The UK is an island nation, separated from continental Europe by
the English Channel, from Scandinavia by the North Sea, and from
neighboring Ireland (including the territory of Northern Ireland)
by the Irish Sea. The largest island, Great Britain, is a little
more than 900 kilometers (about 600 miles) from north to south,
and encompasses England, Scotland, and Wales.
Extensive groups of smaller islands lie off Scotland's north and
west coasts, including the rocky and remote Shetlands, Orkneys,
and Western Isles. The Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, and the Channel
Islands in the English Channel, are semi-autonomous dependencies,
while the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast, enjoys the status
of a county.
The Atlantic Ocean has a significant effect on Britain's climate.
Although the British Isles are as far north in latitude as Labrador
in Canada, they have a mild climate throughout the year. This is
due to the Gulf Stream, a current of warm water that flows up from
the Caribbean past Britain.
Prevailing southwesterly winds moving across this warmer water bring
moisture and moderating temperatures to the British Isles. The surrounding
waters are moderate with temperatures all year-round, making the
UK warmer in winter and cooler in summer than other areas at the
Great Britain's western coast tends to be warmer than the eastern
coast, and the southern regions tend to be warmer than the northern
regions. The annual temperature in the far north of Scotland is
6° C (43° F), and warmer in the southwestern England about 11° C(52°
In general, temperatures are ordinarily around 15° C (60° F) in
the summer and around 5° C (40° F) in the winter. Temperatures rarely
ever exceed 32° C (90° F) or drop below -10° C (14° F) anywhere
in the British Isles. In general,when the temperature dips below
0° C (32° F),frost are rare.
Winds blowing off the Atlantic Ocean bring clouds and large amounts
of moisture to the British Isles. Average annual precipitation is
more than 1000 mm (40 in), varying from the extremes of 5000 mm
(196 in) in the western Highlands of Scotland to less than 500 mm
(20 in) in the driest parts of East Anglia in England.
The western part of Britain receives much more moisture than the
eastern areas. It rains year-round, and in the winter the rain may
change to snow, particularly in the north. It snows infrequently
in the south, and when it does it is likely to be wet, slushy, and
short-lived. Southern Britain has experienced episodes of drought
in recent years, although historically these are rare occurrences.
Some regard these episodes as indicators of global climatic changes.