Understanding the British climate

UK compairable temperatures around the world

First published in 2004

Location Temperature Latitude
Average Min. Record Min.
United Kingdom – Plymouth 4°C -8.8°C 51°N
United Kingdom – London 2°C -10°C 52°N
United Kingdom – Edinburgh 1°C -9°C 56°N
Ireland – Valentia Is. 5°C -7°C 52°N
Argentina – Buenos Aires 6°C -6°C 34°S
Australia – Canberra 1°C -10°C 35°S
Australia – Melbourne 6°C -3°C 37°S
Australia – Alice Springs 4°C -2°C 24°S
Australia – Hobart 4°C -2°C 44°S
Brazil – Porto Alegre 9°C -4°C 30°S
Cyprus – Kyrenia 9°C -4°C 35°N
Chile – Santiago 3°C -4°C 34°S
China – Shanghai 1°C -12°C 31°N
China – Chongqing 5°C -2°C 29°N
Ethiopia – Addis Ababa 5°C 0°C 9°N
France (Corsica) – Ajaccio 4°C -6°C 42°N
France – Bordeaux 2°C -12°C 45°N
France – Cherbourg 4°C -6°C 50°N
France – Paris 1°C -12°C 49°N
Greece – Athens 7°C -6°C 38°N
Hong Kong 13°C 0°C 22°N
Israel – Jerusalem 5°C -3°C 32°N
India – Darjeeling 2°C -3°C 27°N
India – New Delhi 7°C -1°C 28°N
Italy – Rome 5°C -5°C 42°N
Italy – Venice 2°C -9°C 45°N
Japan – Tokyo -2°C -8°C 36°N
Japan – Nagasaki 2°C -6°C 33°N
Jordan – Amman 4°C -6°C 31°N
Monaco – Monte Carlo 8°C -1°C 44°N
Mexico – Mexico City 6°C -3°C 20°N
Nepal – Kathmandu 2°C -2°C 27°N
New Zealand – Wellington 6°C -2°C 41°S
New Zealand – Christchurch 2°C -6°C 44°S
Pakistan – Islamabad 2°C -4°C 34°N
Paraguay – Asuncion 12°C -2°C 25°S
Portugal – Braganca 0°C -12°C 42°N
Portugal – Lisbon 8°C -4°C 39°N
Peru – Cajamarca 8°C -4°C 7°S
Saudi Arabia – Riyadh 8°C -7°C 25°N
South Africa – Cape Town 7°C -2°C 36°S
Spain – Madrid 2°C -10°C 40°N
Spain – Barcelona 7°C -7°C 41°N
Turkey – Istanbul 5°C -9°C 41°N
Uruguay – Montevideo 6°C -4°C 35°S
USA – Los Angeles 8°C -2°C 34°N
USA – Miami 16°C -3°C 25°N
USA – New Orleans 10°C -14°C 30°N
USA – San Diego 8°C -4°C 33°N
USA – San Francisco 8°C -3°C 38°N
USA – Seattle 2°C -16°C 47°N
Zimbabwe – Bulawayo 7°C -2°C 20°S

It may surprise many to learn, considering that it seems to be the national pastime to complain about the weather, that the British Isles has, by far the mildest climate for any region in the world situated between the latitudes of 49° & 61° from the equator.

In this table I have selected various temperature examples from around the world. All of these locations have experienced temperatures of freezing or below within recent history. I have also included the approximate latitude for each location.
To understand this, the smaller the latitude number the closer that location is to the equator, the larger the number the further it is away. The only locations listed with latitudes over 50° are those of the British Isles. Latitudes less then about 24° are situated within the tropics.

Over England the mean annual temperature at low altitudes varies from about 8.5°C to 11°C, with the highest values occurring around or near to the coasts of Cornwall. The mean annual temperature decreases by approximately 0.5°C for each 100m increase in height.

The record for the coldest winter ever still stands at -27.2°C recorded at Braemar, Scotland on 11th February 1895 also repeated on the 10th January 1982. The lowest temperature ever recorded at Plymouth in Devon is -8.8°C on 2nd January 1979. At the opposite extreme, the highest winter temperatures are up to 16°C on rare occasions. This past year (2003) yielded the hottest temperature ever recorded in Britain, 38.1°C at Gravesend on 10th August.

To a very large extent, winter temperature in the British Isles is influenced by the surface temperatures of the surrounding sea, which reaches its lowest values in late February or early March. February is thus normally the coldest month near the coast, but inland both January and February are very similar in minimum temperature. It is the sea surrounding the British Isles that is also responsible for keeping our summer temperatures down, as water changes temperature very slowly.

As a general rule the western side of Britain is cloudier, wetter, and milder in winter, with cooler summers than the eastern side. The eastern side of Britain is drier the year round, with a tendency for summer rain to be heavier than that of winter. The east is much colder in winter and warmer in summer. In most winters there is very little snow, but every fifteen or twenty years it may lie for some weeks during a prolonged cold spell.

There’s nothing much consistent about our weather. Summers can be overcast and rainy all summer long, but then some years we experience long spells of cloudless skies. We even suffer from drought every few summers. When we do have sun during the summer months it is amplified by the extremely long days we have, which are a consequence of the northerly latitude; in the north of Scotland in midsummer the day is eighteen hours long and twilight lasts all night. The other consequence of the northerly latitude is the extremely short winter days and long winter nights, which are further darkened by the usually overcast skies. This is particularly noticeable in the southwest, where the warmer seas keep the temperature up and form sea mists to cloak the land.