The unique climate of the UK

The UK experiences a temperate maritime climate which brings mild winters, warm summers, and high total rainfall.

UK climate is influenced by:

  • Latitude - higher latitudes are colder. With the UK between 50 and 59 degrees north, it receives cooler temperatures than countries in lower latitudes.
  • Continentality - in winter, the sea insulates the islands as it cools more slowly than the land and this helps to keep the UK warmer than most other countries of the same latitude. Coastal areas are warmer than inland areas in winter, because the sea retains heat and warms up the land. But in summer, areas nearer to the sea are cooler because the sea takes longer to heat up and so cools the land down.
  • Altitude - higher areas of the UK are cooler, and also receive more precipitation.
  • Prevailing winds - prevailing winds in the UK blow from the south west, across the Atlantic Ocean. This brings warm, moist air which helps to produce mild and wet winters. The west side of the UK gets more rainfall (mainly frontal and relief rain) than the east, which is in the rain shadow of the higher land on the west coast.
  • Air masses - although the prevailing wind is from the south west, there are four directions from which air travels to the UK. Each wind direction brings different climate conditions.
NE: Arctic - cold winters & summers, steady rain. SE: Continental - cold winters, warm summers, dry. SW: Tropical - mild winters & summers, rain. NW: Maritime - mild winters, cool summers, heavy rain.How wind influences the UK's climate
  • Ocean currents - the North Atlantic Drift (or Gulf Stream) ocean current flows northwards across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing warm water from the Gulf of Mexico. This results in milder winter temperatures in the west of the UK.
  • Air pressure - the UK lies in a zone of low pressure. Low-pressure systems containing lots of rainfall form over the Atlantic Ocean and approach the UK from the west. Therefore, the west side of the UK is wetter than the east. High-pressure systems (anticyclones) bringing drier weather also form over the Atlantic Ocean, and approach the UK from the west. This combination produces a mix of wet and dry conditions for the UK.