A Travelers Guide to UK Weather
By Austin Sullivan
If there’s one thing that can be said with absolute certainty about the weather in the United Kingdom is that the weather there is never certain. It’s not like Britons don’t spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about the weather; they do. In fact, discussions about the weather dominate a large part of the daily lives of the average British citizen. And it’s not like Britons don’t invest a lot of money and resources into sophisticated meteorological equipment used to predict the weather; they do. The truth is much of the “science” behind the weather in the United Kingdom has just as much to do with its geographical location as it does meteorological precepts.
The four countries that make up the island nation of the United Kingdom - England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - lie between 50 and 60 degrees north latitude and are classified as having a maritime climate. It is this combination of geography and climate that make the weather in the United Kingdom highly variable and uncertain from day to day. For the average British citizen, the trick for handling the ever-changing weather patterns is learning to be prepared for any and all types of potential weather. For the luggage-laden traveler from abroad, this seemingly simple task is not so easily accomplished.
There are a few general rules that do apply to the weather in the United Kingdom. Although the weather is apt to change frequently, the temperatures usually range from cool to mild and the skies are disproportionately gray and cloudy with either drizzle or intermittent rain showers. In fact, Great Britain averages only one to two hours of sunshine a day in the winter and five to seven hours of sunshine each day in the summer. Also, the southern part of the country is generally warmer and receives more sun than the cooler and cloudier north, while the west is considerably wetter than the east. In addition, the west generally has cooler summers and milder winters as compared to the warmer summers and cooler winters of the east.
Though weather conditions can change abruptly in the United Kingdom, it is rare for severe weather to last for an extended period of time. This is especially fortunate for the unprepared traveler as rapid changes in the weather rarely create any dire emergencies. There are occasions in the mountainous regions of Scotland, Wales, and northern England when sudden snowstorms and driving winds create unsafe conditions for outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers and climbers. Again, these storms are generally brief, and exposed hikers and climbers are encouraged to descend to the valleys where the weather is much more favorable. In fact, heavy snowstorms are not common in the valleys, and the sparse snow that falls in these areas rarely lasts for more than a few days.
So how does a traveler to the United Kingdom prepare for the predictably changing weather? A flexible travel itinerary is perhaps the best way to avoid weather related travel problems. Usually a minor adjustment of one’s travel schedule can mean the difference between a reasonably dry and enjoyable trip versus one fraught with wet clothes and chilled skin. The old adage, “when in Rome do as the Romans do” can also be of some benefit as when altered to state “when in Great Britain do as the British do.” Indeed, the British are an enterprising bunch, learning how to avoid foul weather by simply walking or driving to another locale where the weather is better.
One wonderfully predictable thing about the weather in the United Kingdom is that it doesn’t last very long. Therefore, when the weather is bad, don’t expect it to be endlessly severe. Instead of heavy rains, be prepared for brief showers. The British do and they adjust their weather dependent activities accordingly. In fact, one can get used to the weather in Great Britain without a great deal of effort. Simply stay abreast of local and regional weather forecasts and be flexible with your scheduling. If adjusting your schedule is not an option, simply carry an umbrella and a rain jacket in your luggage and enjoy yourself. It’s going to rain…but not for long.