The Living World
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Extreme Weather in the UK

Extreme weather events can significantly disrupt normal routines, damage property and in some instances even threaten life.

Understanding the causes, effects, and responses to extreme weather events in the UK is important for effective preparedness and minimising their negative consequences.

Causes of Extreme Weather in the UK

The UK climate is shaped by several factors, such as the effects of continentality, the North Atlantic Drift and varying air masses.

  • Continentality – Coastal areas experience milder winters and cooler summers due to the surrounding seas absorbing and releasing heat.
  • North Atlantic Drift – Warm ocean currents from the Caribbean flow towards the UK’s west coast, resulting in warmer temperatures.
  • Varying air masses – Different air masses bring varying weather conditions to the UK, such as cold and wet polar maritime air or warm and dry tropical continental air.

In the UK, extreme weather events are usually caused by depressions and anticyclones.

Depressions form when warm and cold air masses intersect over the Atlantic Ocean, leading to wet and windy weather. Whereas, anticyclones, which are high-pressure systems, can bring in very cold or hot and dry weather, leading to stable weather conditions.

Effects of Extreme Weather in the UK

Extreme weather manifests in various forms, each having its unique impact.

Heavy rainFlooding causes property damage, disrupts transportation and leads to significant recovery costs.
Windstorms or galesCan damage properties, uproot trees and cause general disruptions, especially in coastal and upland areas.
Heat wavesProlonged periods of extremely hot weather can cause health issues, pollution buildup, transportation disruptions and economic stress.
ThunderstormsHeavy rain, lightning and strong winds can damage property, trigger fires and carry the risk of fatalities.
HailstormsHailstorms accompanying thunderstorms can damage property, vehicles, and crops and pose a danger to life.
DroughtWater supplies can run low, negatively affecting agriculture and wildlife and can lead to restrictions on water usage.
Snow and iceCan cause slips and falls, transportation disruptions, damage to crops and wildlife and risks to human and animal life.

Responses to Extreme Weather in the UK

In response to extreme weather events, various strategies have been implemented. These include:

  • Forecasting and Warning Systems – Meteorological agencies like the Met Office provide weather forecasts and issue warnings to alert the public and support preparation efforts.
  • Emergency Preparedness – Governments, organisations and many individuals have emergency plans in place, including evacuation procedures and communication systems.
  • Infrastructure and Building Resilience: – Constructing buildings and infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather events, such as flood-resistant designs and reinforced structures.
  • Flood Management – Implementing flood prevention measures, such as building flood barriers, improving drainage systems and managing river channels.
  • Public Awareness and Education – Promoting awareness of weather risks, providing guidance on preparedness and educating the public about appropriate responses to extreme weather events.
  • Emergency Response and Recovery – Coordinating emergency services, providing immediate assistance to affected individuals and supporting long-term recovery efforts.
  • Community Support – Encouraging communities to support one another during extreme weather events. For example, providing shelter, food and other necessities to those in need.
  • Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation – Taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promoting sustainable practices and adapting to the changing climate. This minimises the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

Case Study: Beast from the East (2018)

In 2018, the UK experienced a significant weather event known as “The Beast from the East”. This triggered a sudden warming of the stratosphere. Also, it weakened the UK’s jet stream (also known as the polar jet), which forms at the boundary of two very different air masses. As a result, cold air from western Russia engulfed Europe.

This event led to various social impacts, including school closures, fatalities, stranded motorists, gas and power supply issues, and disruption to non-urgent medical services.

Economically, it led to significant losses to the economy, businesses and services closing, disrupted transportation, and caused damage to crops and livestock.

There were also environmental impacts, including heavy snowfall, freezing temperatures, snow drifts and strong winds that caused damage to the natural environment.

In response to these challenges:

  • Travel warnings were issued
  • Gas usage was reduced
  • Shelters were provided for the homeless
  • Roads were cleared
  • Armed forces were deployed for rescue
  • Community support initiatives were encouraged

This case study shows the importance of preparedness and efficient response strategies in managing the impact of extreme weather events in the UK.

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