UV Levels

Ultraviolet light can damage your skin and eyes

Find out more about UV levels and how ozone anomalies may affect them.

Increased UV Levels

With the fine weather forecast to continue for many parts of the UK until Easter Sunday, you may be keeping a close eye on our UV forecast over the next few days, however there is a possibility that the levels may in fact be higher than our forecast indicates.

This is due to an ozone anomaly affecting the UK at the moment where levels are noticeably lower than normal. This is quite normal and similar events have occurred previously around this time of the year. We are confident that the levels should be no higher than those of a sunny day in June.

The main factors affecting the strength of UV radiation reaching the Earth's surface are:

  • the elevation angle (height) of the sun in the sky
  • the amount of cloud, dust and pollution in the atmosphere
  • the amount of ozone gas in the stratosphere

The presence of ozone in the stratosphere is important because it absorbs much of the UV radiation before it reaches ground level.   Our UV model currently accounts for sun angle and forecast cloud amounts, but uses a "climatological" value (i.e. the average concentration for this time of year over the UK) to estimate the total ozone concentration.

During the dark polar winter, the concentration of ozone in the upper atmosphere over the pole typically decreases because sunlight is a critical ingredient in making ozone in the first place.  At the same time the circulation of air around the North Pole keeps all this low ozone air at higher latitudes near the pole.   In March and April, as the sun moves north, this polar circulation begins to break down and occasionally allows pockets of low ozone air to break away. These can sometimes pass over the UK. In these situations there will be less ozone in the high atmosphere available to absorb the UV compared to the average amount used in our forecasts. This means that the UV index could be higher than currently indicated in our forecasts particularly if forecast cloud amounts are low.  We do round up our UV values but due to this low ozone event, the UV forecast can still be lower than the actual levels.  We are currently exploring ways to incorporate low ozone events such as this into our models to improve our UV forecasts.

It is important that, if you are in an area that is particularly sunny over the next few days, you take steps to ensure that you and your family are protected from these increased UV levels. Take a look at our pages on ultraviolet radiation and sunburn for more advice and information.

Yinka Ebo, Senior Health Information Officer at Cancer Research UK said: "It's great to have such lovely weather, and we all need some sun to keep us healthy, but it's important to stay safe when the sun is strong and take care not to burn. In many cases sunburn actually happens in the UK, often when people are out and about. The sun's rays can be strong enough to burn in the UK from around April to September. You can protect yourself and your family from sunburn by using a combination of shade, clothing and at least SPF 15 sunscreen when enjoying the sunshine."

Last updated: 20 May 2014