Guest Blog – Cold Weather Alerts 2012

This year as part of our Spread the Warmth campaign we are working with the Met Office, as part of the national Cold Weather Plan, to provide targeted information to the older people who are most at risk when a cold snap is imminent. This guest blog from the Met office sets out how the Cold Weather Plan will work:

Although winter weather and snow can be fun, they are also associated with an increase in illnesses and injuries. Severe cold weather can be dangerous for vulnerable groups such as older people and those with serious illnesses. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls. With this in mind, the Met Office is working in partnership with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency again this year to provide the Cold Weather Alerts that inform the Cold Weather Plan for England.

Our Cold Weather Alert service operates in England from 1 November to 31
March every year. Met Office Cold Weather Alerts are sent to NHS Trusts in England, and Age UK centres, to ensure that staff and resources are ready for any cold weather periods and those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are informed / made aware and prepared. Cold Weather Alerts are also issued on our website, via weather forecasts on TV and radio and also via our Twitter feed.

The alerts are split into five categories:

Level 0

Long-term planning

All year round.

Social and healthcare services undertake planning all year round in order to ensure that they are prepared for the winter months.

 Level 1

Winter preparedness programme

1 November to 31 March.

This is the minimum state of caution during winter months. Social and healthcare services will ensure that there is ongoing awareness and preparedness during this time.

Level 2

Severe winter weather is forecast – Alert and readiness

Mean temperature of 2 °C and/or widespread ice and heavy snow is predicted within 48 hours, with 60% confidence.

This is an important stage for social and healthcare services who will be working to ensure that they are prepared to take swift action to reduce the risk of harm from a period of cold weather.

Level 3

Response to severe winter weather – Severe weather action

Mean temperature of 2 °C or less and/or widespread ice and heavy snow.

This stage alerts social and healthcare services to take specific actions to help protect high-risk groups.

Level 4

Major incident – Emergency response

Central Government will declare a Level 4 alert in the event of severe or prolonged cold weather affecting sectors other than health.

We are pleased to be working in partnership with Age UK to support older people who are potentially at risk to inform them of what to do when Cold Weather Alerts are issued. Age UK effectively helps the Met Office target vulnerable older people during periods of cold weather and as such have helped contribute towards the national Cold Weather Plan.

Met Office figures show that the winter of 2010/11 saw the coldest December in 100 years. Some areas saw temperatures fall as low as -10 and -20 °C overnight. Winter 2011/12 was milder but there were several cold snaps, notably at the start of February 2012.

With up to 27,000 extra deaths each year as a result of cold weather, it is vital that we increase the awareness of the effects of cold weather on health. Our warning service is designed to help people prepare for prolonged spells of cold weather and contributed to our shared aim of reducing the number of extra deaths each year.

More information about the affects of cold weather on health and actions to take in the event of an alert being issued can be found on the Met Office website.

Find out more about Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign and why we need to protect the health of older people in winter at

Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

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