Our Cold Weather Alerts keep health and social care professionals informed about winter weather conditions that may impact on peoples health
The effects of severe cold weather on health can be significant and symptoms often go unrecognised. In 2010/11, there were 23,700 more deaths in England between the months of December 2010 and March 2011 than were observed over the rest of the year.
Cold temperatures can cause physiological effects such as thicker blood, increase in blood pressure and tightening of the airways - making people who already have conditions such as chronic lung disease and asthma even more vulnerable. People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) also have a significantly increased risk of ill-health and hospitalisation during periods of cold weather, as well as periods where there are high levels of circulating respiratory infections. We provide a COPD-related forecast alert service through GP surgeries across the UK, this service is known as Healthy Outlook.
As you are already aware, there is a strong link between the onset of cold weather and deaths from both heart attacks and respiratory illnesses. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls.
We are working in partnership with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency again this year to provide the Cold Weather Alerts that inform the Cold Weather Plan for England. The Cold Weather Plan and associated alerts help to inform key responders and carers about the likelihood of cold weather, raise awareness amongst the public about the effects of cold weather, reduce avoidable winter mortality and alleviate pressures on health and social care services during the winter months.
Our Cold Weather Alert service operates in England from 1 November to 31 March every year. Met Office Cold Weather Alerts are sent to NHS Trusts in England, and Age UK, to ensure that staff and resources are fully prepared for any cold weather periods and those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are aware and prepared. Cold Weather Alerts are also issued on our website, via weather forecasts on TV and radio and also via our Twitter feed.
John Hirst, Chief Executive of the Met Office, said: "With the success of last year's programme, the Met Office is proud to be able to support the Department of Health, the Health Protection Agency and Age UK once again with their winter preparedness. These alerts will put everyone in a better position to respond to forecasts of severe weather and inform those who are most at risk from winter weather what they can do to keep well."
Alerts will be issued if the mean temperature, in a particular region, will be at 2 °C or less for a period of 48 consecutive hours, or if a Weather Warning has been issued for heavy snow or widespread ice through our National Severe Weather Warning Service.
To help raise awareness of these alerts, the Met Office has produced a poster in partnership with the NHS. The poster informs people about the alerts and signposts them to further information about cold weather and health. GP surgeries, health trusts and other interested parties are able to request printed copies of the poster by contacting our Health Team.