Extreme weather in the UK

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  • Beaches were often crowded during the heatwave of 2003. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Archive/Press Association Images

    Mountain summits such as Cairngorm often see the strongest wind gusts. Photo: Andrew/PA Wire/Press Association Images

    The forecast synoptic chart for Thursday 15th August showing low pressure (red) to the north and high pressure (blue) to the south.

  • Extreme weather in the UK
    10.08.2013 14:58


    Today marks the 10th anniversary of the current highest temperature ever recorded in the UK, with a scorching 38.5C reached at Faversham, Kent on 10th August 2003. Since we are a nation obsessed with the weather, it might also be interesting to find out about some other meteorological record-breakers that currently stand.


    Despite its temperate climate, Britain is no stranger to extreme winter weather. In fact, some of the lowest ever recorded temperatures are far colder than 38.5C is hot, considering that the annual average UK temperature is approximately 10C. On several occasions, -27.2C has been recorded, having first set the record in Braemar, Aberdeenshire on 11th February 1895 and most recently at Altnaharra, Highland on 30th December 1995. These extremes are usually met during the night-time with fresh snow cover, clear skies and light winds, providing ideal conditions for surface heat loss via long-wave radiation.

    Here in the UK, high precipitation totals might be more commonly associated with the autumn and winter months when low pressure systems often bring bands of persistent and often heavy rain to our shores. Therefore it may not come as surprise that the record for the most rainfall ever recorded on two or more consecutive days was at Seathwaite in Cumbria on the four days between 16th and 19th November 2009. An alarming 495mm of rain fell during this period, leading to severe flooding in the surrounding area.

    However, the record for the most precipitation to have fallen in one day was during the summer of 1955 when 279mm fell at Martinstown in Dorset on 18th July. This was due to a ‘Spanish Plume’ event which drove powerful thunderstorms northwards over the English Channel. On reaching land, the storms are thought to have joined together and become virtually stationary over Dorset, concentrating their rainfall on a fairly small area.

    The current record for highest gust speed stands at 142mph, which was recorded at Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire on 13th February 1989 with a deep area of low pressure to the north of the UK and high pressure over France. This led to a strong pressure gradient, driving exceptionally strong westerlies, which peaked following the passage of a cold front.

    An even higher gust speed of 173mph was recorded at Cairngorm Summit on 20th March 1986. However, wind speeds that occur at upland sites tend to be discounted from meteorological records because they are so sparsely populated and high winds speeds are fairly commonplace.

    The coming few days are unlikely to break any of the above records with a far more ‘typical’ set-up with low pressure to the north of the UK and high pressure to the south. Temperatures will remain close to the seasonal average and a combination of skirting weather fronts and convection will bring some rain at times, especially to northern and western parts of the British Isles.

    By: John Lee