic to the UK.

"We have seen exceptional weather. We cannot say it's unprecedented, but it is certainly exceptional," Slingo said.

"Is it consistent with what we might expect from climate change? Of course, as yet there can be no definitive answer on the particular events that we have seen this winter, but if we look at the broader base of evidence then we see things that support the premise that climate change has been making a contribution."

Slingo warned the UK should be prepared to face more regular extreme weather in the future.

"We also now have strong evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense. That is emerging in the UK records, and it is seen very definitely around the world in other countries like India and China. There is indeed as far as I can see no evidence to counter the premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly heavy rain events."

Last month Prime Minister David Cameron said he "suspected" that the recent storms to batter the UK were connected to global temperature changes - an argument challenged by some Conservative MPs and peers.

More than 130 severe flood warnings - indicating a threat to life - have been issued since December compared with nine in the whole of 2012. More than 5,000 homes have been flooded.

Prince Charles, David Cameron and Environment Agency chief Lord Smith both visited the Somerset levels this week to meet residents and assess the damage to flooded homes and farmland.