What is a drought?

A drought means a prolonged period of shortages in the water supply. It can happen after an unusually low period of rainfall, for an extended period of time.

Without normal levels of rainfall, reserve water levels start to fall and plants, crops and aquatic eco systems can die. If the dry period continues, it can become a drought.

In the UK, the Environment Agency (EA) decides when we are in drought conditions. The EA works together with water companies to reduce the impact of drought for people in affected areas.

The summer of 2022 was notably hot, with maximum temperatures far above average across much of England, and new record highs for Wales and Scotland. A new UK record temperature of 40.3°C at Coningsby in Lincolnshire was recorded on 19 July and the season was generally settled with little rain during most of July and August. Summer 2022 (June-August) registered as the fifth driest for England and Wales in a series from 1836. This combination of dry and hot weather meant that June-August in England was one hottest and driest on record.

Following the driest summer in nearly 30 years, experts are warning that another hot dry spell could see drought conditions return in future years, despite winter rainfall replenishing most water levels.

The natural environment continues to take time to recuperate from the impacts the 2022 summer and the Environment Agency is also focusing ongoing efforts on monitoring how well fish and invertebrates are recovering from drought.

Interesting Facts

Rainfall for summer 2022 across the whole of the UK was low, with less than two-thirds recorded compared to the 1991-2020 average. Many regions, particularly in England, received less than half the average rainfall, including Severn Trent, Yorkshire, Anglian, Thames, Wessex and South West. The Anglian, Thames and Wessex regions all recorded their fifth driest summer in records since 1836. 

Rainfall deficits can also be compared using the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI), a widely-used drought index. The map below shows the rainfall deficits over the three-month period ending in August (SPI-3) during which the majority of England, Wales and south-east Scotland were in the ‘severely dry’ and ‘extremely dry’ categories. Taking a longer view, the SPI-12 period (September 2021-August 2022) also highlights the severe duration and magnitude of the event.

Local Risk Rating

Drought is assessed as Medium risk on our Community Risk Register. Take a look at the table shown in What is Risk? to understand why.

  • Impact: Moderate (3)
  • Likelihood: Medium Low (2)
  • Rating: Medium
Article continues below

Related News

Float to Live

Float to Live

Would you know what to do if you got into difficulty in the water?

Groundwater Roadshows Autumn 2023

Groundwater Roadshows Autumn 2023

Do you suffer from Groundwater flooding in your local area - check out the upcoming groundwater roadshow coming to Wiltshire and Swindon this Autumn

What is the LRF doing about it?

Forecasts by the Environment Agency for 2023 suggested that if winter was dry, with 80% or less of the usual amount of winter rainfall, then large parts of the country would likely be at risk of drought continuing into the next summer. Around two-thirds of water companies would see their supply areas impacted by these conditions. Such a dry winter would risk the start of 2023 reflecting the position at the start of 1976.  

What happens with the weather between winter and summer dictates whether temporary use bans are necessary when the temperature rises. Water companies have a huge role to play but there are things we can all do to minimise the likelihood of summer restrictions. While we can’t rule out another summer like 1976, we are more resilient than we’ve ever been and water companies work hard to ensure those memories of standpipes in the street remain where they belong, in the past. 

We are not waiting for the rain to fall - all sectors are planning for all rainfall scenarios and take necessary action over winter months to improve supplies and resilience for the next year. For example, water companies can apply for drought permits to help refill reservoirs and work together with farmers and others to explore opportunities to support each other and protect the environment.

The EA’s National Framework for Water Resources clearly sets out the challenges we may face in the future as our climate changes and our population grows. It sets targets to help meet the deficit and use water resources in the best way. Together with the government and water companies, the EA is determined to drive forward and intensify work to meet and beat the targets, as well as working collaboratively with farmers and others to deliver secure, sustainable and affordable supplies of water for us and the environment.

How to prepare for a drought and water shortage

Water is a precious resource – it sustains life. While the EA is working with water companies on how to prepare for a drought and water shortage on a national level, we can all do our bit to help conserve water. Cutting back could even help to bring down our bills!

Saving water indoors

  • Make sure your home is leak-free. Take a reading of your water meter.
  • Wait 30 minutes without using any water and then take a second reading. If the reading changes – you have a leak.
  • Repair dripping faucets by changing washers – one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year. Don’t pour water down the drain if there’s another use for it, like watering plants.

 Saving water in the bathroom:

  • Take shorter showers and cut out baths.
  • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low flow version.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for plants.
  • Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth or washing your face.

 Saving water in the kitchen:

  • Only use dishwashers when they’re full. Use the ‘light’ cycle and try not to rinse plates beforehand.
  • Don’t waste water while waiting for it to become hot or cold – capture it for other uses, like watering plants.
  • Use washing machines when they’re full, or set the water level for the size of your load.

 Saving water outside

  • There’s good evidence that grassy lawns grow back when it rains. So, try to live with your brown lawn for now. Shrubs and trees are also a lot more water-tolerant than we think.
  • Consider using a commercial car wash which recycles water instead of washing your own car.
  • Get a water butt. When it does rain, you’ll have a supply especially for your garden and car.


Drought Risk

Drought Risk

LRF in Action

Read More Stories
Exercise Inundation

Exercise Inundation

Its not too often we take part in big exercises across multiple boundaries, but sometimes a great opportunity presents its-self!

Salisbury Rail Crash

Salisbury Rail Crash

Some describe it as the Salisbury Rail Crash, some as the Salisbury. Derailment and some as the Salisbury Train Crash. Whatever label one puts on it, officially it was Operation Zambezi.

Operation London Bridge

Operation London Bridge

Operation Bridges is the collective term for the plans that are put in place for the death of a senior Royal. These are unfortunately something we had been working on for a few years.