Future summers in the UK could last longer with an increased risk of drought, according to research from the Met Office.
The study found that “summer-like” weather patterns will lead to warmer and drier autumns, as well as hotter and drier summers from the mid-2020s onwards.
This weather pattern could increase the risk of drought, said Daniel Cotterill, the lead scientist behind the study.
“Using climate models and the UK Climate Projections, our research found that the largely ‘summer-like’ weather patterns – bringing drier conditions – will begin to extend into the start of autumn,” he said.
“And weather patterns such as those dominated by large low-pressure systems will tend to occur slightly less in autumn in future.
“Although we don’t expect to see this shift in pattern imminently, a key finding from this study is that from the mid-2020s warmer and drier autumns following hotter and drier summers could increase drought risk.”
The study also shows that while the UK is likely to see less rainfall in autumn on average, there will also be an increased likelihood of extreme rainfall events between the drier periods.
It comes as all of south-west England is in drought after some of the driest conditions in nearly 90 years, the Environment Agency said.
The Wessex area – which includes Bristol, Somerset, Dorset, south Gloucestershire and parts of Wiltshire – has been declared in drought status.
Eleven of the 14 Environment Agency areas in England are in drought status, with the rest of the South West – Devon, Cornwall and Isle of Scilly – already designated as being in drought earlier this month.
While the Wessex area has had some rainfall over the last two weeks, it has not been enough to compensate for the long dry period in recent months.
The drought is resulting in low river flows, hitting the environment in and around rivers, the Environment Agency said, adding it would work with companies and individuals with licences to abstract water and with the public to lower demand and reduce the impact on nature.
Chris Paul, the Environment Agency’s area drought lead, said: “Despite some heavy rain over the past two weeks, it has not been enough to refill our rivers and aquifers.
“River levels across our Wessex area are exceptionally low – many showing the lowest flows on record.
“This places incredible strain on local wildlife and this is why we are moving to drought status. We are prioritising our local operations to minimise impacts on the environment.”
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It comes after the driest July since 1935 across England, with monthly rainfall for the majority of river catchments exceptionally low for the time of year.
The Environment Agency said there have been five consecutive months of below-average rainfall across all geographic regions in England and above-average temperatures.
River flows, groundwater and reservoir levels all decreased during July.
The extremely hot dry conditions have hit crops, fuelled wildfires and led to a large increase in demand for water, with impacts on the environment including rivers and ponds drying out and fish and other wildlife dying or suffering.
Six water companies – Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, South West Water and Welsh Water – have implemented or announced hosepipe bans as part of efforts to tackle the drought.
But firms have come under fire for high rates of water leaking from the network, profits and executive pay, and for sewage pouring into rivers and the sea in the recent heavy rainfall.
Experts have said sufficient rainfall over the autumn and winter would replenish rivers, lakes, groundwater and reservoirs to normal levels by spring, but planning should begin now on how to manage shortfalls next year if the coming months are dry.
Drought is also gripping much of Europe, fuelling forest fires, drying up rivers and devastating crops.
Almost half of the 27-nation EU is under drought warning, with conditions worsening in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain.