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An overview of UK drought in 2003

Date: 2017-05-30      View counts: 5094    


Throughout much of the UK the five-year period beginning in 1998 was notable for the health of water resources and for a cluster of major flood events.

Heavy rainfall in November and December 2002 heralded further widespread flooding in southern England and, by early 2003, most reservoirs were close to capacity. Groundwater resources were also well above the seasonal average throughout all major aquifers.

Synoptic patterns changed decisively in mid February 2003 heralding extended spells of dry and warm weather which, by the late summer, had established widespread drought conditions for the first time since the mid-1990s. The 2003 drought - which achieved a more extreme expression across large parts of Europe 3,4

  • was an episodic event across much of the UK, being interrupted by a damp late spring and early summer in most regions. Nonetheless, the UK registered its driest February-October period since 1921 (Table 1);

only during the most intense phases of the 1959 and 1976 droughts have comparable, or lower, nine-month rainfall totals been registered in the last 75 years. The drought period was also exceptionally warm with very high evaporative demands and notably dry soil conditions, in the early autumn particularly. However, unlike much of Europe, the drought’s impact across the UK was relatively modest. This paper examines the development of the drought in a hydrological framework, assesses its magnitude and considers the reasons for the UK’s resilience to drought stress during 2003.

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The UK drought of 2003 an overview

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