A blog that tries to make sense of how the UK's national climate translates into local weather for Wanstead and the surrounding regions of east London and west Essex.
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For this year’s winter forecast, because of time constraints, I am sticking purely to what the local analogues reveal.
Meteorological autumn was the wettest for 18 years and the coolest for 6 years, revealing some interesting similarities with past climate. Considering data back to 1797 I was able to make the following suggestions on how the next 90 days may unfold.
December is most likely to be on the cold side with rainfall slightly below average.
January is most likely to finish average temperature-wise and wetter than December.
London’s February extremes temperature also look average overall and the precipitation signal also creeps up in comparison to the first two winter months.
Best chance for snow? Impossible to pin down but the coldest weather is likely to be at the beginning of February, the third week of January and just after Christmas.
The warmest period looks to be around January 10th while there’s also a signal for that often phenomena of milder temperatures just before Christmas day.
Most of the probabilities in the above statements are relatively low and are explained in the table below.
It’s been a while since this region has seen a sustained colder than average period. Though the past few weeks have seen colder than normal weather we have to go back to the beginning of 2015 where at least three consecutive months were colder than the 1981-2010 average.
The spell, which coincided with winter, was unremarkable with just one day of lying snow. The season finished 55th out of 73 of the most recent winters, the anomaly for the 90-day period was -0.3C. For deep, lasting snowfall events a monthly mean temperature must be at least 2C colder than average.
For anything ‘snow-worthy’ you have to go back seven years to a 10-month long colder than average spell that began in September 2012 and coincided with probably the last winter I can remember that had more than one cold spell with snow that lasted longer than a few days. The average mean for this spell was -1.3C.
The most potent cold period occurred during the winter of 1984/85, a winter where snow lay nearly a foot deep by the end of January and where seven ice days were recorded – these days we’re lucky to record just one ice day per winter! Only just behind was the 3-month period January to March 1987.
As with previous blogs I have devised a way of ranking these cold periods, by dividing the mean with the length in months. The first nine months of 1986 achieved the highest ranking, a period that included the 5th coldest February in this area since 1797.
And in chronological order…
It is looking like the mean this November will finish below average, making it the second month in a row, something that hasn’t happened since March last year. Will December make it three in a row and a new addition to the list?
Two hundred years ago this October the extremely rare phenomenon of lying snow in October was recorded in London.
A likely plunge of Arctic air on the 21st saw rain turn to snow which lay nearly 8cm deep by the morning and remained for nearly a week.
The month started dry and warm. On the 1st Luke Howard recorded 75°F at his laboratory in Stratford. The warmth remained into the second week with 77°F recorded on the 10th, 11th and 12th.
The wind swung into the north on the 18th and with it arrived the first hoar frosts that were cold enough to kill garden plants.
On the 21st the cold air further dug in and with it rain that turned to sleet. Howard said: “It began to snow about noon falling in very large flakes thick and rapidly for an hour and covering the ground. Some rain followed.
“In the evening the wind rose and it blew hard in the night from NNW. At midnight came a second heavy fall of snow which continued till 6am and though at first much of it melted it lay in the morning a full three inches deep.”
Howard adds that the surroundings ‘took on appearance of mid winter with the single exception of the foliage still remaining on the trees which mingled with an enormous burden of snow presented a very singular and grotesque appearance’.
The weight of the snow was also enough to break off large limbs from fruit trees.
The snow was still lying on the 23rd and, probably caught out by the earliness of the polar plunge, swallows were seen at Stamford Hill. On the 24th a very white frost was observed with a low of 31°F recorded at Tottenham.
More wintry weather followed in November, December and January.
Could snow fall here again in October? The probability is very low but it is not impossible, given the right synoptic conditions. Recent cases of notably positive and negative anomalies following in quick succession somewhat mirror the weather of Howard’s day.
Two hundred years ago this December a huge part of the Weisshorn glacier in Switzerland crashed down several thousand feet to the valley below.
At 6am on December 27th 1819 the villagers of Randa, near Zermatt, were awoken as millions of tonnes of snow and ice swept away boulders, rocks, gravel and mature larch trees. Though the debris missed the village the force of the slide created a blast of air that moved entire buildings and their contents, burying 12 people, all but two of whom escaped with their lives.
Eyewitnesses described the noise of the falling mass as the loudest thunder and said a bright flash accompanied the slide before darkness once again enveloped the village.
First light revealed the utter devastation of the avalanche that have covered an area of pasture 2,400ft by 1,000ft by 150ft high.
It was not the first avalanche to bring disaster to Randa. In 1636 the village was destroyed by a similar avalanche when 36 people were killed. It is said that that occasion saw a much greater chunk of the flacier fall from the slopes of the mountain, at 14,783ft the 5th highest in the Alps.
Two other less serious falls happened in 1736 and 1786 but not precisely in the same place. This time only a small part of the glacier fell down.
Could a similar disaster happen again? With climate change and the nature of the Alps being constantly on the move it is possible. Earlier this month it was reported that part of a glacier on the Mont Blanc Massif, just 40 miles away as the crow flies, was on the brink of collapse.
I don’t have local figures but a look at the recent climatology in London shows that anomalies during the past couple of years – warmer than average summers and low rainfall – have been similar to what happened in 1819.
Of course the difference between now and 1819 is that we have early warning systems in place that can help prevent loss of human life in the event of a catastrophic avalanche.
In July 1808 Paris wilted in a heatwave. The average maximum for the 13-day spell that began on the 10th was 31°C, higher than a similar spell last month that saw the all-time record for the French capital broken.
The temperature at the peak of last month’s hot spell reached 42.6°C, some 6.4°C higher than the peak of the 1808 spell but, as the graph below shows, maxima fell back more quickly than 1808.
The average mean and minimum temperature of both spells showed a difference of just 0.2°C.
Since Paris recorded its hottest day ever there have been just two days where the temperature has exceeded 30°C.
The heat in Paris in 1808, like in 2019, was also felt in London. Luke Howard noted the following in The Climate of London.
“Very hot from July 12th to 19th. On the 12th a thermometer in perfect shade in a window in St James’s Park was 81.5 degrees at 3pm, and on the 13th at the same hour, 94 degrees. On the same day four men and seven women were killed by sunstroke in various parts of the Midland counties, and numerous coach and other horses were also killed. On the 15th a very violent and destructive thunderstorm in Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, and surrounding counties.”
* Values for 2019 were taken from the station Montsouris.
** Though there is no way of knowing how accurate the 1808 values were previous studies have found that historic temperatures can be as much as 3°F too high.