The Cold Weather Alert operates in England from the 1 November to 31 March every year, in association with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The alerts give you advanced warning of adverse weather conditions that could have a significant effect on your health and well-being, enabling you to take extra precautions to keep safe and well. However, should thresholds for an alert be reached outside of this period, an extraordinary cold weather alert will be issued and stakeholders are advised to take the usual public health actions.
Alerts are issued on our website and we also send the alerts directly to social and healthcare services in England, and Age UK, to ensure that staff are fully prepared for any cold weather periods, and those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are aware and prepared.
Cold Weather Alert service thresholds
We work closely with the UK Health Security Agency to develop the Cold Weather Plan for England. The Plan, which aims to reduce the impact of severe cold weather on people's health, provides advice for individuals, communities and agencies on how to prepare for and respond to severe cold weather.
The Cold Weather Alert Service, which provides the forecasting alerts, has two thresholds. When thresholds are likely to be met, or are actually met or exceeded, we will issue a cold weather alert. The thresholds are;
- Mean temperature falls below 2 degrees Celsius for 48 hours or longer and / or
- Heavy snow and / or widespread ice
As detailed in the table below, the Cold Weather Alert service has five levels of alert. The first column of the table explains each alert level and what they mean to social and healthcare professionals. The second column details actions for individuals to take in response to each alert level, as laid out in the Cold Weather Plan for England.
You can find advice about what to do before, during and after snow and ice. We also have a host of information and advice about how to prepare for the winter months on our advice pages.
Alert Level 0
Social and healthcare services undertake planning all year round in order to ensure that they are prepared for the the winter months.
What can I do to prepare for winter throughout the year?
- Undertake energy efficiency improvements to your home or encourage your landlord to do so.
- Seek advice from your local authority environmental health department if as a tenant your heating is defective or you cannot affordably heat your home.
- Seek income maximisation advice - to access benefits and other services.
- Seek advice from your fuel supplier or local advice provider if you have fuel debt or difficulties paying for or affording sufficient fuel.
- Ask your fuel supplier if they operate a Priority Service Register for vulnerable customers, what this provides and if you are eligible.
- Have all gas, solid fuel and oil burning appliances (i.e. boilers, heaters, cookers) serviced by an appropriately registered engineer to prevent breakdown. Malfunctioning appliances can release carbon monoxide - a gas which at high levels will kill.
- Have flues and chimneys checked for blockages and swept if needed. Fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm that is EN 50291-compliant.
Alert Level 1
Winter preparedness and action
1 November to 31 March
This is the minimum state of caution during winter months. Social and healthcare services will ensure that there is ongoing awareness and preparedness during this time.
What can I do to prepare for cold weather throughout the winter?
- Find good information about health risks. Try NHS Choices at www.nhs.uk.
- Check your entitlements and benefits.
- Get a flu jab if you are in a high-risk group.
- Protect water pipes from freezing by insulating them - seek energy advice where needed.
- Draught-proof around windows or doors - seek energy advice on this.
- Avoid blocking ventilation points in the home.
- Check that your heating is working properly.
- Make sure that you have access to sufficient fuel supplies for the winter period especially if you rely on oil, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) or wood deliveries. Consider alternative heating measures if required.
- If you are receiving social care or health services ask your GP, key worker or other contact about staying healthy in winter and services available to you.
- Make sure you have a list of emergency numbers in case you need to call for assistance or advice during cold weather.
- Look out for vulnerable neighbours and help them prepare for winter (e.g. with key contact numbers for emergency situations).
- Consider other preventive action you can take (e.g. perhaps volunteering to help implement the community emergency plan).
Alert Level 2
Severe winter weather is forecast - Alert and readiness
Mean temperature of 2 °C and/or widespread ice and heavy snow is predicted within 48 hours, with 60% confidence.
This is an important stage for social and healthcare services who will be working to ensure that they are prepared to take swift action to reduce the risk of harm from a period of cold weather.
What can I do to prepare when severe winter weather has been forecast?
- Maintain regular contact with vulnerable people and neighbours you know to beat risk in cold weather- ensure they have access to warm food and drinks and are managing to heat their home adequately.
- Stay tuned into the UK forecast and ensure you are stocked with food and medications in advance (have deliveries or ask a friend to help).
- Take the weather into account when planning your activity over the following days. Avoid exposing yourself to cold or icy outdoor conditions if you are at a higher risk of cold-related illness or falls.
- If you or someone else is likely to be restricted to one room during the winter period or during a cold spell, make sure that it can be kept at or above recommended temperatures and that you plan what resources you/they need to keep them safe and warm - seek energy advice as necessary.
- Check ambient room temperatures - especially those rooms where disabled or vulnerable people spend most of their time.
- Discuss with friends and neighbours about clearing snow and ice from in front of your house and public walkways nearby, if you are unable to do this yourself.
Alert Level 3
Response to severe winter weather - Severe weather action
Mean temperature of 2 °C or less and/or widespread ice and heavy snow
This stage alerts social and healthcare services to take specific actions to help protect high-risk groups.
What can I do to stay safe and well during severe winter weather?
- Stay tuned into the UK forecast.
- Check daytime room temperature and maintain it at 18 °C (65 °F).
- Check bedroom night-time temperature and maintain it at 18 °C (65 °F) or warmer.
- If you have to go out make sure you dress warmly and wear non-slip shoes. Also tell someone where you are going and let them know when you get back. If you have a mobile phone keep it charged and on you at all times.
- Keep active.
- Dress warmly, eat warm food and take warm drinks regularly.
- Check on those you know are at risk.
- If you are concerned about your own health or welfare or that of others, alert emergency services.
- Clear pavements of ice or snow if you are able and if essential.
Alert Level 4
Major incident - Emergency response
Central Government will declare a Level 4 alert in the event of severe or prolonged cold weather affecting sectors other than health.
What should I do if a major incident has been declared?
- Follow key public health and weather alerts messages as broadcast on the media.