Fears grow of summer droughts in England after driest February for 30 years

Only 15.3mm of rain fell across England in February. Credit: PA

By James Gray, ITV News Multimedia Producer

Provisional figures from the Met Office have revealed that February 2023 was the driest in England for 30 years, raising concerns of another summer of droughts.

After a wet start to January which brought widespread flooding, particularly to southern parts of the country, little rainfall was recorded last month.

England received less than a quarter (23%) of its average rainfall for the month, with just 15.3mm falling.

Records show that it was England's eighth driest February since 1836, with Bedfordshire, Greater London and Essex all recording figures to put the month in their respective top five driest Februarys on record.

Dr Raj Tiwari, an assistant professor in climate change and data science, at the University of Hertfordshire, told ITV News that a dominant high pressure weather system over the UK, since the middle of January, had helped to create the dry conditions.

He said: "When you have a high pressure system that dominates over the UK that will help to repel rain inducing systems across much of the country.

"Whereas, in other parts of the UK at certain places you will get rainfall because at those areas those high pressure systems are not dominant."

Despite heavy rainfall in January, some reservoirs in south west (Colliford and Roadford) and east (Hanningfield, Abberton and Grafham) England have retained stubbornly low water stores.

Some reservoirs in England have struggled to recover from last summer's drought. Credit: Environment Agency

Meanwhile, only four of the 14 regions monitored by the Environment Agency (EA) in England are now considered to have a normal level of water resources, while two regions - East Anglia and Devon, and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly - still remain in drought status.

It comes after scorching temperatures placed parts of England into drought status last year, bringing with it water restrictions for millions of people.

Dave Throup, a former EA manager, told ITV News that February's dry spell was "very unusual" for this time of year, describing the pattern of rainfall at the start of 2023 as "bordering on the extreme".

"This is what we've expected and what we've been predicting from climate change for quite a long time," he said.

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"The overall averages might not have changed very much, but what we're seeing is sort of violent swings between wet and dry and, in other parts of the world, between hot and cold."

Initial long-term weather outlooks from the Met Office for March are of largely dry conditions, with the theme of low rainfall expected to continue.

Were the forecasts to come true, Dr Tiwari cautioned it is "highly likely" to lead another summer of droughts, a view echoed by Mr Throup.

Members of the EA and National Drought Group issued a similar warning at the start of February, suggesting that another hot and dry spell could see drought conditions return later this year.

Last summer saw parts of England placed under drought status. Credit: PA

EA Executive Director and National Drought Group Chair John Leyland said: "While most water levels have returned to normal across much of the country, low rainfall in recent weeks highlights the importance of remaining vigilant.

"We cannot rely on the weather alone, which is why the Environment Agency, water companies and our partners are taking action to ensure water resources are in the best possible position both for the summer and for future droughts.

"As ever, it is important that we all continue to use water carefully to protect not just our water resources; but our precious environment and the wildlife that depends on it."