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United Kingdom (UK) Climate
The climate of Great Britain, influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, is temperate and humid, with relatively small temperature variations between winter and summer. The weather, however, is variable, with frequent changes from day to day or even in the same day.
The average temperatures at sea level are above freezing (0 °C or 32 °F) also in January, when they hover around 4/5 °C (39/41 °F) in the main cities, and reach 6 °C (43 °F) in the south-western tip of the country; in July, they range from 12 °C (53.5 °F) in northern Scotland to 18.5 °C (65.5 °F) in the London area.
Precipitation is frequent throughout the country, but it’s more frequent and abundant in the north and in the west. For example, in western Scotland, rainfall reaches 1,500 millimeters (60 inches) per year, and there are about 200 days with rain (that is, more than one day out of two!), while in Manchester, in western England, 800 mm (31.5 in) of rain fall in 141 days, and in Plymouth, on the southwest coast, 1,000 mm (40 in) of rain fall in 142 days. The southeast is less rainy: in London, only 600 mm (23.5 in) of rain fall in a year, however, distributed in no less than 109 days.
In Scotland, the weather is very cool, damp, rainy, and windy for most of the year.
Precipitation is more abundant on the western side and on the highlands, where it even exceeds 1,500 mm (60 in) per year, while it’s less abundant on the eastern side, where it drops to 600/700 mm (24/28 in): so Glasgow is rainier than Edinburgh. However, the rains are common everywhere, and even in the summer months, there are more than ten days of rain per month on average.
The wind is more common in the western and northern side and on the islands: it’s no coincidence that the main cities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh) lie in the eastern or southern sides, which are relatively sheltered. However, when the most intense low pressure systems occur, the wind can be strong everywhere.
The Gulf Stream makes winter fairly mild, at least in comparison with other countries located at the same latitude: the average temperature in January and February is around 4/5 °C (39/41 °F). However, the northern location makes Scotland prone to cold winds from Greenland, which can bring snow showers and frosts, especially on the highlands, but these periods don’t usually last long, and after a short time, the westerlies start to blow again.
In spring, the temperature rises very slowly, so that it’s still cold in April, when the maximum temperature is around 10/12 °C (50/54 °F). In return, spring is the sunniest season, albeit slightly.
Summer is very cool: the average maximum temperature in July and August ranges from 14 °C (57 °F) on the Shetland Islands, to 15/16 °C (59/61 °F) in the north-west, to 19 °C (66 °F) in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Night temperatures are around 11/12 °C (52/53 °F). In Scotland, even the summer is a pretty rainy season, and sunshine in mid-summer (July and August) is even rarer than in early summer (June).
Autumn is cold, windy and rainy. The wind in Scotland is frequent, and sometimes can be very strong, especially in autumn and winter.
In the Highlands, the weather is obviously colder, and snowfalls often occur in winter. Snow cover duration is remarkable because in the other seasons the temperature is not much higher. The wind in the Highlands is also more intense and frequent, as generally happens in mountainous regions.
In Wales, the climate is cool and cloudy for most of the year, but in winter it’s milder than in Scotland, in fact, it’s more sheltered from polar air masses from the north, but also from continental air masses that may affect England. The average temperature in January and February is around 5 °C (41 °F). Summer is cool, especially in the northern part: the average in July and August is around 15 °C (59 °F) in the north and around 16/17 °C (61/63 °F) in the south; the average maximum temperature reaches 20/22 °C (68/72 °F) in the southernmost cities located in the Bristol Channel (Swansea, Cardiff).
In Wales too, the sky is often cloudy, however, the sun shines for about 6 hours per day from May to August (which, considering the length of the days, are not many).
The temperature of the sea in Wales is a bit higher than in Scotland, but it remains very cool, if not cold, in summer.
In England, the climate is temperate, and it’s cool for most of the year.
Here are the average temperatures of Liverpool, located in the west.
In England, rainfall is more abundant in the north-west and in the south-west, where it exceeds 1,000 mm (40 in) per year.
In Liverpool, precipitation is at an intermediate level, in fact, it amounts to 835 mm (33 in) per year. Here is the average precipitation.
Winter in England is cold and cloudy, sometimes foggy, sometimes windy. The average temperatures in this season don’t vary much from north to south: in January, they are around 4/5 °C (39/41 °F) in Newcastle upon Tyne as in Birmingham, and also in the countryside around London. In Liverpool and Manchester, the average temperatures are similar as well.
In fact, the southernmost regions are the farthest from the Pole, but they are also the closest to the European mainland, from which cold air masses of Russian origin can arrive during winter. For this reason, the east side (which includes London) is also more prone to snowfall. However, these snowy or freezing periods are typically short-lived; in fact, here too, as in Scotland, the westerlies tend to come back after a short time.
As we have said, cold air masses reach Scotland from the north and England from the east, so it’s not surprising that, in addition to Wales, the mildest area is south-western England(Devon and Cornwall), where the average temperature in January and February hovers around 6 °C (43 °F, see Plymouth). Here, snowfalls and frosts are rare.
On the tip of Cornwall, on the island of Scilly and the islets of the English Channel (see Jersey) there are microclimates in which the absence of frost allows for the growth of subtropical plant species. On the other hand, in the south-west, which is so much exposed to Atlantic currents, rainfall is more abundant.
Here is the average precipitation in Plymouth.
Spring in England is very cool, and the temperature increases slowly; rainfall is still frequent, but it’s not as abundant as in autumn and winter.
Late spring is the sunniest period of the year, despite the almost daily presence of clouds; the wind also reduces its intensity and frequency. In May, the country is covered with flowers.
June is a nice month: the days are long, nature is in bloom (also thanks to the passion of the British for gardening), and the temperatures are pleasant. However, there can be, as always, rain and showers.
Unlike in winter, during summer, the temperature increases from the north-west to the south-east, so the highest temperatures are found in the area of London. In summer, daytime temperatures range from 18 °C (64 °F) in Newcastle, to 19 °C (66 °F) in Manchester, to 20 °C (68 °F) in Birmingham and Cambridge, and to 23 °C (73 °F) in the London area. In the south-west, which during winter was the mildest area, summer is cool: lows are around 13 °C (55 °F) and highs around 20 °C (68 °F).
Even in summer, the weather is variable across the country, so that it can change from day to day, or several times during the same day. Southern England is the area most subject to hot periods, when currents from Spain can bring a taste of Mediterranean summer, and the temperature may even reach 28/32 °C (82/90 °F). These periods, however, do not occur every year, and usually, they only last a few days.
During summer, the rains are more frequent and abundant in the north than in the south: while in Manchester there are on average 12 days with rainfall in July, in London they are “only” 8.
In Northern England, the sky is often cloudy: in Liverpool and Manchester, the sun shines at most for 6 hours a day from May to July; it goes a bit better in the south, where in some areas (see London, Brighton), it reaches 7 hours. Here are the average sunshine hours per day in Manchester.
The best time to visit Britain is summer, from June to August: it’s a very cool season in Scotland, and progressively warmer as you head south; it’s quite rainy everywhere, but also relatively sunny.
In Scotland, in July and August, there is an increase in rainfall and a decrease in sunshine: here, the sunniest month is June, which, however, is cooler than the two midsummer months.
In the whole of Britain, June is a good month: the days are very long, the country is in bloom, there’s no shortage of rain and clouds, but they alternate with sunny spells. In the month of May too (which is very cool, and sometimes even cold, especially in the north and in Scotland), the weather is often acceptable, at least in the second half.
The mid-summer season (July-August) is pleasantly warm in the center and south, and between one shower and another, the sun can come out.
As mentioned, the sea is cold even in summer: in August, the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean reaches just 12 °C (53.5 °F) in the Shetlands, 13/14 °C (55/57 °F) in Scotland, and 17 °C (63 °F) in the English Channel and in Cornwall.
Since the climate of Great Britain is not characterized by weather extremes, there is no season to be absolutely avoided, although it must be said that from November to January, the days are very short and the sky is often gray or cloudy, moreover, in winter, from December to February, but sometimes also in November and March, there may be cold periods, with snow and frost.
What to pack
In winter: pack warm clothes, such as a sweater, a coat, a wind jacket, and a raincoat. For Scotland and the Highlands, and for cold periods: pack gloves, a hat, and a scarf.
In summer: pack clothes for spring and autumn, a jacket and a sweater, and a raincoat or umbrella. In the area of London, it’s more likely that in some days you can wear light clothing, a T-shirt and shorts.