Insurers should brace themselves for a claims battering from gale-force winds in the East and South-East of England this winter, warn scientists.

Steven George and Dr Mark Saunders of University College London, predict that from December 1 to March 31 the number of days with gusts reaching "strong gale" and "whole gale" levels will be 20% above average in this part of the country.

During the same period winds will be up to ten per cent above average in Western England and Wales.

In comparison, the 1998/99 winter season saw near-average severe gale day numbers, whilst the destructive 1989/90 winter witnessed 80-90% above average strong gale activity.

The team, who are members of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at UCL, reached their conclusion after developing the first Met Office supported long-range gale forecast for the UK.