The ‘nearly cold spell’ of February 2008

Recent model output that has many bullishly predicting a cold spell in February reminds me of the winter of 2008 when the likes of the GFS and ECMWF models kept teasing us that a Scandinavian high pressure was imminent.

This rare pattern brings the south-east its coldest weather in winter, in the past bringing the January 1987 and February 1991 cold spells.

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Midnight on February 16th 2008 just before the high moved south, taking its cold weather into the Balkans

A look back at the pressure patterns in 2008 show that high pressure was in the ‘right place’ between the 11th and 16th but, just as -10C uppers looked poised to flood across from eastern Europe, the high pressure collapsed south, leaving the UK in a SE’ly flow off a mild France.

There was snow in 2008 but it didn’t arrive until the spring, in late March and, the best fall, in early April when I remember waking up on the 6th to a 5cm covering that mostly melted by lunchtime.

I suppose the one silver lining for any coldies reading this is that February 2008 was the sunniest on record.

2017
The mean temperature for December 1st – January 30th is 6C for both 2007/08 and 2017/18

The maps below show the sea surface temperature anomalies. A slight La Nina on both. ENSO, considering my winter forecast, has been the best guide for how this winter has so-far panned out – front loaded.

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Philip Eden’s column in the journal Weather showed that there was some wintry weather in February 2008 but it was restricted to the north of England northwards

* The focus of these blogs is usually on what the weather was, or may be, like in my backyard – though they usually broadly apply to anywhere in the south-east that is close to sea level.

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Past weather to rescue future reporting

“Worst floods ever!” Hyperbolic reporting of weather events is nothing new; whenever the UK is hit by the latest named storm breathless news anchors often try to portray atrocious conditions as ‘unprecedented’. This may soon change thanks to a project that uses citizen science.

Operation Weather Rescue, the citizen science project which last year processed Ben Nevis and Fort William data from between 1883 and 1904, has now recovered thousands of European observations from past Daily Weather Reports compiled from 1900-1903.

Though reanalysis data of the northern hemisphere back to 1851 have been available for some years the maps don’t give enough detail to be able to compare if an old storm has the same pressure characteristics as a modern storm. Evidence of impacts is restricted to fixed observations such as temperature, rainfall and archive press reports.

Weather Rescue: “We want to learn about the frequency of intense storms in the past to compare with now and these rescued observations will significantly improve our understanding.”

The latest release of data features pressure plots from June 1903 that tie in with the record-breaking 59-hour deluge that left much of the London Borough of Redbridge underwater. The following October, nationally, was the wettest month ever recorded in the UK.

Further recovery of these archived data, with the help of thousands of volunteers, will prove invaluable to our understanding of high-impact weather, and if storms are getting worse.

This latest example of Big Data could also offer huge benefits to the insurance and reinsurance industries, as well as planning engineers, as the resolution of climate models steadily improve.

But on a purely weather reporting scale it should also be possible to one day provide the media with a quickly accessible database of weather events going back over a century, enabling them to judge whether the latest storm really is the worst in 100 years.

In this age of clickbait journalism, however, I’m not holding my breath!

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Best Alpine snow for 30 years?

There’s been countless reports about amazing amounts of snow falling across the French, Swiss and Italian Alps to the point where some agencies have been proclaiming that it has been the best season for the white stuff in 30 years.

Extraordinary totals have fallen in some areas. Bourg-St-Maurice, the jumping off point for Savoie resorts including Les Arcs and Val d’Isere, has recorded over 400mm of precipitation over the past 30 days, equating to around 4m of snow at the resort summits.

In Switzerland, large amounts of snow in a short period caused chaos in Zermatt, stranding tourists after the area’s rail services suffered disruption.

Away from the north and west side of the Alps, however, snowfall, while good, has been less impressive the further south and east you look.

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30-day precipitation totals reveal that Bourg St Maurice recorded 422mm while Obertauern in the east recorded 99mm. 

It is a far cry from last year where some resorts on the southern side of the range were particularly dry. San Bernardino, during the last 30-days, has recorded 179mm of precipitation. During the same period last year just 14.6mm fell!

The outlook for the Alps continues to look unsettled with snow forecast to fall at resorts that are in deficit to the Valais and Savoie areas.

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The same old weather every year?

Recurring weather patterns at certain times of the year are well known. The ‘Buchan Cold Spell’, ‘European Monsoon’ and Indian / St Martin’s Summer are all phenomena that have been studied extensively.

An article by the late meteorologist and broadcaster Philip Eden a number of years ago considered many of these patterns and found that, to varying degrees of reliability, they provided a guide to what the weather would be like at any given time of the year.

Considering climate change I wondered how much these patterns could still be relied on. Using my own pressure, rainfall and ‘wind run’ data (the total amount of daily wind) going back to the start of 2013 I had a look at the singularities for January and February

January patterns at the beginning, middle and end of the month appear to be the most reliable. However, it is only the ‘mid-Jan settled’ period that is most reliable.

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pressure
The pressure trace most notably shows a general rise from the 17th, the date of last week’s windstorm, consistent with the mid-January settled singularity.
rain
Though this year’s ‘settled’ January spell saw rain the past 5 years have seen mostly dry weather.
windrun
Very little wind has been recorded around January 20th for the past 5 years

The early Feb settled spell occurs with very low probability: just 56 per cent. And this year the pressure, according to the GFS model, plotted below by WXCharts.eu, is predicted to be around 1040mb by February 2!

out to feb 1

new gif
This animation of the GFS model shows the idea of the Iceland low, which drives our SW’ly type weather, ‘taking a holiday’ to southern Iberia, possibly advecting any cold weather in the east to flood the UK

Looking at the results of the past 5 years it could be concluded that the patterns do still occur but because of the nature of the jet stream, which seems to meander far more readily than in the past, these stormy / quiet episodes are becoming shorter than they were in previous studies.

 

A 100% guaranteed snow risk for rest of winter

This weekend marks the halfway point through winter. Though December brought some snow January has been broadly average – really cold air has been absent with only one air frost recorded this month.

The cloudy, anticyclonic type weather is about to be replaced, however, with cold, polar maritime air this week set to flood down from the north-west.

Since December 1st, Wanstead has recorded 12 air frosts – about average. The coldest night was just -3.7C. The current mean temperature this winter to January 14th is 5.7C with rainfall 111mm – statistics that are remarkably similar to the winters of 2012/13 and 1990/91. Both those seasons were followed by cold late winters, February 1991 saw some of the deepest snow that I’ve ever seen in the south-east; the mean temp for that February finished 1.6C, the 14th coldest in the local series going back to 1797.

Using my method for finding patterns stretching back over 50 years to forecast this winter I picked out years that were +/- 10% of the 2017/18 total rainfall. From these I then weeded out the seasons where the average temperature was +/- 10% of the 2017/18 mean.

This gave a list of just two other winters with similar temperature and rainfall. Both winters had above average ‘snow lying’ days, the long terms average for this area being six.

Before any readers accuse me of going all Daily Express with the title of this blog I would emphasise that this piece doesn’t echo the latest long-term output from the models, which are in a state of flux, caused mostly by the evolution of the explosive cyclogenesis expected midweek. It is simply a reflection of what the local data is telling me.

A 100% guarantee of snow isn’t such a fantastical claim as, during the past 10 years, there is only one winter when no snow fell or was lying at 9am!

In terms of the rest of the winter, outside of the models, I would expect a couple more snowfall episodes, similar to the ones we had in January and February 2013. A repeat of February 1991, while not impossible, looks unlikely – there seems to be far too much energy coming from the Atlantic to allow the all important Scandinavian / Russian high to form and exert its influence far enough west for long-lasting cold and snow.

Philip Eden, 1951-2018

Following on from the announcement about the death of Philip Eden I have been emailed this by Roger Brugge of the Climatological Observers Link. Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 11.55.47

“Announcement: Philip Eden, 1951-2018

I have this morning received the following message from Philp Eden’s
brothers, John and David:

It is with profound sadness that we have to report the death of
our brother, Philip Eden (Geoffrey Philip Eden), Meteorologist,
Broadcaster and Author, on 4th January 2018. He had been suffering
from Lewy Bodies dementia, but died as the result of head injuries
sustained after collapsing and falling several days earlier. He died
peacefully in a nursing home whilst receiving palliative care.

Please pass this sad news on to colleagues who knew or worked with Philip.

Details of the funeral arrangements will follow in a few days, but
anyone interested in attending should contact David Eden
at zen13966@zen.co.uk

John and David Eden (brothers)

Members will join with me in expressing condolences to Philip’s family,
and mourning Philip’s passing. COL will be represented at Philip’s funeral,
and myself or Roger will gladly pass on any messages from members.

Stephen Burt
COL Chairman
10 January 2018”

Many tributes have been paid on Twitter and elsewhere.

jane garvey

meteogib

blaby

mosey

phil

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There is a nice obituary on the Telegraph website: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2018/01/10/philip-eden-meteorologist-obituary/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_tw

Murphy’s winter and weather prophets

It is 180 years ago this month that Patrick Murphy shot to fame after successfully predicting one of the coldest Januaries on record.

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anon, “The Modern Phenomenon of a Murphy the Gullcatcher of 1838” London Saturday Journal

The month, which had started mild, completely changed during the weekend of the 8th as a SE’ly wind set in. Hard frosts and snow became a daily feature with considerable falls across Scotland, disrupting mail and causing hardship for people and livestock.

By the 20th some of the lowest temperatures of the 19th century were recorded in London. At Greenwich -16C (-11C at midday) was reported at sunrise, while Blackheath saw -20C and Beckenham -26C. By the 27th the Thames at Greenwich was completely covered with ice at high water and elsewhere in the estuary ice floes were reported.

In some parts of northern Scotland, snow was noted to fall on most days between January 8th and May 3rd. Snow was also noted in upland areas of NE Scotland in June.

‘Murphy’s Winter’ as it became known made the astrologer from Cork a small fortune from the sale of an almanac, the contents of which also successfully listed the actual date when the frost would be at its most severe.

It was possibly the first long-range weather prediction that people through the ages seem to love, whether they are right or wrong.

Many characters have emerged over the years. Yorkshire’s Bill Foggitt, who used natural signals and animal behaviour during the previous autumn, was popular in the 1980s especially when he made a prediction of a harsh winter.

Others, including the Daily Express, who probably shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Foggitt, are more about the clicks they hope to generate for their publishers than any earnest attempt at being right.

  • The mean temperature locally in January 1838 was -1.5C, the second coldest January in a series going back to 1797, and as cold as January 1963.
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The cold spell of January 1826

This weekend marks the start of a cold spell that brought widespread wintry conditions across Britain.

Entries in Luke Howard’s Climate of London detail several instances of the wintry weather reported nationwideScreen Shot 2018-01-06 at 01.41.17.

In London the freeze lasted 10 days, briefly losing its grip on the 19th, before returning in the final week. At its lowest on the night of the 14th the temperature fell to 10F (-12C). Despite the intense cold their was little precipitation in this area. However, across the country came reports of deep snow and hardship for shipping.

Gale force easterly winds were reported in Plymouth, Falmouth, Liverpool and Portsmouth on January 7th and 8th. On January 9th a ‘hard ENE’ly gale’ was reported at Deal, Kent.

A report reads: “It has continued blowing strong from the eastward all this day. On Thursday morning between one and two o’clock as a person was passing through Paternoster Row he observed the watchman on that beat in a state of complete paralysis and insensibility occasioned by the frost.

“He had him immediately removed to the watch house of Farringdon, within where he had not long arrived when a fellow sufferer was brought in by two of the patrol who found him in his box in Stationers Court, Ludgate Hill, absolutely frozen and unable to articulate a syllable.

“Both were immediately placed near the fire the influence of which combined with the administration of warm cordials shortly restored their suspended faculties. The thermometer at the Royal Exchange yesterday at 12 o’clock stood at 28F.”

An entry on January 14th, nearly a week into the freeze, reported a Thames “choked up with ice”.

“The river is so completely choked up with ice that the fishing boats with fish dare not come higher up than Limehouse. Putney Bridge arches are choked up with ice formed by the ebbing and flowing of the tide to a great height. At one o’clock yesterday afternoon (16th) the fog in the city was as dense as we ever recollect to have known it.

“Lamps and candles were lighted in all the shops and offices and the carriages in the streets dared not exceed a foot pace. At the same time five miles from town the atmosphere was clear and unclouded with a brilliant sun.

“Fahrenheit’s thermometer stood at 14F at 8 o’clock in the morning.

Around Britain

Newcastle: on Sunday morning last a severe frost set in here and has continued since. A considerable quantity of snow has fallen during the week.

Sunderland: the river Wear has been frozen over for the last four days down to Hilton Ferry within four miles of this town. The navigation above that place is entirely suspended.

Carlisle: a smart frost set in here on Monday morning and has continued gradually increasing up to this day Friday in severity. The river Eden is more than half frozen over near the bridge and many persons are diverting themselves on its surface. On Tuesday we had a partial fall of snow which still continues.

Westmorland: on Stainmore the weather has been more severe during the last week than it has been known for four years past. The frost is not only more than usually intense but the snow lies in fearful drifts and the wind on Friday and Saturday blew a perfect hurricane rendering it extremely difficult if not dangerous to travel.

Chester: the frost during the last week has been intensely severe and the wind is gentle and blowing almost constantly from the eastward. The thermometer on Saturday morning stood at 17F or 15F below the freezing point.

Manchester: on Friday last the temperature in the city was as low as 16F and this in the very centre of the town where the crowded buildings and immense fires kept in the manufactories must have had some effect on the atmosphere. On the 18th of January 1814 the extreme temperature was 22 below the freezing point. On the 21st of February 1810 it was the same.

Liverpool: the weather during the last week has been intensely cold, the thermometer for the last few days having been lower than during the past five years. A self registering thermometer denoted the extreme of cold on Saturday night to have been 19F and yesterday, Sunday morning at half past seven, it stood at 20F. It is very probable the present weather may continue several days as it commenced with the new moon.

Bridgewater: our river is so completely frozen over as to impede the navigation fortunately there is a good supply of coals in the town.

Canterbury: On January 17th the river Medway is frozen over and the navigation is stopped. The merchants have advanced the price of coals six shillings a chaldron.

The Royal Military Canal being now completely frozen over numerous parties are daily skating thereon. It is not unusual to take a breakfast at Hythe, a luncheon at Rye (about 20 miles glide) and return to Hythe to dinner.

On the continent

Elsineur:  the sound is full of ice and the navigation suspended. (January 14th ).

Hamburg: the frost is very intense and every appearance of its continuance. Extract from a private letter dated ‘Cadiz Jan 24’: ‘We have had terrible gales at this place so violent that upwards of two hundred and fifty vessels were driven on shore.

Rotterdam: We have had frost again from the 25th but very moderate and the ice has but little increased. The wind prevails from the eastward and there is no appearance of a thaw.

Antwerp: the river continues full of drift ice. An easterly wind took place on the 25th January. The ice decreases very fast (31st) and if the thaw continues for which there is every appearance the river will be navigable in two days.

The mean temperature for the month finished 0.7C, the 14th coldest January in London back to 1797. Just 5.1mm of precipitation was recorded, the second driest January in the series. Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 22.31.39

Wanstead Weather: 2017 review

This year finished as the 10th warmest on record – some 0.7C warmer than the 1981-2010 average. Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 12.54.53

Only three months of 2017 were roughly average – the means being within +/-0.7 every month, bringing the mean temperature to 11.9C.

Rainfall was less remarkable with the year finishing roughly average. The total of 607mm (101% of 1981-2010 average) puts it as the 119th wettest since 1797, just over 40mm wetter than 2016.

It was also a slightly duller than average year with 1,391.2 hours of sunshine recorded. That’s 94 per cent of average, the 91st sunniest since 1881.

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For a review of each month, click January, FebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovember, December

To view full stats follow this link:http://1drv.ms/1kiTuzv

You can read the national review of weather events at the Met Office blog here.

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London’s January extremes since 1959

I’ve put together a few top 10s of stats for Wanstead, St James’s Park and Heathrow for the month of January.

Probably most notable is just how impressive the depth of cold was during the cold spell of 1987. When considering St James’s Park the temperature on the 12th never rose above -6C: nearly 4C colder than any January day in 1963, the coldest winter in modern times.

My winter forecast for the London area can be found here.

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Some national UK January values according to TORRO

Hottest: 18.3C Aber, Gwynedd – 27th 1958
Coldest: -27.2C Braemar, Grampian – 10th 1982
Wettest: 238.4mm Loch Sloy main adit Strathclyde – 17th 1974