British temperatures

What factors affect the temperature?

Prevailing winds

Prevailing winds are the dominant wind direction in an area. The temperature of the wind and the amount of rainfall partly depend on where the air has come from. Looking at where the air has come from helps to explain the characteristics of the weather. A large body of air with similar characteristics is called an air mass.

Air masses that affect the British Isles:

Britain is affected by prevailing winds from the North, East, South and West. Arctic winds (cool and wet) come from the north. Polar continental winds (cold and dry) come from the east. Tropical martime (warm and wet) come from the south. Polar maritime (cool and wet) comes from the west.


The sun's heat is more focussed at the centre of the earth so it is colder at the north and south poles.

Locations that are further north receive less concentrated energy from the Sun.

The equator lies directly underneath the Sun and so countries that fall on the equator receive the strongest solar energy. This means that in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun's energy becomes less concentrated and therefore the temperatures become cooler as you travel north.


Temperatures decrease with altitude. There is a 1°C drop in temperature for every increase of 100 m in height. This is because the air is less dense in higher altitudes.

Distance from the sea

Coastal areas are most affected by the sea. The sea takes longer to heat up and cool down than land. So in the winter the sea keeps coastal areas warm and in summer, it cools them down.

Ocean currents

The Gulf Stream moves warm water across the Atlantic Ocean from eastern North America to the west coast of the UK.

The effect that ocean currents have on the temperature depends on whether the ocean current is hot or cold. Britain is on the same latitude as Siberia and parts of Russia, yet it does not suffer the same long, harsh winters. Britain's mild climate is partly due to the Gulf Stream, a large Atlantic Ocean current of warm water from the Gulf of Mexico.