Do you know what climate action to take for a safer future?

The science is clear, the climate is changing. The Met Office is one of the UK’s foremost climate change research centres, carrying out world-leading research.

With over 8,100 peer-reviewed articles in scientific literature since 1981, and as a leading contributor to international climate research such as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, the Met Office has a deep understanding of how greenhouse gas emissions are impacting our climate. We also know that rapid and significant cuts to emissions can still help us to mitigate against the worst impacts of climate change.

Desire to change

The Met Office asked a representative sample of the British public about the climate action they are taking and their perceptions on whether people in the UK are doing enough to reduce their carbon footprint.

The results showed that over half of those surveyed (59%) are making conscious decisions to live a low-carbon lifestyle, including 17% who make these decisions even when it is inconvenient for them.

When asked if people in the UK are doing enough to lower their carbon footprints, nearly two thirds (65%) of respondents said we should be doing more.

This suggests that a majority of the British population are willing to make conscious efforts when it comes to cutting emissions, so let’s turn our attention to some of the steps people can take at a personal level.

In order to minimise the damage from climate change, action is needed at all levels of society, but here we explore what actions people can consider taking in their lives that will have the greatest impact. Whilst not everyone will be able to make these changes, for a variety of reasons, it is worth reflecting on what is achievable so that our combined efforts can make a real difference. Many of these changes also have co-benefits – that’s to say they might also reduce costs, improve air quality or have a positive impact on health and wellbeing.


Whilst a large proportion of UK adults rarely or never fly, for those that do, taking one fewer long-haul flight a year can make a significant impact on your carbon footprint.

Electric car being charged. Image: Shutterstock

A much larger proportion of people have access to a car or van, with only 22% of UK households without a car[1]. When buying a car, switching from a petrol/diesel vehicle to an electric one will reduce carbon emissions and be cheaper to run. Whilst they can be more expensive to buy, in many cases they have a lower cost over four years. Find out more in this article from the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles which debunks some of the myths around electric vehicles.


The food we eat and the food we throw away is responsible for a notable proportion of our individual carbon footprint, so changing what we eat and reducing food waste can help lower this.

Food market with fruit and vegetables. Image: Shutterstock

The Climate Change Committee recommends a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030[2] and the UK Government’s Eatwell Guide includes some suggestions of alternative protein sources, many of which are cheaper than meat. You can find out how to reduce your food waste at Love Food Hate Waste, which will save you money as well as reduce pressure on land use. Wrap[3] calculate that waste food in the UK would make over 15 billion meals a year.  


According to the Sixth Carbon Budget on buildings from the Climate Change Committee, direct greenhouse gas emissions from buildings were around 17% of the UK total in 2019. Lowering demand for heating homes can help reduce this through insulation and smart heating controls. A bigger shift, however, is required in terms of the fuels used to heat homes. Approximately 74% of the UK’s heating and hot water demand in buildings is met by natural gas[4], and the Government’s Net Zero Strategy indicates the need to move to heat pumps (air- and ground-source) and hydrogen boilers to decarbonise buildings. Whilst these are expensive options, grants are available towards the cost of heat pumps. You can find out more about saving energy in your home at GOV.UK.

Small actions also count!

We have focussed here on some of the most important changes people can consider making to their lives in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but even the small actions can make a difference. Take a look at our everyday actions webpage for some suggestions of ‘quick wins’ – many of these come at no or very little cost.

Adaptation remains important

Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, we’re already committed to a level of global warming and associated impacts from past emissions released into the atmosphere. It is therefore important to plan for these changes and mitigate the risk. Learn more about adaptation.

Follow #GetClimateReady on Twitter to learn about climate change and science and look out for more practical ways you can take action on climate change.

[1] Department for Transport – National Travel Survey 2021: Household car availability and trends in car trips

[2] The Climate Change Committee –

[3] WRAP –

[4] The climate Change Committee –  

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Has it been an unusually cold start to March?

March heralds the start of Meteorological Spring, and with daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses making an appearance many of us start to think of warmer sunshine and longer days. March 2023 has got off to a cold start, and with numerous snow and ice warnings across the UK it is a fair question to ask if this is an unusual start to Spring in the UK.

The short answer to this question is: no. The ‘transition’ seasons in the UK, Spring and Autumn, can often be highly variable, with changes in the conditions across the country as we move from winter towards summer and vice-versa. Indeed, statistically it is marginally more likely to snow in March than it is in December in the UK.

Comparisons of temperature

You don’t have to look back too far in the observational record to find a similar start to March, as Dr Mark McCarthy from the Met Office National Climate Information Centre explains: “If we look back at the start of March in 2021, the maximum temperatures for the UK were very similar to the values we’ve seen at the start of March 2023. The graphs below show in blue how temperatures have been below average and are very similar. Through mid-to-late March 2021 temperatures then became milder than average, as shown in orange.”

Going back further, March 2018 and 2013 were also both notably cold months, as shown in the graphs below. In terms of mean monthly temperatures for the UK, 2013 was considerably colder than 2018, and March 2013 was the coldest March for UK mean temperature since 1962 (ranking 5th coldest in the series back to 1884).   

Snow comparisons

For significant March snowfall many people will remember the March of 2018 with widespread freezing conditions that also delivered a lot of snow across much of the UK.

Dr McCarthy adds: “For the first three days of March 2018 there were more than 100 weather observation stations recording at least 2cm of lying snow. Just over 50 of these stations had 10cm or more for those first three days. In some locations this snow persisted until 18 March when there was another widespread snow event.

“March 2013 was another snowy month, however this time the snow events were more clustered towards the end of the month.”

It is too early to assess how the snow record for March 2023 will sit alongside March records in previous years. However, with plenty of impactful snow in the forecast, it will certainly be a memorable cold spell for many. Keep up to date with the Met Office forecast and severe weather warnings.

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Glacial archaeology – unlocking the climate time machine

Glacial archaeology is a new and emerging field made possible by the increasingly rapid melting of mountain ice due to climate change. Recent discoveries have left experts amazed.

Dr Doug McNeall, co-host on the Met Office’s Mostly Climate podcast, chats with Dr Lars Pilø, a Norwegian glacial archaeologist, on how the disappearing ice is revealing secrets from the past.

A 500 AD arrow recovered from ice in the Norwegian mountains
A 500 AD arrow is one of the treasures that have been revealed by the shrinking ice in Norway’s mountains.

Climate projections indicate nearly half the world’s mountain glaciers could disappear by the end of this century, even if the world meets its most ambitious climate goals. The consequences of this are far reaching.

The volume of ice on Earth has advanced and retreated over millennia. Yet the recent rate of melting of the cryosphere – the world of ice – has been far more rapid due to human influence. Ice has retreated on a time scale of decades rather than millennia, and this accelerated glacial shrinking over high ground has exposed ancient objects.

Decorative image

Most of Lars Pilø’s work is in the mountains of Norway, where ancient ancestors hunted reindeer as they escaped the biting insects of the lowlands. He talks about the incredible sight when a relic, which was encased in ice, is found.  

Lars Pilø said: “It doesn’t look old: the ice acts as a time machine.” Some pieces date back 6000 years, when temperatures were higher in a period following the Holocene Thermal Optimum.

Many of Lars’ discoveries also pinpoint a time when the mountain ice was far greater than now, when society across the northern reaches of Norway existed across an icy landscape.  Lars describes finding many items lost over time, across ancient hunting sites and old ice-bound transport routes.  From skeletons of dead animals to remnants of packhorse sleds. It’s a treasure trove of material culture now exposed as the glaciers recede.

Interestingly he and his team still use packhorses to reach certain remote sites – an adept way of transporting specialist equipment and provisions for an extended survey.

Glacial archaeology is also conducted across other icy realms in the Northern Hemisphere, from North America to the Alps: all regions experiencing similar challenges from mountain glacial melt.


For researchers, the satisfaction of working in glacial archaeology is bittersweet. For all the excitement of discovering artefacts seemingly as fresh as the day they were lost, they know that their study is a race against time.  In future the ice may not encase the land again, and in some places might be gone forever.

Although not a linear decline, Lars confirms there is a continual glacial net loss and so it’s a matter of urgency to retrieve historic items that reveal more about how communities lived under different climatic environments.

Dr Lars Pilø is the founder of the “Secrets of the Ice” website and twitter feed. Hear more about his work on the Mostly Climate podcast.

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Which weather drivers will affect the outlook for March?

March is the first month of meteorological spring. But what is the outlook for the month? Are we likely to get more spring-like weather, or perhaps something more reminiscent of winter?

The outlook suggests that March 2023 is more likely to be colder than average. But what is that likely to mean in terms of impacts?

From what we know so far – looking at some of the global drivers of weather – there are increased chances of impacts from cold weather, such as snow, frost and fog, at least for parts of the UK.

Mark Sidaway is a Deputy Chief Meteorologist with the Met Office. He said: “Although we have had a Sudden Stratospheric Warming event and other drivers pointing towards colder conditions in March, at this stage there is a low probability of having widely disruptive winter weather like that of five years ago in March 2018.

“At that time a large area of high pressure became established over Scandinavia, providing a feed of cold air all the way from Arctic Siberia. This brought intense cold to the UK.

“We are expecting an area of high pressure to become increasingly established in an area toward Greenland. This will allow a northerly flow to feed colder air into at least the northern and eastern half of the UK bringing wintry showers.

“The extended outlook shows the possibility for a series of areas of low pressure to come across the Atlantic, and these bring the potential for some more widespread snowfall as they encounter the cold air, although the location and timing of these is very uncertain for now.

“The exact positioning of the high pressure will be key and will greatly affect what weather we see in the UK.”

March 2018 was a record-breaking cold spring, which had been driven by a feature known as Sudden Stratospheric Warming. This happens when air in the stratosphere above the North Pole collapses creating a disturbance of the Stratospheric Polar Vortex – where westerly winds rotate around the North Pole, effectively hemming in the most intense cold air.

When the Stratospheric Polar Vortex breaks down it can encourage the switching of normally westerly winds to an easterly direction. Eventually, this wind reversal can reach the surface, bringing air from an easterly source. In 2018 this resulted in intensely cold air coming to the UK all the way from Arctic Siberia.

Although the globe has experienced another Sudden Stratospheric Warming episode the outcome will not necessarily be a repeat of 2018.

What can we expect from early March?

The most likely scenario is for colder and settled weather, with wintry showers perhaps affecting some northern and eastern areas (mainly coasts), at least at first.

This colder regime moving south across much of the UK, increasing risk of wintry showers, perhaps snow to the higher ground in the north. Temperatures are likely to be below average.

Beyond the first week or so of March confidence in the weather pattern becomes very low, but a preference for blocked broad scale conditions remains which continues to increase potential for colder conditions compared to average.

Spells of rain become more likely, with a chance that some areas could see snow. Some wintry episodes could be disruptive with a combination of snow and strong winds. North-west areas of the UK have the highest chance of remaining drier than average.

Temperatures are most likely to be below average overall during at least the first half of March. But values are expected to be nearer average overall later on. Within this, shorter colder spells remain possible.

Keep up to date with the latest forecast on our website, by following us on Twitter and Facebook, as well as on our mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store. Keep track of current weather warnings on the weather warning page.

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Working for climate resilience with the UK water sector

2022 will be remembered for several meteorological events, including record-breaking heat and a prolonged drought. Eastern England was at the forefront of both events with East Anglia being the driest region in the UK relative to normal for the year.

Across the region, 2022 was the eighth driest year since 1836. During the year the region saw just over three-quarters (76%) of its annual rainfall, amounting to only 475.4mm.

Water security is this month’s Met Office climate theme. In this blog, Met Office Industry Consultancy Manager – Joe Osborne – describes his passion for ensuring the water industry work with world-leading weather and climate science.

Weather and climate events account for many of the key impacts on the water sector, especially in East Anglia. Translating the latest datasets and science into actionable information for decision-makers remains a substantial challenge. I am driven to ensure that organisations are resilient to present-day climate and prepared for future climate. 

In my role as an Industry Consultancy Manager at the Met Office, I work closely with the UK water sector to ensure that our world leading weather and climate science is useful, usable and used.

How I got here

I joined the Met Office Industry Science and Consultancy team in June 2019, with a background in both weather and climate science and a particular interest in the hydrological cycle. I recognised that my passion sat at the interface of science and end-user, and I was keen to find a role where I was contributing valuable and actionable information. As such, I was excited to find myself working on several projects with customers in the UK water sector.

Fast forward to 2022 and I find myself leading our work with the water sector as an Industry Consultancy Manager. This is a multi-faceted role which involves working closely with colleagues in our Markets division to develop, build and maintain relationships with customers in the sector. These customers range from water companies, regional groups (alliances of water companies), the industry regulator (Ofwat is the body responsible for economic regulation of the privatised water and sewerage industry in England and Wales) and external consultancies. We work closely with our customers to understand the challenges that they are facing. It is then crucial to lean on scientific expertise to propose, develop and deliver bespoke analysis to support their key decision making.

Forward planning or event driven

The work that I lead can be broadly categorised as either forward planning or event driven. Forward planning work supports customers in furthering their understanding of climate risk. In one example, using novel approaches and new datasets, the Industry Consultancy team worked alongside Anglian Water to strengthen their understanding of drought risk – both for today and in a future, warmer world. This improved understanding enables Anglian Water to enhance their resilience to future drought events.

With just under 630mm of rainfall annually, East Anglia is the driest region in the UK. Remarkably East Anglia is renowned for its diversity of wetland features and landscapes, including the Fens, the Broads and chalk streams, such as this example in Lincolnshire. Picture: Anglian Water

In other work, we are working with water companies to understand the weather drivers of key impacts, including water quality, water demand and asset deterioration (for example, pipe bursts caused by phenomena such as freeze-thaw and/or shrink-swell). We also support water companies in embedding climate information into their regulatory reporting in a consistent and appropriate manner. For example, in ongoing work, we are supporting water companies in the consistent application of climate information in their Price Review 2024 (PR24).

Despite best intentions, weather events can often present challenges to the UK water sector. Therefore, there is an event driven element to the work we deliver. The year 2022 was a demonstration of this. Beneath the headline statistics, real-world industry impacts often emerge, some of them more obvious than others. The most obvious impact was on water resources from the dry start to the year, exacerbated by the exceptionally dry and hot summer. This led to a declaration of drought across many regions of the country. The record annual warmth also contributed to the hydrological situation, amplifying evapotranspiration and soil moisture deficits.

2022 monthly rainfalls for England compared to average

The Industry Consultancy team responded to this hydrological situation by putting the weather of 2022 into a longer, historical context for water companies. The hot summer also caused additional impacts, leading to record high water demand in some areas and a reduction in water quality of some surface water supplies. Despite a general theme of warmth in 2022, the first half of December was notable for a significant cold spell. This caused considerable issues with pipe bursts, due to the freeze-thaw of water.

Innovation and influence

Fortunately, through innovation and influence, the Industry Consultancy team can support customers in preparing for and responding to these events. We provide solutions and consultancy across timescales, from short-range weather prediction through to 50-year ahead climate projections. As an example, the Met Office Industry Consultancy team has built weather impact models to enable the forecast of water demand out to 10 days ahead. We are supporting Thames Water in an Ofwat funded project aiming to extend this modelling into longer range forecasting, which will help water companies to anticipate weather events beyond 10-14 days. However, we are also innovating to ensure consistent and seamless prediction across timescales. As such, we have recently completed a project coupling these same models with UK Climate Projection (UKCP18) data to present future scenarios of water demand, supporting adaptation planning.

A unique role

The role that we play is a unique one; observing industry needs while undertaking and applying novel science. We are therefore keen to influence, to ensure that the best science is being used within the water industry. As part of my role, I work closely with our Strategic Relationship Managers to ensure that relevant insights are shared with key collaborators and government stakeholders. This is particularly important where there may be new science or insights that could benefit the industry as a whole. The 2022 drought event (which is still ongoing in some regions) is a key example of this. Working with collaborators and sharing evidence around the changing meteorological drivers of UK drought in a warming world ensures that the resilience to such events is improved in both the short- and long-term.

We’re better together

Of course, while scientific and strategic leadership, as well as relationship management, are key to my role, the strength of our offering and delivery is due to the diversity and quality of individuals working in the Industry Consultancy team. Our diverse team is made up of statisticians, scientists, and consultants, with expertise spanning weather and climate timescales. Together we demonstrate a range of Met Office values. We’re experts by nature, contributing to and learning from world-leading science from within the Met Office (and further afield) to develop our consultancy offering. This ensures that we keep evolving; by pushing these boundaries we can make tomorrow better for our customers.

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Dry February so far for most

With less than a week of February to go, conversations are already being had about how dry the month has been, and what impact this could have.  

This month, we’ve been exploring the theme of water security and climate change. But in more granular detail, February 2023’s lack of consistent rain for most of the UK underlines some of the common differences between weather and climate, and where there’s an overlap in challenges.  

The summer of 2022 saw record-breaking temperatures when 40.3°C was recorded for the first time in the UK. The first eight months of that year were also the driest since the infamously dry start to 1976. With these notable weather events in mind, water resources have often been in the news, and a drought was declared by the Environment Agency for many parts of the UK in August 2022. 

That declaration of drought was subsequently removed for most areas as Autumn rainfall topped up resources for many, though not all.  

Drought comes down to a range of factors and is much more complex than just rainfall amounts, with hydrology, geography and infrastructure also influencing drought conditions and the availability of water in the UK’s reservoirs. However, a dry February has led to some speculation about weather trends in recent weeks.  

Month so far 

Up to 20 February, you’d expect to have around 71% of the month’s total average rainfall. However, the UK has currently had just 36% (34.5mm) so far, according to provisional Met Office figures.  

A scene of some grey skies - though with no rain.
High pressure has been largely responsible for a dry first half of February.

But when you look into the regional data, the lack of rainfall becomes more marked. While Scotland has so far had 59% (83.5mm) of its average February rainfall, the south of England has had just 6% (3.8mm). For England it has been the driest 1st to 20th February since 1993.  

Some individual counties also stand out due to a lack of rainfall. Hertfordshire has had an average of just 0.7mm of rain so far this month – just 1% of its average for the whole month. At the time of writing 14 counties in central and southern England had recorded less than 2mm of rainfall so far this month. 

Of course, these figures will change by the end of the month, but it does give an indication of quite how dry this February has been so far. For many of these areas the dry spell began in mid January. Pershore in Worcestershire for example has had just 1.6mm of rain since 15th January and for many counties of central and southern England the period from mid January to now has been a notable, but not record breaking, winter dry spell.  

Mark McCarthy is the manager of the National Climate Information Centre at the Met Office. He said: “Although there’s still around a week left of February, it has been a notably dry month so far, especially in the south of England. 

“In short, high pressure has been dominant over the UK, helping to repel rain-bearing systems across much of the country, though many have managed to influence north-western areas at times.” 

Sam Larsen, Director of Programmes and Planning at Water UK, said: “Water levels in the environment began to pick up following last summer’s drought conditions, but low rainfall this month means a majority of UK rivers are below normal levels for this time of year, meaning there is less water available for nature, agricultural abstraction, and public water supply. 

“It remains to be seen whether rainfall levels will pick up before summer. This, along with the lasting impacts of climate change and population growth, means it’s absolutely vital that we all continue to save water and help safeguard against potential future drought conditions. For hints and tips on how to save water, money and energy, visit” 

Map the the UK's rainfall from 1-20 February 2023 versus the average for the whole month. The map shows a much drier than average UK, especially in the south.
It has been notably dry in the south of England.

A changing climate and natural variability 

Climate change projections show an increasing likelihood of hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters, though the natural variation of rainfall patterns in the UK means this won’t be the case every year. The month of February is itself a good indicator of the variability of the UK climate with the driest month for the UK in a series back to 1884 being February 1932, when just 9.5mm of rain fell. In contrast, February 2020 was the fourth wettest month on record with 213.7mm of rain.  

Mark continued: “A wet Autumn last year helped to recover some of the rainfall deficits built up through the earlier part of 2022, but the winter has seen two long dry periods firstly in early December and then from mid-January and through February, interspersed with a more notably wet and unsettled period in late December and early January.  This reflects the variability of a UK winter which is an important consideration when considering the challenges presented by both short-term weather events and longer-term changes in our climate.”

The figures sited in this blog are provisional Met Office figures up to 20 February 2023.

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Freddy: one of the longest-lived tropical cyclones

Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which has just rocked Madagascar, has been barrelling through the tropical Indian Ocean for 16 days – making it one of the longest-lived systems in the southern hemisphere. It developed on 6 February off the coast of north-west of Australia and has affected island nations, including Mauritius, during its passage.

Julian Heming is a tropical cyclone expert with the Met Office. He said: “Once making landfall over Madagascar, Freddy has begun to fall apart, but the forecast models are expecting it to reform again over the Mozambique Channel – the strait separating Madagascar from continental Africa – before making a second landfall in Mozambique itself.”

Freddy made landfall just south of Mananjary, in Madagascar on Tuesday evening, with estimated 10-minute sustained speeds of 100 mph, gusts to 150 mph and a storm surge of up to one metre at and just south of the landfall location, with waves of up to 13 metres on top of the surge.

Freddy reaches the west coast of Madagascar early Wednesday evening (local).

Satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Freddy over the Indian Ocean.
Image: European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery

Michael Silverstone is an Expert Operational Meteorologist with the Met Office global guidance unit. He said: “Heavy rain will affect the usually drier west of Madagascar, with 50-100 mm expected here, which is about half the February average. Later, Freddy is likely to begin strengthening again as it moves into the Mozambique Channel, becoming a severe tropical storm and maybe even regaining tropical cyclone status prior to an expected second landfall on the coast of Mozambique between Inhambane and Beira on Friday morning.

“It is likely to bring a smaller storm surge here than occurred over eastern Madagascar. Rainfall is likely to be the main hazard, with widely over 200-300 mm and locally over 500 mm of rain expected late this week and into the weekend over a large area across central and southern Mozambique and into eastern Zimbabwe, northeast South Africa and Eswatini (the average February rainfall for the affected area is roughly 100-200 mm).

“Coastal flooding and damaging, possibly destructive, winds are expected close to the landfall location in south-eastern Mozambique Friday morning, although this likely be less impactful than was seen in Madagascar. For mainland south-eastern Africa, the very heavy rainfall coming on top of a very wet recent spell will pose a significant threat of widespread flash and riverine flooding late this week and through this weekend, with an enhanced landslide threat too.”

Tropical cyclones acquire their energy from the ocean. Freddy may not have the capacity to rebuild into such an intensive system while crossing the Mozambique Channel but the main concern is the amount of moisture the system has wrapped up within it.

Julian Heming added: “Some of the forecast models are suggesting that Freddy could become quite a slow-moving system effectively hanging over Mozambique for several days unleashing extremely high rainfall totals over the country and neighbouring coastal regions. This might cause real flooding problems.”

The record for the longest-lived tropical cyclone for the southern hemisphere is Cyclone Leon-Eline, which happened in 2000, and that was a tropical storm for 18 and a half days that took a very similar track starting to the north west of Australia. It then struck Madagascar and then reformed and restrengthened in the Mozambique Channel and then went on to make landfall over Mozambique.

There is an association between the development of these long-lived tropical cyclones in the South Indian Ocean and the La Niña (cool) phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle in the tropical Pacific. There is currently a La Niña in the tropical Pacific: the third in three successive years.

Julian Heming added: “Leon-Eline and its associated flooding happened at the end of a very long, prolonged La Niña period which also produced flooding over Mozambique. It looks like we could get a similar flooding situation over the next few days in Mozambique.”

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Water security and the global water cycle

Throughout February we’ve been focusing on the climate theme of ‘water security’. To understand water security, we first need to understand the way that water travels around the Earth. In this blog post, we’ll learn about the global water cycle, which refers to the way that water moves around the world, and the implications that this can have for water security in different regions.

In short, the ‘water cycle’ (also known as the hydrological cycle), refers to the continuous process whereby water is transferred between the surface of the earth and the atmosphere.
When the sun shines on water on the Earth’s surface, the heat of the sun warms the water, turning it into an invisible gas – water vapour. This process, the changing of water into a gas, is called evaporation. Water vapour enters the atmosphere in other ways too; through transpiration, (when water vapour is released from plants) and sublimation (when ice or snow turn into water vapour without melting into water first).

Water vapour rises into the sky. The further you move up and away from the earth’s surface, the colder the temperature gets. Therefore, when it gets high enough, the water vapour cools and changes back into tiny water droplets. This change is called condensation which is the opposite of evaporation.

Clouds are made up of tiny water droplets and when condensation occurs in the sky, clouds form and grow. When water droplets bump into one another, they stick together and increase in size. They continue to grow until they’re too heavy and begin to fall as rain, snow, sleet or hail. The water droplets even continue to grow as they bump into one another on their journey from the cloud to the ground. Every single raindrop that reaches the ground is made up of 1 million of the original tiny water droplets!

Rain clouds pictured over boats in the sea at sunrise in Cornwall, UK. Image: Shutterstock.

When precipitation occurs over land, some water seeps into the ground as groundwater, a small amount is taken up by plants and animals, and the rest will return to rivers and streams as surface run-off to begin its journey back to the oceans. From here the whole process begins again.

The water cycle is happening all around us, all the time. It keeps water moving between the ground and the sky, providing the water needed for plants, animals and people to survive.

Water vapour is carried around the planet by the winds, with some regions such as tropical rainforests receiving much more water vapour and rainfall than other regions such as deserts. In places where water demand from human societies is greater than water availability, this can lead to a lack of water security.

Climate change, the water cycle and water security
Recent IPCC reports have confirmed that human activities are influencing climate change, which is resulting in more frequent and extreme weather events, with instances of intense rainfall and extreme drought both expected to increase.  

Climate change is already affecting the water cycle. Globally, on average, climate change leads to higher evaporation and more rainfall. Heavy rainfall in particular is becoming even more intense, which can lead to a greater risk of flooding.

On a local scale, these changes in the water cycle are much more complex, with some regions getting drier and others getting wetter. For example, regions that are already dry, such as many countries surrounding the Mediterranean, are likely to become more so due to climate change. This increases the likelihood that existing problems such as concerns over water security will worsen.

Met Office consultancy for water management
In addition to providing weather forecasting and climate science services, we work with companies in the water industry to assist in the management of water resources by supporting strategies for effective resilience, efficiency and forward planning. This can include investigations into instances of drought and climate change consultancy to enable companies to overcome challenges to water security.

Learn more about our water consultancy services on our website.

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One year on from three storms in a week 

It’s one year since three named storms impacted the UK within seven days in what was the stormiest week since storm names were introduced for the UK in 2015. Here, we look back on what was a week to remember for UK weather.  

February 2022 – a historic week for UK storms 

Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin impacted the UK within seven days, with Dudley impacting the UK on 16-17 February, Eunice 18 February and Franklin 20-21 February. It’s the first time three storms were named in a week since storm naming was launched for the UK in 2015.  

This period of severe weather was signalled well in advance, with the Amber warning for Storm Eunice the longest-range Amber wind warning ever issued by the Met Office.  

The subsequent red warnings for wind for Storm Eunice highlighted the danger to life and an exposed site on the Isle of Wight recorded England’s highest ever gust speed of 122mph. This was one of the UK’s most severe storms since February 2014. 

Warnings for the storms helped reduce impacts, with over a fifth fewer vehicles on the roads thanks to Eunice warnings and Met Office forecasts helped partners like the national air traffic control service, NATS, land planes safely in challenging conditions.  

An image of the O2 in London with a damaged roof as a result of Storm Eunice.
Storm Eunice brought widespread impacts to much of the UK. Image: Shutterstock.

Severe weather hasn’t been hard to come by since those wind warnings in February 2022. A summer of record-breaking heat, including a drought for many, followed by a December cold snap and even some mid-winter heavy rain, has meant the weather hasn’t been far from the headlines.  

Preparing for severe weather 

The Met Office’s Will Lang leads the team responsible for weather preparedness and is a spokesperson for WeatherReady – a partner-led initiative with useful weather tips, advice and practical guides.  

Looking back on the storms from a year ago, Will said: “February 2022 was a stark reminder for the public of the impact severe weather can have. 

“While warnings helped to mitigate the impacts, one of the best ways for the public to be prepared for severe weather is to take action before the weather turns severe and we know that’s what many people did ahead of Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin.” 

Name, but no shame 

Storms have been named for the UK since 2015, with names chosen in partnership with Met Eireann and KNMI on naming low pressure systems that are deemed to have the potential to cause medium or high impacts in an area. For the Met Office, this would typically mean an amber or occasionally a red warning.  

Met Office post-event surveys revealed that more than 98% of people within red warning areas for Storm Eunice were aware of the warning, with around 90% of those taking direct action to protect themselves or their property from the severe weather in the forecast.  

Will added: “Storm naming works. It provides a single authoritative system of communicating the weather to the public, helping people keep themselves, their property and businesses safe. Storm Eunice demonstrated this excellently, helping to ensure partners, the media, responders and the public had the information they needed to stay safe in severe weather.” 

Storm Otto, which has been named by the Danish Meteorological Institute, impacted the UK on 17 February 2023. As a result, the first named storm on 2022/23’s list of storms for the UK is currently unused, with Storm Antoni the first name on the list.

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Counting on technology in a changing world

Ever-increasing impacts from climate change, including more frequent and intense bouts of extreme weather, are among the greatest challenges faced by mankind.

A changing climate is a daunting prospect. But, says the Met Office’s Theo McCaie, there is one ally standing increasingly firm in our corner: technology; in particular, the benefits from machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Theo McCaie – one of a team spearheading the Met Office’s data science capability. Image: Simon Hammett.

We are in the midst of an artificial intelligence revolution where the world’s fastest-growing deep technology has the potential to rewrite the rules of entire industries, fundamentally changing the way we work and live.

Data science advances – including machine learning and artificial intelligence – mean computers can now analyse, and learn from, vast volumes of information at high levels of accuracy and speed, providing exciting new opportunities.

To maximize the advantage of these technological breakthroughs, many scientific disciplines – including weather and climate science and prediction – are revising their operating plans. For example, the Met Office recently published its Data Science Framework outlining how we will ‘harness the power of data science to push the frontiers of weather and climate science and services.’

There are already promising signs for embracing machine learning in weather and climate. Building on reanalysis data (a fusion of observation data and numerical weather models) several tech companies have produced exciting research indicating similar accuracy to traditional weather forecasting techniques as a fraction of the compute cost at run time.

Embracing change

Professor Kirstine Dale, Principal Fellow for Data Science at the Met Office, said: “These results are encouraging and show the benefits that can be gained using machine learning to build upon a rich observation platform, physics-based modelling and data assimilation.

“Critically, these developments pave the way for a hybrid approach bringing together the strengths of both data-driven and physics-based approaches to weather forecasting.

“At the Met Office we are developing systems which will harness the benefits of both physics-based and AI approaches. For example, by using physical models to produce expensive, but high-quality, data that can be used to train fast AI-based emulators.”

A fundamental principle of most AI is that it needs to be trained. The Met Office has rich data sets from a wide spectrum of spatial and time scales which provide a unique training resource. Added to this rich data set is a wealth of knowledge and models based on the physical laws that define how the earth works.

Kirstine added: “Combining these assets, using cutting-edge AI research in a trustworthy and reliable way is at the core of what we are doing at the Met Office.”

Working with partners

Such a large and important challenge cannot be tackled alone. The Data Science Framework highlights ‘partnership’ as a core pillar to success. One particularly exciting project is fusing machine learning and meteorological expertise from across the Met Office and our partners. Using cloud-scale computing and big data our experts are leading research into AI-based systems for forecasting UK weather. Progress in this area is also timely. Ever-increasing weather extremes and growing climate change impacts means we can draw together our combined skills and experience to tackle challenges identified in IPCC reports.

Professor Simon Vosper, the Met Office’s Director of Science, concluded: “Machine learning and artificial intelligence are among the fastest growth areas of science. We are excited to incorporate the valuable benefits of these technologies within our weather forecasts.

“In an era of ever-increasing weather extremes and growing climate change impacts, we believe the most promising developments will come from fusing the benefits of all these technologies rather than simply relying on one or the other.”

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