Extreme weather

A combination of factors, including climate change, explain some of the extreme weather events in the UK and across the globe.

What is extreme weather?

What causes extreme weather?

Storm Hits UK

Waves lash the seafront at Porthcawl, Wales.


Extreme weather is when a weather event is significantly different from the average or usual weather pattern. This may take place over one day or a period of time. A flash flood or heat wave are two examples of extreme weather in the UK.

Extreme weather in the UK

Examples of extreme weather events in the UK:

  • Drought – caused by a lack of rain.
  • Flash floods – caused by too much rain in a short period of time.
  • Strong winds and storms.
  • An extreme cold spell.
  • An extreme heat wave.

All of these have happened in the UK between 2000 and 2010:

A lack of rainfall leading to drought

  • During 2004-06 the UK received below average rainfall. This meant that reservoirs and groundwater supplies were not recharged with the water needed.

Flash flooding

Floods in Boscastle, north Cornwall

Emergency services on the scene of flooded village of Boscastle


  • Boscastle in Cornwall suffered a flash flood in August 2004. Nearly three times the average rainfall for the whole of August fell in just one day. The rain ran down the steep valley sides causing flooding in the village. The floodwater picked up cars and trees in its path.

Strong winds and storms

  • In January 2005 stormy weather brought havoc to roads in the North of England as lorries overturned. Power was also cut off in 80,000 homes. Winds of over 100 mph were recorded.

An extreme cold spell

  • In December 2010 much of the UK was under snow. Arctic air caused the temperatures to drop significantly below the average. At night temperatures of -10°C were not uncommon.

An extreme heat wave

  • In summer 2003 Europe suffered from an intense heat wave. In the UK the temperature of 38.5°C was the highest ever to be recorded.

Case study: extreme weather in the UK

During December 2010 winds from the north east brought cold arctic air and snow. Scotland and North East England were significantly affected, with snow 50 cm deep in places. Temperatures were mainly below 0°C, making it the coldest December in the last 100 years.

The impacts were:

  • Roads were closed. People were stranded in their cars overnight on the M8 and A9 in Scotland.
  • Airports closed, including Heathrow and Gatwick, disrupting travel plans over Christmas.
  • Schools closed.
  • On 20 December the AA reported its busiest-ever day because of car breakdowns.
  • More people than usual were admitted into hospital because of accidents and falls.
  • Emergency services and local authorities were all put under pressure.
  • After areas thawed, there were problems with burst water pipes. In Northern Ireland 40,000 homes were without water.

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