Category Archives: London snowfall

The most potent cold spells since 1960

With met models now coming into reliable range it now looks odds on that very cold air from the continent will be in place across most of the UK from early next week.

The big question is how long will the cold last and how much snow will fall? While the latter looks likely at some point once the air is in place it is impossible to pinpoint where and how much any given place will receive at this range.

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The 00Z op run of the ECMWF model has the really cold air arriving at 00Z on Monday 26th.

In terms of longevity latest data shows the spell could have real staying power though my experience with models over the years has shown that they can overcook the potential of a cold spell.

I’ve lost count of the number of times when excited enthusiasts proclaim that an incoming cold spell is going to last as least three weeks; the reality being that the intensity of the cold has gone after four or five days. Cold spells since 2008 often arrive as a ‘blob of cold air’ from the continent that eventually gets ‘warmed out’; it’s been a very long time since we had a cold spell that’s been fuelled by a continual feed of air off the continent.

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By Saturday 00Z the really cold air aloft has gone. A typical 4-5 day event?

To illustrate my point I had a look back at every cold spell in this area of suburban east London since 1960. I weeded out the feeble efforts of the last few years by only considering spells where the maximum didn’t exceed 2.8C. The results spanned from the most recent cold spell of March 2013 to the mammoth 31-day Siberian blast that began on Boxing Day 1962.

In another blog I remarked how similar the recent pattern was to February 1962. This cold spell began on the 26th and lasted 9 days. Some 7cm of snow fell, this drifting in the wind, possibly making it seem worse with only 4 hours of sunshine which would have maintained any snow cover.

One of the snowiest cold spells happened in February 2009, eight days after an SSW event that lead to a polar vortex split. This four day spell saw a total of 26cm of snow fall.

February 1991 was even snowier, the intense cold lasting some 11 days.

Looking at other February cold spells a 7-day spell occurred in 1985 about a month after an SSW event.

Overall the median length was 5 days with an average of 6cm of snow and 8hrs of sunshine.

*A survey of winters ranked for temperature and snow can be found here.

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The cold spell of February / March 1962

The last week or so has been agony for model watching coldies wishing for a snowy end to winter.

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The Synoptic chart for February 27th which saw 4 inches of snow in Stratford, east London

Solutions have often flip-flopped between a mild and cold outlook. Even this morning at 6 days out the GFS and ECM model temperature outcomes differed by some 20C, a choice between spring and deepest winter!

Sometimes you have to try and second guess what is going to happen by looking at previous patterns from years past.

Yesterday at Philip Eden‘s funeral I spoke to Woodford Green resident Ron Button. He pointed out how much this February reminded him of February 1962, a month that was non-descript for the first three weeks before turning very cold and snowy. Ron, who has kept a meticulous record of the weather ever since his interest was prompted by the severe winter of 1947, produced diaries of 1962 when he was living in Stratford. The entry for 26th / 27th read: “4 inches of snow with drifting”!

The March that followed was the coldest of the 20th century, ranking 10th in my list back to 1797, and 0.3C colder than March 2013. The fact that the monthly sunshine in 1962 was only slightly below average is testament to how cold the source of the air must have been. March 2013 was very dull by comparison!

An entry in London-weather.eu reads that March was colder than any of the previous 3 winter months: “The first three weeks were mostly mild and dry. It was often breezy which resulted in fewer than average night frosts. Frontal systems off the Atlantic passed through the London area, most of them weak though on the 12th, nearly 8mm of rain fell with southwesterly winds gusting to 57 knots. During the last week of the month, it became much colder, and on the 26th snow fell with the temperature not rising above -0.3C all day.”

There was no stratospheric sudden warming that winter and ENSO was neutral.

The winter of 1961/62 ranks only 14th in my list of worst winters, mostly because the core of the cold happened in March which is considered spring in meteorological circles

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march 1962 summary

The Snow Survey of Great Britain also makes interesting reading with these entries for February and March.

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The severe cold spell of February 1991

The cold spell of February 1991 saw unusually deep snowfall in central London. The 20cm recorded at St James’s Park on the 8th was the greatest cover recorded at the site since the severe winter of 1962/63.

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Courtesy of the Met Office

My own memory of the event was that the synoptics evolved fairly quickly. I was away at university at the time and had to be back for a family event that weekend. After seeing a forecast predicting that a foot of snow was on the way I jumped on a train a day earlier than planned and returned to London. The following morning all hell had broken loose as deep snow paralysed public transport.

Snow fell on the following 6 days with no thawing as the temperature remained below zero until the 10th. The maximum of the 7th was -3C. By the 9th there was widely 20cm of level powdery snow lying. Getting around was difficult – I remember some drifts during walks into town were thigh high.

The month saw the three coldest February days of the last 60 years in central London.

By the end of the 19th all of the British Isles were snow free.

February 1991
February 1991 in suburban east London

The nine charts below show how a strong ridge of high pressure from an anticyclone over northern Sweden on the 5th brought very cold air and heavy snowfall over the following days.

These significant weather charts show the snow depths at noon from 6th to the 13th.

 

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Courtesy of the Met Office

Ian McCaskill’s late evening BBC forecast on February 6th.

Francis Wilson’s breakfast telly forecast on February 7th 1991: “Temperatures rising from -11 to -5C. Depths in excess of a foot. It’s all downhill from now.”

Harlow, Essex, during the cold spell.

Snow for day after Boxing Day?

The models are showing another knife-edge situation for snow – similar to the ‘rain turning to snow’ event earlier this month. But there are a number of factors working against it this time round, at least for most of us who live between sea level and 30 metres.

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The highest resolution model AROME shows snowfall rate but I would expect that only high ground (100m +) will see any accumulation

The low level supply of air off the continent is much milder this time round. Hamburg and northern Germany on the 9th was some 5C colder than currently.

The air pressure, crucial to bringing that snow line down lower, is forecast to be around 10mb higher this time.

And even if we see settling the soil temps, after the recent mild spell, are still 5C – 10C down to 10cm… Screen Shot 2017-12-26 at 11.46.19

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Wanstead fairs well in London cold rush

Since the early hours of Sunday I’ve been tracking official sites around London to see how Wanstead fairs in terms of retaining cold temperatures and snow.

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The results, comparing hourly obs over 62 hours, show that Wanstead was a degree cooler than St James’s Park, half a degree cooler than Heathrow and marginally cooler than Northholt. Only Kenley, with its whopping 170m of altitude, was cooler.

While half a degree doesn’t sound much it can make all the difference, as we saw at the weekend when some areas recorded inches of snow while others barely a centimetre.

Though the snow has pretty much vanished now it was evident yesterday that the area was far more wintry neighbouring Forest Gate, Leyton and Stratford which had pretty much lost all their cover.

A report on the snow event can be found here.

* For anyone who has a fascination for the weather and whether their back garden in the Counties Estate is colder than their mate’s in the Warren Estate I notice that weather stations are now even cheaper and you don’t need to connect to the net via a dedicated PC. A unit from Ventus (the W830) allows you to connect to the amateur weather network Wunderground. The internet dealer Weatherspares has them on offer. (NB. I am not on commission but would be happy to offer anyone advice who wants to buy and set one up.)

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Wanstead, Aldersbrook, the Flats and Wanstead Park are all part of a ‘green island’ in east London that tends to hold the cold better than surrounding built up areas