Drought warnings as lack of rainfall prompts action

The UK Environment Agency has called on the population to conserve waters as the driest February in 30 years in England has raised concerns over water supplies in the summer months.

According to provisional figures from the Met Office, rainfall was in short supply in February, with high pressure dominating much of the month and no UK nation reaching its long-term average rainfall for February.

England had its eighth driest February in a series which goes back to 1836, and its driest since 1993, with on average just 15.3mm of rain falling in the month.

Areas to the south and east were particularly dry, with Bedfordshire, Greater London and Essex all recording figures to put the month in their respective top five driest Februarys on record. At a county level, Essex had the least amount of rainfall with 3.5mm falling in the month, just 8% of its average.

That dry theme was replicated across the majority of the UK with Wales and Northern Ireland seeing significantly less rainfall than average. Wales had 26.2mm of rain (22% of average) and Northern Ireland 31.3mm (34% of average). Scotland was still dry, though not to the same extent as further south with 97mm of rain (69% of average).

The lack of rainfall meant the UK saw less than half of its average rainfall for the month, with 43.4mm falling, just 45% of average.

It has prompted concerns for the summer months with the Environment Agency warning that the country needed to conserve its water.

Environment Agency executive director and National Drought Group chair John Leyland said: “While most water levels have returned to normal across much of the country, low rainfall in recent weeks highlights the importance of remaining vigilant.

“We cannot rely on the weather alone, which is why the Environment Agency, water companies and our partners are taking action to ensure water resources are in the best possible position both for the summer and for future droughts.

“As ever, it is important that we all continue to use water carefully to protect not just our water resources; but our precious environment and the wildlife that depends on it.”

The dry conditions were accompanied by mild temperatures for the time of year, with the UK having its joint fifth mildest February since records began in 1884.

The UK’s average mean temperature for the month was 5.8°C, failing to top the record 6.8°C figure set in 1998.

Scotland had its third mildest February on record, with average mean temperatures of 5.1°C, while Northern Ireland had its fourth mildest, with an average mean temperature of 6.6°C. While England and Wales were milder than average, it wasn’t enough to trouble the top records for the month.

Sunshine was near-average for the UK, though Northern Ireland was much duller than average with 39.1 hours of sunshine in the month, just 58% of its average. However, good levels of sunshine in the south and east means the UK ends the month with 70.2 hours of sunshine, which is 98% of the average.

The sun shone for much of meteorological winter (December, January and February), with the south and east particularly sunny and sunshine figures closer to average for Northern Ireland and Scotland.

For England, it was the third sunniest winter on record in a series which goes back to 1919, with 223.2 hours of sunshine, which is 21% more than average.

The dry February has led to a drier than average season, with figures remarkably close to average at the end of January. The UK had 280.1mm of rain in the winter, which is 81% of the long-term average, though doesn’t make it a significant season in terms of record figures.

Winter was also slightly milder than average, with an average mean temperature of 4.3°C, which is 0.2°C above average. That’s despite a particularly cold start to December, which saw temperatures drop to -17.3°C at Braemar on 12 December. In contrast, the highest temperature recorded this winter was 17.2°C at Pershore, on 17 February.