Snow warning sign

Keeping it chilled

2 August 2013

After the coldest spring in the UK for more than 50 years, many people were left wondering why it was so cold.

Now, in the middle of summer, it may seem like a distant memory but just a few months ago we were experiencing the fifth coldest spring in national records dating back to 1910. Throughout the cold spell, which became established through February, Met Office forecasts and warnings gave accurate and timely advice to the public, emergency services and business across the UK.

The exceptionally cold March was most noteworthy with persistent easterly winds and some significant and disruptive snowfall. With a mean temperature of only 2.2 °C (3.3 °C below the long-term average), this made it the coldest March since 1962. In fact it was the second coldest March in the UK record since 1910.

Cold weather continued through the Easter weekend and into mid-April. April's mean temperature was slightly below average, but was actually the same as 2012. Then, cooler than average weather in the second half of May helped make this spring one of the coldest in more than 50 years.

The colder than average conditions were caused by frequent easterly and northerly winds which brought cold air to the UK from polar and northern European regions.

This spring goes against recent form for the season, with eight of the past ten years being warmer than average compared to the long-term (1981-2010) average of 7.7 °C.

Overall, spring in the UK was a little drier than the long-term average with 91%. March was a dry month in the north and west while April was rather dry across much of England and Wales. May was wetter than average for the UK overall. There was snowfall in some areas during late March and early April.

Sunshine totals for the UK were very close to normal for the season with 99% of the long-term average. March was fairly dull with 81%, April was sunnier with 114%, and May was close to average with 96%. The season ended a run of six consecutive sunny springs from 2007 to 2012.

Why was it so cold?

Several potential drivers may predispose the climate system to a state which accounts for the second coldest March in the UK record since 1910. Met Office Chief Scientist, Professor Julia Slingo OBE, was interviewed by the Financial Times about the possible causes of the cold start to spring. 

From field to fork

The weather is a fundamental part of gardening. Following the cold spring and exceptionally wet summer of 2012, we made a video with the team at River Cottage to see how they are affected by the weather and the seasons.


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In brief