Since the Met Office introduced its system of naming storms at the beginning of the autumn season in 2015 the effects felt in the capital have been fairly limited.
Introduced partly in response to the devastation caused by the St Jude Storm in October 2013 every wind storm since has failed to live up to the hype, at least at a local scale.
Of course many storms have caused major disruption elsewhere, not least Storm Desmond, floods from which devastated Glenridding in the Lake District.
But closer to home many of these storms have been marked simply by a higher than average ‘wind run’, the number of revolutions of this weather station’s anemometer.
The windiest days in this locality coincided with Storms Gertrude, Fionn and Erik but these were minnows compared with St Jude and the most recent devastating storm in living memory, the Great Storm of 1987.
The graphs below also highlight the ongoing problem of naming storms in that some of the windiest days in this area occurred when there was no named storm.
The windiest day in the dataset was June 6th 2017 when a low pressure system saw Force 9 winds recorded in the Channel. Locally the day was very blustery and trees that were in full leaf were blown down.
Earlier this winter there were many reports on how good snowfall had been in Austria. But on closer inspection it was clear that the weather pattern at that time only favoured certain resorts.
In contrast with last year the totals I’ve used in my cross section of the range don’t look that exciting; Bourg-St-Maurice, the jumping off point for Savoie resorts including Les Arcs and Val d’Isere, has recorded 96mm of precipitation this season, in stark contrast to the 433mm it recorded last season between Christmas Day and February 5th.
In Switzerland Arosa, a resort well placed to pick up snow from any direction, has recorded the same this season as last. Totals in Davos are well down on last season. Similarly San Bernardino has recorded about half the amount of precipitation than it did last season. Its location toward the southern side of the range has been sheltered from the prevailing winds this year. That said it did enjoy a big dump last week.
Going further south and east St Vallentin in Italy has recorded about a third what it did at this stage last season.
Mean temperatures overall are about 2C to 3C lower than they were last season.
It is 21 years ago this month that London and most of the southern half of the UK experienced a remarkably warm spell of weather during what had been a mild winter.
The spell, which saw the record warmest February day on the 13th (19.7C), satisfies the Met Office’s old criteria of a heatwave whereby the maximum temperature is 5C or more above average for five consecutive days.
While these spells are fairly common in summer they are very rare during a meteorological winter. During the last 60 years the only other periods to have experienced a heatwave in winter are December 1966 and 2015.
Weather charts for this week look remarkably similar though, according to the latest forecasts, values will be nothing like they were in 1998.
During a miserably cold and wet stroll around the golf course in Wanstead Park I happened upon the remains of Wanstead House – basically a deep excavation where the basement and kitchens once were.
As a freezing cold mixture of rain, sleet and snow fell, gradually thawing the remnants of last night’s snow, I wondered what the weather was like when this magnificent building last stood. Luke Howard’s entry in The Climate of London revealed that the weather on this day 200 years ago was remarkably similar.
Wanstead House around 1819 just before its destruction
February 1st 2019
As I stood and tried to imagine what the house must have looked like it occurred to me that 200 years is a mere blip in time in the history of the Earth. People come and go, buildings rise and fall but the weather goes on and on.
* There’s a fascinating extract on Wanstead from James Dugdale’s The New
British Traveller (1819) that you can find here.
** This video clip shows the site where Wanstead House once stood.
My winter forecast went a bit awry in December – I predicted a mean of +0.8C, the outcome was +1.7C. January has been much better, I predicted -1.2C, the outcome is -1.1C! Also… “And another cold spell end of January into the first week of February?”
For February I predicted a mean of -1.7C. The current pattern to continue and signs on the EC of a more robust cold spell with air supplied by a Scandinavian high?
More than three weeks have now past since the polar vortex split on January 1st.
London’s weather has turned colder and there’s even been a (small) fall of snow but the negative anomalies recorded so far are less than those experienced during the ‘Beast from the East‘ events last March.
In the graph below I have plotted the mean anomalies since the day of the PV split against the mean anomalies recorded from the day of the PV split in February 2018.
The effect this year is much less pronouced so far: over the last 24 days the average mean anomaly has been -0.7C, compared with -2.1C last February/ March.
The NOAA anomaly map for the week of January 13th-19th shows much of NW Europe has experienced a positive anomaly with any serious cold restricted to Norway and Sweden and Greece.
It has been mentioned that the variables with this SSW are very similar to 2004. Using the anomalies generated after the 2004 event resulted in the graphic below.
Taking it at face value would suggest that two more snow events could be possible at the beginning and middle of February – a cold but not severe pattern currently reflected in the models – but forget any repeat of last year’s Beast from the East.
Five years ago I blogged about the lack of snow at the midway point through winter. This winter there has been a similar total lack of snowfall though this time it is benign anticyclonic conditions that have characterised the past 45 days rather than the raging zonality of the winter of 2013/14 which ended completely snowless in this area.
A look at the statistics reveals that the midway point of winter is the mildest for 3 years and the 6th mildest since 1960. There has also been around half the rainfall that we had to this point in 2018. Sunshine is similar and below average.
Since December 1st, Wanstead has recorded just 7 air frosts – 5 fewer than last year. The coldest night was just -2.5C. The current mean temperature this winter to January 14th is 6.9C with rainfall 60.6mm.
Further scrutiny of stats for the Wanstead area reveal few years were similar to this winter. Using my method for finding patterns stretching back over 50 years to forecast this winter I picked out years that were +/- 10% of the 2018/19 rainfall total. From these I then weeded out the seasons where the mean was within +/- 10% of the this year. This gave a list of three winters with similar temperature and rainfall.
The other winters weren’t anything special with ‘snow lying’ days below the median for this area of six.
As I write there are signs that the weather is going to turn colder this week. Whether it will be cold enough for snow remains to be seen though the ECM model is hinting at a rise in pressure around Greenland. A situation that *could* be conducive for something colder long term.
In summary, the probability at this point of at least one fall of snow before the end of February could be put at 100 per cent. Whether it will be abundant or merely a dusting is impossible to tell.
Elsewhere in the UK it has been similarly lacking in snow. During a visit to Fort William at the weekend locals told me that there has been no significant snow since October / November and that even frosts were few and far between. The lifts around Nevis Range looked forlorn against a green backdrop. And it wasn’t until I got to the summit of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor that I saw any of the white stuff.
Strong winds, hail, sleet and snow were experienced in abundance when I climbed the UK’s highest mountain at the weekend.
To give us a chance of making it to the 1,345m summit and back we left Fort William in darkness. Heavy rain that had greeted our arrival the previous day had abated but the spooky balminess of this early January remained; a local thermometer was reading 11C at 7am!
A gorgeous purple hue tinged the early morning dawn as we began our ascent though it was not long before the rain returned.
Proceeding upwards, after about an hour, we passed another climber who was walking down, having abandoned his attempt because of ‘atrocious conditions’. “I’m more of an ice and snow climber,” he explained, telling us how wonderful conditions had been in Zakopane, Poland, just a few days previous.
Unperturbed we pushed on soon making it to the tarn – the Lochan Meall an t’Suiche. We had ideas to climb the Ben via the Carn Mor Dearg arête but a wrong turn and conscious that time was not on our side we turned back and continued on the pony track / tourist route. Just over two hours in we passed the ford, just below which the route begins zig-zagging its way up to the summit.
By now the rain started to get heavier. At around 900m it turned to hail. It was at this point that we passed another climber: “It’s snowing on the summit but you don’t need crampons,” he exclaimed before hurrying on down. We passed a further dozen or so walkers on our way to the summit; all of them looked like they couldn’t wait to get off the mountain. The rain was now a wintry mix of hail, sleet, snow and frozen rain – painful to walk into in the strengthening wind.
As the peak started to level out around 1,150m snow was now beginning to settle on the rime that had built up on the cairns; we’d got what we’d come for! It was here, however, that I realised my waterproof trousers weren’t so waterproof. First dampness then rivulets of water began flowing into my boots.
The peak was now well fogged in and for the first time I felt a bit uneasy, conscious of the fact that the wind was also still gathering strength. Regardless, my climbing pal continued to press on just ahead of me. Poor visibility concealed the summit which was still another 100m or so higher. Although he’d previously climbed the Ben (in perfect summer conditions) he’d forgotten exactly where the trig point was and was careful to observe the cornices to the side, so lethal to inexperienced walkers who fall through them every season.
We made a beeline for the bothy close to the trig point; my climbing partner, who was also trying to deal with waterlogged boots, was keen to change socks. At that point a gust of wind caught the bothy door – it smashed open leading to the rime that had built up on the hut to fall to the ground. I was starting to feel well out of my comfort zone and I persuaded him against the sock change, saying we needed to turn around and get down as quickly as possible. Despite both having crampons in our rucksacks I decided against spending more precious time trying to wrestle them on to our boots. Although the ground was coated in rime I knew that the warm front that was coming in was already lifting the temperature – and we’d cope without them.
The route down was easier if unpleasant. Once we’d descended far enough out of the cloud and wind I knew we’d be OK and it was just a case of taking it steady over the uneven cobbles.
Night was fast drawing in by the time we arrived back at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre. As we called a cab for the short drive back to Fort William all I could think about was a hot bath back at the hotel and a welcome pint by the fireside.
All around Fort William it is frequently mentioned that conditions at the top are totally different and that the Ben should not be under-estimated. As someone with nearly four decades of experience of being in and around mountains I should know better than most. But Ben Nevis is not just any mountain and deserves complete respect.
The meteorology of the climb
* Despite the awful conditions I did manage to get a few photos, including the observatory where Victorian scientists lived for 20 years, gathering meteorological observations until 1904. Experiencing just a taste of the conditions that they would have had to endure makes their achievement all the more remarkable.
The observations have recently been fully collated and are providing valuable insight into the study of how mountain conditions have changed since that time.
** The following article was printed in the Lochaber News, 9th January, 2013
Stupidity can get you killed
The leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team has issued a strongly-worded warning in the wake of a walker’s “act of sheer stupidity” in trying to tackle Ben Nevis in winter in trainers.
John Stevenson (58), who heads up Britain’s busiest mountain rescue unit, said a man rescued on Monday afternoon was fortunate to be alive after attempting the country’s highest peak without proper equipment for the conditions and time of year.
The 31-year-old walker was airlifted to hospital in Fort William after he fell while descending the 4,409ft, snow-covered Ben. He sustained a leg injury while walking on the main mountain track and managed to alert the police to his situation at about 4pm.
A full search and rescue operation was launched involving police, 18 mountain rescuers and a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Gannet, Prestwick.
The injured man was located and airlifted from the Red Burn area, above Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, and was treated at Belford Hospital for his injury and the effects of the cold.
Mr Stevenson said the incident could have turned to tragedy.
He said: “He’s an extremely lucky young man to have survived.”
“His equipment was just rubbish – he had nothing. He was wearing trainers and didn’t have a torch.”
“He did everything we tell people not to do. When we found him he’d lost one trainer, the backside was out of his trousers and he was wet and cold.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he would not have survived the night if he hadn’t phoned in on his mobile, and we were lucky enough to find him.”
“He didn’t actually set off on his ascent until 11am, having come straight off the train at Fort William. That’s just a ridiculous time to be starting out when darkness falls at about 4pm. It’s crazy and not on at all.”
“He made it to the summit okay but slipped on the way back down and managed to call the police on his mobile phone.”
Mr Stevenson added: “Initially he was on the so-called tourist path but he lost his way and veered off the path.”
“He slipped and hurt his leg but kept on walking – but realised he was lost and phoned the police.”
“He was talking to the police as he walked and then the phone just went dead. All the officer could hear was running water.”
“We had been alerted by this time and were on standby, so when the line cut out we all feared the worst.”
“I knew the only place on the top half where you can hear water running like that is the Red Burn, so we sent two members of the team up with the helicopter, as well as members on foot. Luckily the first two found the casualty pretty quickly. He had fallen but was okay. He’d lost his phone.”
Mr Stevenson said he found it increasingly frustrating that, despite annual messages from rescue teams, climbing organisations and the police, walkers were still heading to the mountains ill-equipped for the conditions.
“People need to be prepared,” he urged. “They need to heed the advice about having proper equipment and clothing.”
“The thing is, so many people get away with it every year, but unfortunately many don’t and end up injured – or worse.”
“The man on Monday was very lucky indeed and we could see he was extremely relieved to be off that mountain.”
Rain today (January 16th) is the first meaningful fall since before Christmas, putting an end to the 23-day long dry spell.
This meteorological drought, rare given that it spanned Christmas and New Year Storm singularities, these having 84 and 86 per cent probabilities respectively, was the 3rd equal longest winter drought.
The only other similar droughts in a list that dates back to 1887 were 19/12/2008 – 03/01/2009 and 17/12/1972 – 02/01/1973.
The last precipitation I recorded was from a weak occlusion that followed a cold front on the evening of December 23rd.
This synoptic set-up was followed by a build in air pressure that peaked on the morning of January 3rd; 1043.8mb was the highest reading in this area for at least 10 years and is the highest pressure I have measured.
A fuller version of London droughts in all seasons can be found here.
The avalanche was considered the worst in 40 years. Three weather systems originating from the Atlantic accounted for large snowfalls up to 4m deep. Freeze-thaw conditions created a weak layer on top of an existing snowpack; further snow then settled. This, together with high wind speeds, created large drifts and caused roughly 170,000 tons of snow to be deposited.
Even more snow is expected in this and surrounding regions.
The extreme amounts will fall mostly on the north of the range with very little on the south side, more or less the opposite of what happened last year.