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Although the UK is barely the size of Florida, its weather can be more varied on one day than the weather of many other countries. This is due to its geographical location, just off the north west coast of mainland Europe and being completely surrounded by the various branches of the Atlantic Ocean. The weather in the UK can be influenced from any direction at any time, though the weather can be generally placed into four categories:
Winter (early November to mid March) - Generally cold and wet although the winter of 2011 and 12 was one of the mildest on record. Temperatures range from -15C in northern Scotland to 10C in the south west, though with windchill, it can feel colder. The record coldest temperature is -27.2C in Altnaharra, Scotland 30th December 1975. Most visitors from North America will find British winters mild as there is little snow - certainly outside northern Scotland. Heavy snow fall tends to come as a bit of a surprise and generally brings the country to a halt. There is no scheme for snow clearance and side roads and pavements outside city centres generally do not get cleared.
Indoor shopping centres and entertainment centres are often the order of the season, though in dry spells, outdoor Christmas markets and a crisp walk through a forest are experiences you will not want to miss. Typical winter clothing should keep you right: woolly hats, warm overcoats and gloves.
It is ill-advised to fell walk or mountain climb in this season as temperatures drop sharply at higher altitudes and daylight is at a premium with dark early evenings. Storms, with torrential rain, the occasional blizzard and winds up to 70mph (110kmh) occur most winters, usually in January. Be prepared for the nation coming to a halt when there is snow; many trains do not run, cars have no winter tyres and slide all over the place, schools can close when there is heavy snow! Some northern areas are subject to avalanches and fatalities may occur. Two climbers near Glencoe died in 2010 and three the previous year.
Winter is generally the wettest season marked by successive lows coming off the Atlantic bringing bands of rain. This is normally sufficient to top up reservoirs and watef courses after the rare event of a prolonged dry spell in summer. Normally this rain does not cause any real problems. However late autumn 2012 and the run up to Christmas bought unseasonably heavy rain which fell on ground that had been saturated all summer. The north east and Sctoland were hit first as moist air from the Atlantic battled with cold polar air. Scotland had early snowfall and enough rain fell for pictures to be taken of people canoeing through the streets of Gateshead. Widespread localised flooding took place especially along the major rivers. One small town saw its new flood defenses completely fail. In the run up to Christmas further bands of unwelcome heavy rain fell and the southwest was hit hard. Some small towns in Devon saw their busy Christmas shopping period cancelled as high streets flooded because drains could not cope with all of the extra rain. Rail services were suspended west of Tiverton and many trains only got as far as Taunton. Rail replacement buses could not operate due to roads flooding. First Great Western advised passengers not to attempt trying to travel west of Taunton. In fact Christmas 2012 has been far from white and in fact has been wet. 2012 officially has been recognised as the wettest year since records began.
Spring (late March to late May) - Often wet and mild, but in between the rain showers, things can get warmer. Typical temperatures range from 5C to 20C. Harsh winter "kick-backs" can occur as can blasts of warmer weather from the Sahara but overall, no real extremes of weather happen. May tends to be the most settled month of the year, a good time to visit too, with nature in full swing and the tourist season still a couple of months off.
April 2012 was the wettest April on record in the UK since records began in 1910. By April 29 Liscombe in Somerset had seen 273.8mm of rain, more than 3 times the 86.4mm average. May was colder than normal due to polar air hitting the country. There was a brief warm spell after the middle of the month after which was a return to unsettled wetter weather that remained in place for the whole summer.
Summer (early June to mid September) - For the most part, Summer should be warm, quite dry and the best time to visit the UK if you are after reliable weather and an outdoor holiday. Temperatures stay above 15C by day (usually dipping no lower than 10C by night) over the entire UK and can exceed 35C in a heatwave. However the past five summers have generally been poor even by British standards with a lot more rain than normal. Its not unusual for a months worth of rain to fall over 24 hours. Much of the recent poor summer weather is due to the behaviour of the jet stream which has slipped much further south than is usual allowing wet weather to come in off the Atlantic. June 2012 was the wettest on record with 145mm falling which was twice the seasonal average and temperatures were lower than they should be. Summer 2012 saw many outdoor events cancelled because of the rain or waterlogged ground. Localised flooding took place in many parts of the country. The wet summer had a major impact on the economy. English vineyards found that their crops failed completely. Famers found that harvests were generally poor and the wet weather hampered harvesting fields. Cattle had to be bought in early and farmers were having to use feed that normally would be used in the winter months. Food prices in shops rose as a result. Many outdoor events were cancelled and tourism was hit hard as the wet weather deterred people from visiting outdoor attractions. Historic buildings saw their repair bills rise due to damage caused by constant saturation. All in all a very unpleasant summer.
The record for the hottest day ever in Britain was set on Sunday 10th August 2003 as temperatures soared to 38.1C (100.6F) in Gravesend, Kent.
If the humidity index rises sharply, it is almost a sure sign of an imminent summer thunderstorm, which can be fairly spectacular; 100mm of rain can fall in 30 minutes or less.
The Boscastle Flood of 2004 occurred on Monday, 16 August 2004 in the two villages of Boscastle and Crackington Haven in Cornwall. The villages suffered extensive damage from flash floods caused by an exceptional amount of rain that fell over the course of eight hours that afternoon.
July 2006 was the hottest month ever recorded in the UK, with the average temperature, both day and night, being 17.8C, way above the 14C average.
The Birmingham Tornado was one of the strongest UK tornadoes in nearly 30 years, occurring on 28 July 2005, it carved a kilometre-long path through the city suburbs.
May 2010 saw 4 inches of snow fall in Scotland, allowing ski resorts to operate in June, the first time for 15 years. In these exceptional years England may receive winter weather in summer too, the Pennines received summer snowfall in June 2010.
Schools finish for summer mid July in England and at the end of June in Scotland. Most universities finish by mid to late June. To avoid the crowds and still get warm weather, early to mid June to mid September are your best bets, they may be cheaper too. Daylight hours are long too with early daybreak and late sunsets; owing to the latitude, places from Manchester northwards get no darker than twilight for a few days either side of the solstice (21st June). Up in the Shetland Islands, situated at 60 degrees North, there is no proper darkness in mid summer.
Autumn (late September to mid November) - A changeable season, but it is the UK at its most picturesque. The colours of the leaves are on a par with those seen in New England and are only enhanced with an "Indian Summer". Weather from the south west is generally not great news at this time of year as it brings remnants of hurricanes from the south-east USA and Caribbean, winds of 60mph (100kmh) and heavy rain being the situation. October 1987 saw a very strong winds hit the south of the UK, with sustained winds of 105mph. Extensive damage occurred and 18 deaths were reported. Be prepared for many trains to be delayed due to leaves on the tracks [it's not a joke]. Some rail companies have an adapted timetable for leaf fall especially those running in the south and south east where falling leaves can impair electrical pick up for third rail trains.
There you have it! The UK's weather in a nutshell! Basically, every season has its highs and lows, April to early October is the best period to visit. If, however, you want some exciting weather, any other time of the year is good too.
Check in-depth 5 day forecasts for any UK destination on BBC weather or.