Record low temperature for the UK this millennium

Overnight the recorded minimum temperature at the weather station at Braemar dropped to -23.0°C, one of three stations in the UK to dip below minus 20.0°C. With the media reporting on the ‘extreme’ conditions, we have analysed our records since 1961 for temperatures dropping below that threshold to observe the trend and to put last night’s records into a longer-term context.

Frequency of very cold nights in the UK

Last night’s temperature at Braemar (11 February 2021) was the lowest recorded in the UK since 1995.

Minus 20.0°C is extreme cold. In fact it is even 2.0°C colder than the recommended temperature for the inside of a domestic freezer. So experiencing temperatures below -20.0°C in the UK are not common and not usually widespread.

Dr Mark McCarthy is the head of the National Climate Information Centre. He said: “The records from last night help to put the UK’s climate into context. For example, for all its roar, temperatures of below -20.0°C weren’t recorded during the Beast from the East during the end of February and the beginning of March 2018. But that event was certainly extreme by other measures, including widespread low daytime temperatures.

“Before this week we’d have to go back to December 2010 to see days where the UK temperature falls below minus 20.0°C. In that year eight days saw temperatures below that value.”

Since 1990, four years have recorded days below minus 20.0°C, but in the 30-year period up to 1990, 14 years reached that level.

Mark McCarthy added: “Temperatures of this level have always been extreme events in the UK, but what our records show is that these events have become less frequent. However, the UK’s climate record displays a huge range of natural variation and even though our climate has warmed by approximately 1.0°C, there is still the possibility of a severe cold-weather event: they’re just not as regular as they used to be.”

The lowest temperature recorded in the UK is -27.2°C on 30 December 1995, at Altnaharra; and on 10 January 1982, at Braemar.

From today temperatures are not expected to dip below minus 20.0°C as warmer conditions start to push in from the Atlantic reaching all parts of the UK by Monday.

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