• England and Wales;
  • North Atlantic oscillation;
  • Polar–Eurasian pattern;
  • sea surface temperatures;
  • Palmer drought severity index;
  • seasonal forecasting;
  • river flow;
  • hydroclimatology


Future climate change scenarios suggest enhanced temporal and spatial gradients in water resources across the UK. Provision of seasonal forecast statistics for surface climate variables could alleviate some negative effects of climate change on water resource infrastructure. This paper presents a preliminary investigation of spatial and temporal relationships between large-scale North Atlantic climatic indices, drought severity and river flow anomalies in England and Wales. Potentially useful predictive relationships are explored between winter indices of the Polar–Eurasian (POL) teleconnection pattern, the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO), North Atlantic sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs), and the summer Palmer drought severity index (PDSI) and reconstructed river flows in England and Wales. Correlation analyses, coherence testing and an index of forecast potential, demonstrate that preceding winter values of the POL index, SSTA (and to a lesser extent the NAO), provide indications of summer and early autumn drought severity and river flow anomalies in parts of northwest, southwest and southeast England. Correlation analyses demonstrate that positive winter anomalies of T1, POL index and NAO index are associated with negative PDSI (i.e. drought) across eastern parts of the British Isles in summer (r < 0.51). Coherence tests show that a positive winter SSTA (1871–1995) and POL index (1950–95) have preceded below-average summer river flows in the northwest and southwest of England and Wales in 70 to 100% of summers. The same rivers have also experienced below-average flows during autumn following negative winter phases of the NAO index in 64 to 93% of summers (1865–1995). Possible explanations for the predictor–predictand relationships are considered, including the ‘memory’ of groundwater, and ocean–atmosphere coupling, and regional manifestations of synoptic rainfall processes. However, further research is necessary to increase the number of years and predictor variables from which it is possible to derive rules that may be useful for forecasting. Copyright © 2002 Royal Meteorological Society.