Met Office: 2010-2012 Drought In Southern England Worse In 100 Years

  • Date: 09/02/14
  • Met Office, 9 May 2013

The drought was due to a sequence of dry months from winter 2009/10 to March 2012, particularly in the spring, autumn and winter seasons. For England and Wales, this was one of the ten most significant droughts of one to two years duration in the last 100 years. Across southern England, the two-year period April 2010 to March 2012 was the equal-driest such two year period in records from 1910, shared with April 1995 to March 1997.

Monthly rainfall (% of 1981-2010 average) for Lowland England 2010 to 2012

Monthly rainfall (% of 1981-2010 average) for Lowland England 2010 to 2012


The dry spell from January to June 2010 resulted in low reservoir levels and hosepipe bans across north-west England affecting six million consumers. Fortunately, wet weather in July in the north-west and August in the south-east then eased the situation.

The exceptionally dry spring of 2011 had adverse effects on agriculture and the environment, with eastern counties worst affected. Conditions were difficult for both livestock farmers and growers. River and groundwater levels became very low, resulting in widespread environmental impacts. During May 2011, wild fires affected parts of Highland Scotland, Northern Ireland, mid-Wales, Lancashire and Berkshire.

Drought conditions were declared across parts of central and eastern England in early June 2011. Although these were alleviated by the rather indifferent summer of 2011, the dry autumn and winter 2011 resulted in renewed concerns for farming, water resources and the environment generally. In autumn 2011, farmers struggled to harvest crops from the dry ground.

By March 2012, the area declared to be in drought was further extended to include much of southern, central and south-east England. Several water companies in these areas introduced hose-pipe bans in early April 2012. The sustained warmth and dry weather in late March also resulted in wild fires in parts of south Wales, Surrey and the Scottish Borders. Further significant drought impacts through the summer of 2012 were only avoided as a result of exceptional rainfall from April to July 2012.

Weather data

After the exceptionally wet November of 2009, winter 2009/10 was very cold with blocked weather patterns and winds often from an easterly direction.  This meant that western areas received less rainfall than average. A dry spring followed, so that by June and July the areas of concern in terms of drought were principally north-west England and north Wales – which experienced their driest January to June since 1929.

The situation eased during the summer of 2010, which was somewhat wetter than average. However central southern areas experienced a drier than average autumn, and December 2010 was exceptionally cold, with only 30% of average precipitation widely.

Overall, 2010 was a dry year – the driest since 2003 and 11th driest in the series from 1910 for the UK overall. The driest areas were generally in the west, consistent with frequent blocked weather patterns and absence of rain-bearing Atlantic fronts.

The following map shows rainfall for the year 2010 overall.

Rainfall percent of average map for year 2010

Rainfall percent of average map for year 2010

Winter 2010/11 was again significantly drier than average, mainly due to the dry December. This was followed by an exceptionally dry spring – the driest in the series from 1910 across East Anglia and south-east England. It was also the driest spring since 1893 in the England and Wales precipitation series (HadEWP). Some locations recorded less than 25 mm of rain for the whole season.

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