Cold weather alert service

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Cold Health watch/cold weather alert - snowy villageIn the UK there are, on average, 27,000 extra deaths in winter compared to other months of the year – 80% are thought to be due to the cold weather. The cold temperatures can cause physiological effects such as thicker blood, increase in blood pressure and tightening of the airways – making people who already have chronic conditions even more vulnerable.

There is a link between the onset of cold weather and deaths from both heart attacks and respiratory illnesses. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls.

The graph below highlights the importance of the service in this country. We have very poor excess winter mortality rates compared to other countries in Europe. Especially when you consider that Finland has a considerably colder climate than our own.

The aim of the service is to reduce these figures by helping health care organisations to prepare for spells of prolonged cold weather. Our warning will allow you to take the necessary actions to help you and your patients reduce the risks of cold weather and the effects it can have on the more vulnerable.

Excess winter mortality by country


We work with the Department of Health, to provide a Cold Weather Alert Service. This operates, in England, from 1 November to 31 March every year. Met Office alerts are sent to NHS Trusts in England, and AgeUK, to ensure that staff and resources are fully prepared for any cold weather periods and those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are aware and prepared. The alert is also displayed on our website and across other media.

John Hirst, Chief Executive of the Met Office, said, “The Met Office is proud to be able to support the Department of Health, the Health Protection Agency and AgeUK with their winter preparedness. These alerts will put everyone in a better position to respond to forecasts of severe weather, inform those who are most at risk from winter weather and what they can do to keep well.”

The alerts were developed with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency to pinpoint when winter weather will impact on people’s health. Alerts will be issued if mean temperatures are below 2 °C for 48 hours or longer, if there is heavy snow or widespread ice.

To help raise awareness of these alerts, the Met Office and Department of Health have produced a poster, developed jointly with Age UK. The aim of the poster is to tell those at risk from winter weather what they can do to keep warm and well. This will be sent to GP surgeries which have opted in to the publicity register as well as other health related services/sites.

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