This week has the potential to see new temperature records set or matched as very cold air moves in off the continent.
Whilst amounts and location of snow are very difficult to estimate at more than 24hrs to 48hrs away there is no doubt that the incoming air is very cold indeed.
In the early hours of Wednesday one weather model is showing extremely cold air (496-504 DAM ie very low thickness) just off the coast of Scotland. In the last 60 years there have been only three occasions where air approaching this thickness (500 DAM and lower) has been recorded in the UK:
February 1st 1956: Hemsby, Norfolk
February 7th 1969 at Stornoway, Outer Hebrides
January 12th 1987 at Hemsby.
With the deep cold air in place the potential for snowfall comes once the air starts to become unstable. East London, and much of the east coast, best falls come where convergence lines ‘streamers’ form.
If persistent, these ‘Christmas tree’ features are capable of producing snowfall accumulating at the rate of 5–7cm per hour in especially cold
outbreaks, albeit often very locally. The steep thermal contrast between the very cold air and the current warm anomaly in the North Sea could make any snowfall very heavy indeed.
Streamers during the cold spell of January 1987 saw 30cm fall widely with some up to 65cm in Kent and 45cm in south Essex. Parts of Cornwall saw up to 40cm.
During a cold spell in February 2009 thundersnow was recorded – the favoured spot this time being parts of Surrey which saw 30cm.
Personally the most snow I have recorded during a cold spell was in February 1991. A very deep cold pool, not unlike what is forecast this week, covered much of the south. in air approaching 500 DAM. Days and days of snow followed dumping knee-deep powder in my local park in suburban East London. Reported depths included 20cm at St James’ Park in the centre of London, and 38cm at Rettendon, Essex.
There is a very good paper on cold pools and snowfall here.