It’s been 20 years since The Day After Tomorrow hit cinemas – and now scientists have warned that its terrifying plot could soon become reality.
The film depicts a massive “superstorm” triggered by the collapse of the Gulf Stream, which triggers catastrophic natural disasters and ushers in a new Ice Age on Earth.
In the blockbuster, characters are frozen beneath layers of snow, drowned in massive tsunamis, and dramatically crushed by vehicles thrown by tornadoes.
But what would actually happen here in the UK if the Gulf Stream collapsed?
Speaking to MailOnline, experts revealed how Britain would be plunged into a deep freeze – with winter conditions up to 15C colder than usual.
The Gulf Stream is part of a much broader system of currents, officially called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which scientists say could collapse as early as 2025.
Described as “the ocean’s conveyor belt,” the AMOC transports warm water near the ocean’s surface northward from the tropics to the Northern Hemisphere.
Here in the UK, its collapse would cause temperatures to plummet, according to the professor David Thornalley, climate scientist at University College London.
“Sadly, people would die from severe winter storms and flooding, and many old and young people would be vulnerable to the very cold winter temperatures,” he told MailOnline.
Jonathan Bamber, professor of Earth observation at the University of Bristol, agreed that if the AMOC collapsed, the climate of northwest Europe would be “unrecognizable compared to what it is today”.
“It would be several degrees colder so winters would be more typical of Arctic Canada,” he told MailOnline.
Rene van Westen, a climate scientist and oceanographer at Utrecht University, predicts that in summer temperatures in the UK will be around 3°C to 5°C (5.4°F to 9°F) cooler than they are. now.
Meanwhile, winter temperatures can be 18°F to 27°F (10°C to 15°C) lower on average, although certain parts of Britain bear the brunt of this.
For example, if the average annual surface temperature over London fell by 12.6°F (7°C), the temperature change would be greater (up to -21.6°F/-12°C) further north, as in Scotland, van Westen said.
However, the effects in the UK would be smaller compared to other regions, according to Professor Thornalley.
In other parts of the world, a collapse of the AMOC would cause a shift in the tropical rain belt – an area of rainfall that is positioned around the tropics.
‘[This] it would greatly disrupt agriculture and water supplies across large areas of the globe,” Professor Thornalley said.
“Many millions of people would be affected and suffer from drought, famine and floods, in countries already struggling to deal with these issues.
“There would be a large number of climate refugees and geopolitical tensions would increase.”
According to the new study, AMOC recently showed signs of trending towards a crucial “turning point”, which would soon be followed by collapse.
It is uncertain when exactly this turning point might occur, although it could be a matter of decades rather than centuries as previously assumed.
“At the moment we cannot say anything about the distance to an abrupt AMOC collapse (i.e. the Day After Tomorrow scenario),” van Westen told MailOnline.
“Our analysis only suggests that we are heading towards a tipping point.”
In ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, a collapse occurs at AMOC in a matter of days and the fictional climate immediately changes to extreme cold, so the characters are completely unprepared.
Fortunately, such a rapid transition won’t happen in real life, said Penny Holliday, head of marine physics and ocean circulation at the National Oceanography Center in Southampton.
“If AMOC reaches an inflection point, it will happen over several decades at least,” she told MailOnline.
“However, an AMOC slowdown, whether fast-acting or occurring over many decades, will lead to the generation of more extreme and violent weather systems that have the potential to cause deaths and great damage.”