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Met Office, Severe Weather Warnings

The information below is taken from the official guidance provided on the Met Office website.

MET OFFICE, NATIONAL SEVERE WEATHER WARNING SERVICE

The Met Office provide the UK’s weather warning service.  They are a Trading Fund within the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and operate on a commercial basis. The Public Weather Service provides forecasts for the public to help them make informed decisions about their day-to-day activities.  The National Severe Weather Warning service is part of this, providing advance notice of weather which could affect public safety.   Members of the public can sign up to receive Met Office warnings by email by going to http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/ 

Understanding warnings 

This section introduces the basic concepts of the warning service i.e. when and why warnings are issued; what for; and what they mean. 

Timescales
 

Warnings are available up to five days ahead for the UK. 

Types of warnings
 

There are two types of warnings: 

Weather types 

Warnings and alerts are issued for the following: 

  

Warning level

Warnings and alerts are based on a combination of:

Likelihood – how likely the event is to occur
Impact – the potential impact the expected conditions may have

Colour of Warnings

A combination of likelihood and impact is measured against a matrix to give each warning or alert a colour:

Green implies no severe weather, yellow implies be aware, orange implies be prepared, red implies take action

 

Chief Forecaster’s Assessment

In addition to the warnings, the Chief Forecaster’s Assessment explains why the warning or alert has been given the colour it has, as well as indicating where any uncertainties lie.  Further information and advise can be found on their website at http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/ including details of any current weather warnings in force.

HEAT-HEALTH WATCH SYSTEM

A Heat-Health Watch system operates in England and Wales from 1 June to 15 September each year in association with Public Health England.

The Heat-Health Watch system comprises five levels of planning and response based upon threshold maximum daytime and minimum night-time temperatures. These thresholds vary by region.
 
For the West Midlands region the threshold temperature is 30 °C by day and 15 °C overnight.

Long-term planning includes year-round multi-agency working to reduce the impact of climate change and ensure maximum adaptation to reduce harm from Heatwaves e.g. urban planning by the local authority.   The Public Health Outcomes Framework sets out a number of indicators that can be linked to long-term planning for severe heat and heatwaves and Public Health England will publish data in an online comparative tool that allows Local Authorities to compare themselves with other authorities in the region and benchmark themselves against the England average.  The Director of Public Health, Birmingham City Council will lead planning and monitoring of progress to improve and protect public health against the effects of severe heat and heatwaves.

During the summer months, all organisations (particularly social and healthcare services) need to ensure that awareness and background preparedness are maintained by the measures set out in the Heatwave plan.  Level 1 Summer Preparedness runs from 1 June to 15 September and remains at Level 1 during that time unless/until a higher Level is declared.

This is triggered as soon as the Met Office forecasts that there is a 60 per cent chance of temperatures being high enough on at least two consecutive days to have significant effects on health. This will normally occur 2-3 days before the event is expected.  As death rates rise soon after temperature increases, with many deaths occurring in the first two days, this is an important stage to ensure readiness and swift action to reduce harm from a potential Heatwave.

This is triggered as soon as the Met Office confirms that threshold temperatures have been reached in any one Met Office National Severe Weather Warning Service region or more. This stage requires specific actions targeted at high-risk groups.

This is reached when a Heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside health and social care, such as power or water shortages, and/or where the integrity of health and social care systems is threatened.  At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups and will require a multi-sector response at national and regional levels.

The decision to go to a Level 4 is made at national level and will be taken in light of a cross-Government assessment of the weather conditions, co-ordinated by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (Cabinet Office).

In the event that the Birmingham area is experiencing multiple local events that exacerbate the difficulties of increased heat (for example, widespread and sustained utility failures resulting in severe business continuity pressures) but nationally the country has not moved to Level 4; then the organisations within Birmingham may choose to declare a Major Incident and move to implement actions as if Level 4 had been declared.

Advice: If you want more information about hot weather and your health please visit www.nhs.uk. If you are concerned about your health or somebody you care for, please contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647, or your local pharmacist.  Heatwaves can be dangerous, especially for the very young, very old or those with chronic diseases.

More advice on what to do in a heat wave is available on our heat wave advice pages

COLD WEATHER  HEALTH WATCH SYSTEM

A Cold Weather Health Watch system operates in England from the 1 November to 31 March every year, in association with Public Health England.

The cold weather health watch comprises four levels of response based on cold weather thresholds. The thresholds have been developed to trigger an alert when severe cold weather is likely to significantly affect people’s health. The alerts take account of temperature along with other winter weather threats such as ice and snow.

Threshold Values
There are three different thresholds for the cold weather health watch. Only one of the three thresholds needs to be breached for a warning to be issued.
The thresholds were developed, working closely with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency, to pinpoint when winter weather will affect people’s health.
The thresholds are:

 

This emphasises that to build resilience for the coming winter requires long lead-in planning times. This level of alert is aiming to emphasise the need to prepare for, adapt to and mitigate climate change and develop long-term sustainable approaches which seek to ensure behaviour change across the general population, community and health care professionals.  Level 0 denotes that these are actions that should be taken throughout the year, and certainly before Level 1 starts for winter preparedness at the start of winter.

This in force throughout the winter from 1st November to 31st March and indicates that preparations should be in place to protect health and ensure service continuity in the event of severe cold and winter weather.

This is declared when the Met Office forecasts a 60% risk of severe winter weather in one or more defined geographical areas in the days that follow.  This usually occurs 2 to 3 days ahead of the event.  A Level 2 alert would be issued when a mean temperature of 2oc is predicted for at least 48 hours, with 60% confidence, and/or widespread ice and heavy snow are forecast, with the same confidence.

This is issued when the weather described in Level 2 actually happens.  It indicates that severe winter weather is now occurring, and is expected to impact on people’s health and on health services.

This is reached when a period of cold weather is so severe and/or prolonged that it effects extend outside of health and social care and may include, for example, transport or power or water shortages; and/or where the integrity of health and social care systems is threatened.  At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, not just in high-risk groups, and will require a multi-sector response at national and regional levels.  The decision to go to a Level 4 is made at national level and will be taken in light of a cross-Government assessment of the weather conditions, coordinated by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (Cabinet Office).  A level 4 alert is a judgement made in light of this cross-Government assessment and, depending on the severity of the conditions and impact, could be declared over any time period.

In the event that the Birmingham area is experiencing multiple local events that exacerbate the difficulties of severe weather (for example, widespread and sustained utility failures resulting in severe business continuity pressures) but nationally the country has not moved to Level 4; then the organisations within the Birmingham may choose to declare a Major Incident and move to implement actions as if Level 4 had been declared.

Advice: If you want more information about how cold weather can affect your health please visit www.nhs.uk. If you are concerned about your health or somebody you care for, please contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647, or your local pharmacist. Prolonged periods of cold weather can be dangerous, especially for the very young, very old or those with chronic diseases.

For more information on how to prepare for cold weather, snow and ice visit our Snow and Low Temperatures advice pages.

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