The morning of December 11, 2022, began cold after an overnight frost that saw temperatures fall to -5.3C. Freezing fog lasted through the day, coating everything in rime to set the stage for what was to be one of the most notable snowfalls in years.
Precipitation started just before 7pm with a mix of rain, ice pellets and wet snow, this soon turning to all snow within 10 minutes and settled fast.
By 9pm there was a good 6cm; Wanstead Park was soon transformed.
By midnight the snow had stopped, leaving a good 13cm out the back
Elsewhere there was a rare sighting of thundersnow in Billericay.
Anomalies of the past two months throw up some interesting singularities as we head into late summer and autumn – with a hint that we could be heading for a much colder than normal December.
Using stats from the past 60 days revealed the following years. Those most similar to the current ENSO situation are highlighted in bold.
The most negative month on average will be December.
In terms of rainfall those hoping for a deluge look likely to be disappointed, at least in the south-east, with a continuation of synoptic conditions that favour drier than average weather.
The best chance for a wetter than average month appears to be September though, given recent synoptics, this is likely more a result of trough disruption than any sustained period of Atlantic-driven fronts.
The latest, as I write this on August 8th 2022, now sits joint 2nd in longest droughts in this area.
The rolling 12-month rainfall total has now reduced to 457mm; the lowest since 2017, and low given that the annual Jan-Dec rainfall average here is 602mm. At this point last year the rolling 12-month total was 818mm!
Looking further back, at a monthly rainfall series that goes back to 1797, the opening seven months of this 2022 are the 6th driest.
Whatever way you look at it this area is desperate for rain.
Such was the force of the wind that the masses of masonry were carried 30 feet beyond the base of the tower penetrating not only the roof of the church but also the floor and breaking through the vaults to the foundation.
The account of a windstorm that severely damaged St John’s Church in Edinburgh in January 1818 was carried in the second volume of Luke Howard’s Climate of London.
Thursday morning 15th the barometer had fallen eight tenths of an inch it then blew very hard and during the whole course of the day slates and chimney pots were flying about in all directions. In the evening the gale increased and about five o’clock it blew a perfect hurricane.
The ‘perfect hurricane’ was referring to the Beaufort Scale which had been written just over a decade before in 1805. Obviously anemometers were not around at the time – the scale was merely to describe sea conditions to help sailors. A modern interpretation of hurricane force 12 estimates mean speeds 72 – 83mph.
The church in Howard’s account had only just been built, it’s dedication being completed on March 19th the same year. Howard continues:
In houses fronting the west a good deal of mischief was done in breaking the panes of glass, stripping the lead from the roof, dashing the cupola windows from their frames and shivering them to atoms. In the course of the fore-noon two of the small minarets on the top of St John’s Chapel at the west end of Princes Street gave way and fell without doing any material damage to that beautiful building . Not so, however, the effects of the evening the violence of the wind carried off the whole of the minarets, large and small, leaving the summit of the tower a perfect ruin.
Later the same year storms struck the south coast of England.
Ryde, March 5 One of the severest gales of wind that has been felt here for the last 37 years was experienced last night. It commenced about 4.30pm and continued with increased violence until 11pm during which time the greater part of the pier and several houses were demolished. The supposed damage is estimated at between four and five thousand pounds (£500,000 in today’s money) No lives were lost nor any damage done to the shipping.
Dartmouth We experienced a perfect hurricane last night at SSE.
Some four years later the storms were back.
On December 5 Howard reported that the barometer had been low for an unusually long period of 23 days, a mean of 29.4 inches with southerly and westerly winds.
Norwich The Mercury reported that the city experienced one of the most tremendous gales and heavy rain in living memory.
The gusts which followed each other were most terrific and threatened the safety both of the houses which actually rocked to and fro from the violence and their inmates. By the tremendous gale of wind on the night of Thursday last a brick wall of between seventy and eighty feet in length at Ipswich was completely blown down.
Brighton At 7 o’clock on the 5th a small squall came on from the WSW and raged until 9.30am during which the rain descended in one incessant torrent and the roar and fury of the wind is not to be described.
Considerable alarm was excited by it in many parts of the town several houses were nearly unroofed and one not quite finished five stories high in Russell Square was levelled with the ground. The chain pier works sustained further injury but not to the extent which had been anticipated. Fortunately there were no shipping in this part of the Channel last night or we might have had many wrecks at this time to have particularized. Several vessels were wrecked during the storm on Thursday night. At Dover many houses were injured by the tempest and some tenements were blown down.
Manchester The Guardian reported on “one of the most terrific gales of wind with which this town has been visited for many years”
It commenced about night fall from the south west afterwards veering round to the west and gradually increased in violence until about 12am when it blew a perfect hurricane accompanied by heavy rain. By 10pm the town was left in almost utter darkness the greater part of the gas lights being blown out and those which escaped extinction were so violently agitated by the wind as to afford but little light. Many families passed the greater part of the night by the fire side not daring to retire to rest until the gale had abated.
Warrington The cupola of the church near the George Inn was blown down and part of the roof destroyed. A windmill in the neighbourhood was also blown entirely down.
Liverpool The Mercury reported that a “remarkably strong gale of wind was experienced here accompanied with rain, sleet and hail which continued with little intermission until after 9pm when it increased in force and destruction bursting against the higher buildings of the town in sudden and stunning gusts.
The alarm was general and accounts are now pouring in upon us from all quarters of the melancholy effects of the storm both on shore and on the river
Falmouth A “tremendous gale from SW and WSW” was reported.
We scarcely recollect seeing a more heavy sea running between the castles of Pendennis and Mawes.
Monmouth Among the casualties in Wales was a huge elm tree situated in the grounds of Raglan Castle.
The venerable tree which formed a happy termination at the east end of the terrace measured 26ft in girth and from whose trunks the two limbs which grew from the head of it spread their protecting shade 22ft fell a sacrifice to the fury of the elements, being blown from its commanding situation into the mead below. During the violence of the late storm twelve fine elm trees of large dimensions were torn up by the roots in front of and in the grounds of Trevallyn Hall, the seat of George Boscawen Esq. One of the trees that grew in the centre of the lawn is much to be regretted. It was a very handsome ornamental tree whose branches spread over a large extent of ground and which was the admiration of those who noticed it. The circumference of the butt is 12ft and contains in measurement 322ft of solid timber it was planted about the year 1760 by the late Mr Boydell of Trevallyn.
Halifax A large chimney was blown on to the roof of a house next to the Sportsman Inn at Greetland. It burst through three floors taking along with it two children out of the middle room and depositing them in the cellar. Amongst the ruins were the father and mother and three children who all survived.
Bristol reported a “most tremendous gale of wind from the SW”. The Birmingham and Oxford mail coaches reported that roads were strewn with trees and branches while in the north of Staffordshire the wind gradually rose accompanied with showers and blew with terrific violence during the night.
The Salopian Journal reported on a “hurricane of ten hours continuance”. In Shrewsbury the driver of the Holyhead mail coach spoke of 90 trees blown down in Powys Castle.
During the winter of 1988/89 the persistence of the Bartlett / Azores / Eurotrash high was painful to watch for anyone desperate to see some snow.
Week after week of high pressure brought a lot of mild, damp weather driven by Atlantic south-westerlies.
‘Balmy Britain’ the tabloids screamed but the savings on home energy costs were little noticed as the age of extortionate gas bills were still a generation away.
I didn’t think the winter would ever be surpassed in terms of its sheer mildness. And, as I write this on February 11th, it hasn’t. And there’s still time for cold weather in the last few days of the month to stop this season being in the same league as 1988 / 89 or the one the year after.
The stats to date reveal that this winter, according to statistics from Aviemore, is 1.8C colder than 33 years ago.
It has also been much drier though more snow days have been recorded.
Average snow depth (cm)
Above stats refer to December 1st to February 10th
There have been numerous images on various social media of bare mountainsides. One of the most stark images I’ve seen were on Glenshee.
Were the hills this bare during the winter of 1988 / 89?
That’s not a statement that applies much, least of all the second week of January. But the current weather pattern has seen this town in the Highlands subject to the warming influence of the Atlantic, to a higher degree than London.
The above 850mb chart, typical of the past week, shows the warmer air aloft and the south of the UK seemingly cut off from outside influence.
Indeed, lack of solar heating at this time of year ensures that any thermal activity is minimal – with very little mixing of the boundary layers by day.
Wanstead Park, being a frost hollow, has seen this phenomena most days during the past week with this part of London markedly colder than elsewhere in the capital.
By the 16th the 7-day running mean at Aviemore was 2.4C higher than Wanstead!
This mountaineering challenge was first drawn to my attention by Iain Cameron’s Flickr post featuring the Scottish Mountaineering Club’s week long tour from Balmoral to Glen Nevis.
It’s a fascinating feat that was repeated in 2010 by father and son team, Roger and Finlay Wild. Alas, the weather has not allowed the achievement again, at least on skis.
I’d often wondered about what sort of snow you’d need to complete and recently discovered a feature on Ogimet that can scrape old weather data and place it into a table.
Just look at the snow depths below! As the SMC account says the participants would have been better undertaking the tour a week earlier, rather than starting four days into a thaw. The depths in earlier February, however, illustrate just how good the conditions would have been, compared with today!
A full account of the original tour can be found here.
The crux of the article is that certain weather types can repeat at the same time of year with one having a 100 per cent probability!
The Christmas storm singularity occurs in 84 per cent of years.
While 84 per cent certainly doesn’t mean ‘nailed on’, in the current set up of models being evenly spread between settled and stormy it can be safely guessed at this range that there will be unsettled weather around on the 25th. Whether it will affect the whole country remains uncertain.
The last big snorter of a Christmas storm I can remember in London was 2013. The entry for the 23rd into the 24th reads.
“Cloudy and breezy start grew steadily duller with rain just before noon. Rain grew heavier with some really strong gusts into evening culminating at 2am. Cloud at one point was 10kms thick. Three deaths related to weather.”
There was chaos nationwide with flooding and power cuts.