Spring in this neck of the woods was really mixed.
A chilly start to March became fairly benign before ending with the warmest March day locally since at least 1959.
April then turned much colder and drier; just 2.4mm of rain fell during the month – the driest April since 2007 and fourth driest in a local rainfall series back to 1797! Sunshine was abundant with over 200 hours. But clear skies at that time of year, with a polar continental airmass, often means air frost. And the ten recorded overnight was far higher than normal.
May saw things warm up slightly but the month still finished a degree colder than average. Some 80mm of rain fell which is over one and a half times what we’d normally expect. The wettest May since 2007 – the month playing catch up on the total absence of April showers that bring the spring flowers! It was a dull month with only 126 hours of sunshine, 69 per cent of average – the dullest since 1990 was third dullest back to 1881.
In terms of flora and fauna the colder weather played havoc with the trees, bud burst coming much later than recent years. As I write this on June 6th some of the later budders like false acacia have only just come into full leaf. The birds, as they normally do, just seem to get on with it raising their young. I’m not sure what the food supply has been like but judging by the amount of healthy juvenile fledglings I’ve seen I would guess that it has been a good season so far?
Here’s the stats. March 8C (+0.3) 30.9mm (76%) 90.9 hours (84%)24.1C on 30th (a record that had stood since 1965) April 7.2C (-2.6) 2.4mm (5.5%) 202.6 hours (127%) 10 air frosts in April, much higher than normal May 12.1 (-1) 80mm (156%) 125.6hours (69%) Spring 2021: Mean : 9.1C (1.1C below average, coldest since 2013, 111th coldest) Rain : 113mm (84% of average, wettest since 2018, 150th wettest ) Sun : 425.4 hrs (94% of average, dullest for three years. 51st dullest) The average masked extremes.
At the end of April I cycled and skied my way across Scotland, from Aberdeen to Mallaig, incorporating the ‘Scottish Haute Route’ across the Grampian Mountains.
The route of some 225 miles has a total ascent of 34,000ft, covering some of the highest peaks in the UK including Ben Nevis. Paths that crossed deep into the Cairngorm national park made it necessary to use a mix of wild camping and b&b accommodation that was open after the lockdown.
Probably against my better judgement I also strapped my skis to the bike to traverse any snow on offer.
I accessed the route by taking the train from Kings Cross to Aberdeen; leaving at 2pm the direct LNER East Coast journey is a real treat, speeding its way through the English and Scottish countryside to arrive just after dark.
Aberdeen is a bit of a strange city. All that oil money but there seemed to be more than the usual share of depravation. The main drag was like a ghost-town after 10pm – perhaps it was lockdown. I quickly fled back to my hotel.
Day 1: Aberdeen to Ballater 47 miles, 2,500ft (7hrs) Weather: Max 6.9 Min 2.1 Rain 4mm Wind NE 9mph Fisheries, old railway lines, River Dee
A bit of an inauspicious start in Aberdeen – a glitchy phone led me a merry dance around the town including a tour of the various fisheries by the harbour. I rode back to the city beach to perform the customary wheel dip in the North Sea; a cold day with a freezing onshore breeze and intermittent light rain.
I was soon on my way inland via the A93 and Deeside Cycle Way formed from the Old Deeside Railway Line. A real cycling delight; miles and miles of smooth Tarmac path often very close to the River Dee with its delightful wildlife. Finches of all descriptions seemed to lead the way and far outnumbered people – I probably saw about a dozen others all day.
Day 2: Ballater to Braemar 31 miles, 4,000ft (7hrs) Weather: Max 8.9 Min 0.5 Rain 1.2mm Wind NNW 7.7mph Royal castles, abandoned bothies and steep paths
After staying at the excellent Netherley Guest House I was soon on my way to Crathie where I would ‘turn right’ to finally get off the beaten track for the remoter legs of my trip.
Crathie was far smaller than I imagined – the car park for Balmoral was empty, no doubt a result of it being early season and lockdown having only just been lifted. The B976 was soon heading relentlessly uphill, the first test of my endurance pedalling something like 20kg and the bike. I was soon pushing on the steepest section, a local on a racing bike told me where to leave the road.
The gravel / sand track at the start of the section was excellent and progress quick – I was surprised just how good it was. Another cyclist heading toward me remarked that he hadn’t seen so much on a bike since his cycle trek in Tibet 20 years previously.
On reaching Corndavon Lodge I was faced with my first ford to cross, a relatively simple task were it not for the fact that I’d have to get myself and the machine across. The lodge, the first bothy on the Scottish Ski Club’s 1978 traverse, was boarded up.
I pressed on, soon reaching Loch Builg and on to the ruin of Lochbuilg Lodge. It was at this point that I was faced with a steep, single-track, path up to Carn Drochaid and upward to Ben Avon. It was also at this point that I realised that the weight on my bike was going to make it impossible to adhere to my intention of following all the ridges.
After 15 minutes sat among the ruins I changed my plan and retreated back to the River Gairn. I planned to follow the track to Braemar while keeping one eye on other paths westward – none of which appeared to offer any bike friendly options without double backing to Braemar.
As I ascended the path up the shoulder of the 900m Culardoch it was obvious that I’d made the right choice. Despite good weather it was a real struggle at times. I was also a bit deflated as I looked across the valley at the large cornices on Ben Avon in the distance.
From the plateau of Tom na h-Eilrig it was a general downhill descent into Braemar. Time was getting on and I knew I had to arrange a b&b before the dusk chill turned into night.
Day 3: Braemar to Glen Feshie 40 miles, 2,159ft (10.5 hrs) Weather: Max 7.7 Min 1.2 Rain 2.4mm Wind NNE 8.2mph Smooth bridleways, rocky paths, rickety old bridges, knee deep fords, bogs
After resolving overnight that I wasn’t going to be able to follow my original planned route across the Cairngorms I’d decided a loose plan to make a decision once I’d reached Linn of Dee, effectively the end of the road – you either retreat or continue on
One idea was to continue on a path to Derry Lodge, an option that would have allowed me to complete a circuit of the Cairngorm 4000s. But the weather was less than ideal – frequent snow and hail showers would have hampered visability high up and on hearing thunder I decided on a plan B and take the low road, a 27-mile wilderness path to Glen Feshie.
The track starts off well and I noticed a few other walkers plus a game keeper on the opposite path. After White Bridge the terrain turns into proper moor – you get the feeling you are a long way from civilisation as you glance up at distant, snow-capped fells.
I was soon faced with a junction at a ford, a walker was changing into ‘sand shoes’ before he headed on his way to Blair Atholl. The path from here soon deteriorated – I made the mistake of fording Geldie Burn on my way to the ruin of Geldie Lodge. These old buildings seem to have a magnetism that draws you in for a closer look. As I stood among the ruins I realised that I’d made yet another wrong turn – the path onward seemed to peter out so I had to re-ford the burn onto the path that deteriorated further – many sections were little more than boggy streams. Progress was slow with the heavy bike – the front wheel kept sinking and at one point I bent the outer chain ring catching a rock. I managed a repair but effectively lost a third of my gears.
You hear the River Eidart before you see it – a waterfall flows through the deep cut in the landscape, progress from here is over a rickety bridge. A couple of the wooden slats were rotten; I decided to carry the panniers across rather than chance the weight of the whole bike.
The bridge more or less marks the high point of the ride after which progress is more or less all downhill. The change in the landscape is quite marked; the valley becoming much steeper and more wooded, it reminded me a lot of Valsesia in Piemonte.
Serious erosion on the path of the eastern bank of the River Feshie made it necessary to ford the river three times. With the light starting to fade I began looking for a suitable camping spot. Ruigh Aiteachain, my scheduled overnight stop was now on the wrong side of the river and Glenfeshie Lodge was still not open after the lockdown. Because it was a good road I decided to keep going and after passing through a hamlet I found a spot on the river bank as light really was fast fading. Conscious that cows were in the vicinity I crossed over to a dried overflow bed and pitched the tent. This was the first time I’d had the tent out of its bag and though easy to pitch I was cursing that I hadn’t had a least one practice in the garden in the months since I’d bought it.
Forty miles and nearly 11 hours in the saddle it had been the hardest day’s biking ever. After brushing my teeth I crawled into my sleeping bag and sleep quickly followed.
Day 4: Feshiebridge to Loch Doire nan Sgiath 38 miles 3,431ft ascent 11 hours (2 hours in Kingussie) Weather: Max 7.6 Min 0.4 Rain 2mm Wind NNE 4.4mph Castles, lochs, distilleries and dozens of deer
The dawn chorus awoke me just before 6am along with the reassuring sound of raindrops – not to mention the comforting hum of the fast-flowing River Feshie. It was time to break camp.
Packing everything up seemed to take an age, it wasn’t much before I was pedalling again back to the road at Feshiebridge. With a dead phone I made a beeline for Kingcraig but soon found myself pedalling on to Kingussie where I found a cafe to recharge my electronics and myself.
Although polite I found the locals to be a bit standoffish after exchanging the usual initial pleasantries. I resolved to listen to the conversations of others as they came and went; the hot topic seemed to be the coming election and more than one person exclaimed that they had ‘no interest whatsoever in who bought Boris’s curtains’.
At Newtonmore I swapped the old A86 for the B9150 and another cycle path that more or less trekked all the way to Dalwhinnie. From here it was another delightful lochside path along Loch Ericht.
Old castle-like lodges
Day 5: Loch Doire nan Sgiath to Fort William 32 miles, 1287ft (4.5 hrs) Weather: Max 8.1 Min 2.8 Rain 1mm Wind NE 4.3mph Glass-smooth lochs, giant pines, empty castles
After a much better overnight camping stop I rode on to Fort William. The path down to Loch Laggan, a gravel track suddenly turns into the smoothest Tarmac road before you reach ‘Kings Grave’, a Scottish castle that looks like something out of a Hammer studios production. There wasn’t a soul around – I was half expecting Klove to suddenly appear at the door.
The path along the southern shore of Loch Laggan offered superb views of snow-capped Creag Meagaidh – clouds of vapour could be seen as the strong spring sunshine evaporated the wintry precipitation that had fallen overnight.
The original plan to proceed to Corrour shooting lodge was abandoned as steep paths beyond effectively blocked my way west. From here it was a straightforward, mostly downhill, onward path into Fort William.
Day 6: Fort William – Observatory Gully, Ben Nevis 30 miles, 5,194ft (11.5 hrs) Weather: Max 8.6 Min -2.1 Rain tr Wind WSW 7.5mph A little skiing at last
After abandoning efforts to go up Aonach Mor – impossible even with half the panniers / weight left in the b&b – the day’s climbing didn’t really start until 3pm from the North Face car park.Lots of ‘you’re mad’ odd looks though with words of encouragement from walkers and climbers on the way up to the CIC hut at 2,231ft.Knackered but with the sight of the snowline just a few hundred feet higher I transferred the skis to the pack, locked the bike and continued on to the snowline, around 2,700ft up Observatory Gully. Ski boots and crampons on at 6pm I went higher to the small buttress at 3,900ft. With one eye on the clock the skis went on and a slide back down lumpy snow. I’d travelled 210 miles and climbed 18,571ft for a ski descent of 1,246ft. Is this the longest ‘walk in’ to a ‘ski tour’ ever?I made it back to Fort William as the last light of the day faded at 9.30pm
Day 7: Fort William – Mallaig: 43 miles, 3,031ft (5 hrs ish) Weather: Max 6.3 Min 2.3 Rain 4mm Wind NE 16.3mph Stormy lochs, rusting boats, Harry Potter steam trains, railway viaducts, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the best wee dram I’ve ever tasted.
I totally underestimated this leg, thinking it would be a plod to the coast. The last fifth turned me directly into the stormy winds – even on declines I seemed to be buffeted back uphill, I had to resort to walking on large sections.
What I thought was the last hill turned out to be the last but three. I cursed my lot out loud and, approaching delirium, convinced myself that Scottish miles must be longer than English miles.
No matter, I arrived in Mallaig and dipped the wheel in the harbour before finding a pub for the best pint and wee dram I’ve ever tasted.
I’d been lucky with the weather though days like this would have made the tour impossible in this timescale.
Though the challenge is complete I’m still raising funds for Young Minds, a brilliant charity for our youth who have suffered greatly being cooped up over the past year.
Air pressure is probably the least celebrated meteorological statistic, most probably because unless you’re staring at a barometer all day you can’t ‘see’ it.
High pressure brings mostly fine weather while low pressure usually brings wind and rain – though it is the gradient of the isobars that can measure the impact each system can bring.
Steep falls and rises in pressure bring the most memorable events, in my case the October 1987 storm.
During the next week there will be a notable fall in pressure – but how will it compare with the past recent years? Looking at my own stats, a relatively small but complete set of 9am barometer readings back to May 2013, it does look like it will be notable.
The table below shows the numbers to beat.
As with many of these events the most impactful weather was found in the north of Scotland. The first period coincides with Storm Caroline. The Met Office blog says Caroline brought a max gust of 93mph at Fair Isle and transport disruption and closed schools across the Western Isles.
Of course what goes down also comes up and pressure rises can be even more notable. In February 2016 the pressure rose 50mb in just three days, a week or so after Storm Imogen.
According to the Met Office FAX charts the 9am pressure in London on March 11th will be around 988mb, which would represent a fall of 48.6mb from 9am on March 6th.
Attention on the bright meteor seen over the UK earlier this week got me thinking about the meteors frequently mentioned in Luke Howard’s Climate of London volumes.
Howard had a keen interest in all things atmospheric, not least this celestial phenomena. Many of his personal accounts are mentioned over a period of a decade or so including accounts of meteors overseas.
The last three months in east London, considering sunshine, have been the dullest for 10 years. Despite the sunny end to February just 123 hours of sun have been recorded, just under 74 per cent of the seasonal average.
With little sun, rainfall well above average, temperatures best described as average and the endless lockdown it is no wonder things felt so grim.
A couple of years ago, inspired by the blogger XMetman, I devised my own ‘grim index’ to try to rank how each winter ‘felt’.
Using the same criteria, and assuming that most people welcome sunshine, it can be seen that since the least grim winter of 2007-08, the season, after a blip in 2018-19, has been growing steadily worse.
The grimmest winter, considering statistics back to 1881, was, ironically, the 1978-79 ‘Winter of Discontent’ when, again ironically, ‘Sunny Jim’ Callaghan was in Downing Street as widespread strikes coincided with the coldest winter for 16 years.
On looking at the Top 20 of grim winters it is striking how most coincide with depressing world events, the Great War, World War 2 and the Spanish Flu pandemic.
Early March often brings stormy weather, a singularity that has a probability of 88 per cent!
An example of just how long this singularity has been around can be found in the early 19th century
In his book TheClimate of LondonLuke Howard mentions that the air pressure on March 4th was the lowest measured for some 37 years. The lowest point of 28.35 inches (960mb) is remarkable in that the lowest I’ve measured in Wanstead since 2012 was 969.8mb last December!
The storm brought devastation across a wide swath of southern England with loss of life on both land and sea. Howard’s account of the storm mentions the barometer falling an inch in 15 hours with rain after dark with the wind “raging in violent gusts from SE and SW till past midnight when it abated after much thunder and lightning”.
His friend in Manchester, Dr William Henry, wrote a storm SW caused considerable damage, delaying the London mail in Macclesfield from 8pm until 3am on the 5th, the storm raging until 3am. The barometer fell to 28.2in (955mb) at Manchester.
Character of the period for the most part tempestuous with frequent rains the barometer running through a series of sharp depressions till near the close when it suddenly assumed the elevation of fair weather Almost all the showers from the first were more or less mingled with hail
Elsewhere in Britain public ledgers also reported the storm.
Yarmouth A most tremendous gale of wind from the S to the SE with rain came on about 8pm which continued with increasing violence all night and has done considerable damage to the shipping on this part of our coast.
Deal Last night it came on to blow a most tremendous gale from the south and continued nearly the whole of the night with unabated violence at midnight it blew a complete hurricane accompanied with thunder and lightning during which several vessels in docks suffered.
Portsmouth It blew a tremendous hurricane last night from S and SSE accompanied with the highest spring rides ever remembered.
Ryde 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 past 11pm during which time the greater part of the pier and several houses were demolished. The supposed damage is estimated at between £4,000 and £5,000. No lives were lost nor any damage done to the shipping.
Dartmouth We experienced a perfect hurricane last night at SSE from 6pm to 10pm
Exmouth On the 4th instant between 7pm and 8pm we had a most tremendous gale of wind about SSE with dreadful rain thunder and lightning.
Falmouth At day light this morning the wind was from the WSW moderate. About 11am it strengthened to the S and from that to SSE and since that time until 10pm it has blown a hurricane with a heavy sea.
Penzance We had a very heavy gale here on Wednesday the 4th.
Milford On the 4th it blew a very heavy storm from SW to WNW.
Leicester Wednesday night was one of the most boisterous recollected for years past. Much damage has been sustained in this town and many parts of the county.
Hull At high water about 4.30pm the wind then blowing from the SW with moderate weather the tide flowed at the Old Dock Gates 18ft 6in. After the tide had fallen from 1 to 2in the dock gates closed as usual with the ebbing of the tide which then began again to flow to the height as near as can be calculated of four or five inches thereby opening the gates again and continued flowing. The tempestuous night of Wednesday ensued the wind blew a heavy gale still from the SW and at high water at 5am Thursday morning the tide was 14ft 1in being 4 feet 5 inches less than on the preceding evening although from the spring tides having put in the water ought according to the usual state of things to have flowed higher than on the Wednesday evening
Plymouth At the commencement of the winter a few large stones were placed by themselves on the top or finished part of the Breakwater to see if they would stand the winter gales they stood all but this last and this morning I found them washed from the top and lying on the North Slope There were three of them one of nine tons and the other two of five tons each they will be replaced as soon as possible for further trial Plymouth The effects of the late thunder storm of the 4th March on a fir tree belonging to W Langmead Esq at Elfordleigh in the neighbourhood of Plymouth are too singular to be omitted and perhaps the most extraordinary ones that ever occurred in this county on such an occasion The tree in question has been long admired for its size and noble proportions being more than 100 feet high and nearly 14 feet in girth but it exists no longer having been literally shivered to pieces by the electric fluid Some of the fragments lie 260 feet from the spot and others bestrew the ground in every direction presenting altogether a scene of desolated vegetation easier to be conceived than described.
Valentines Day 2021 saw the cold spell come to an end in the London area. Maxima over the past 7 days never exceeded 2.3C on any day, the yardstick I use for a spell of cold weather to qualify.
Though some places did get a decent amount of snow precipitation in this area was very low ; lying snow at 9am at this station never exceeded 3cm. Very cold, dry air however was enough to preserve cover out of the sun.
As cold spells go it was two days longer than the median of 5 days, so slighter colder and drier but with double the amount of sunshine.
A couple of years ago I tried to rank cold spells in this area since 1960, with mixed results. I’ve since revisited the method and have achieved better results using the following algorithm. (Number of days * total precipitation)*(mean temperature of spell)-(total sun hours). This gave the following list.
And the next 26 cold spells
There’s been many images that define this spell but this post probably nails it in that I’ve never seen the ice thick enough on the marshes to tempt someone to ice skate.
With the midnight run of this model bringing the start of the 25th into range the prognosis for the big day is a rare white one – for those north of the border.
The rest of the country is messy mix of sleet and, in London’s case, cold rain with a high of 7C. It looks fairly average for this locality!
But followers of this blog and elsewhere will know that any model output beyond 72 hours should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
But while conditions out to 15 days are often very different they can give a general guide to how the atmosphere is evolving in the medium range. The last few winters I’ve been doing this Christmas day model blog have revealed that conditions are sometimes not wildly different from what was hinted at 372 hours before.
Over the last few days the GFS, and other models, has been flip-flopping between cold and mild, a symptom of the current atmospheric situation which suggests that the polar vortex may undergo displacement as we progress further into winter. This could signal colder weather for NW Europe – but exactly where this colder weather will be as we progress to the end of the month is very uncertain – any colder than average weather could remain closer toward Central Europe, as happened in 2008.
Below are charts for each day from the midnight operational run of the GFS model.
The best chance for lying snow this winter looks like being at the end of the second week of January.
A combination of local analogues and global atmospheric factors including the El Niño-Southern Oscillation suggest that the coming season will be colder than recent years. Though that’s not saying much considering just how mild winters of the past decade have been.
Meteorological autumn was the warmest for 5 years and slightly drier than last year’s wet autumn. Though it shares some similarities with 2015 the external influences are thankfully different to that season which produced the warmest December on record. 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 around average temperature-wise with rainfall also about average. Possibly stormy at the end of the first week. Any snowfall events are likely to be marginal – bad news for anywhere below 70m above sea level. In terms of Christmas a white one in London looks unlikely. There may be interest in the week running up to the big day but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that inexplicable warm up that often happens just as the 25th arrives. Mean: 5.8°C (5.6°C 1981-2010 average) Rainfall: 57.1mm (53.2mm 1981-2010 average)
January is the month most likely to see any lying snowfall, particularly during the first half of the month, with the mean temperature about 1C colder than average. Rainfall is likely to be above average. Mean: 4.1°C (5.2°C 1981-2010 average) Rainfall: 63.8mm (53.2mm 1981-2010 average)
February looks wet and mild overall. Mean: 6°C (5.3°C 1981-2010 average) Rainfall: 55.6mm (39.2mm 1981-2010 average)
Overall the mean for winter: 5.3°C, a little below average. And rainfall about 120 per cent higher than average.
Looking in closer detail reveals that the coldest period is most likely to be between 13th and 19th January, with anomalies sufficiently low enough for lasting lying snow.
The extremes that no-one can forecast
As well as the extreme December 2015 the analogues also revealed the severe season of 1822-23 which saw ice on the Thames by late December. February 8th saw a great snowstorm in northern England where people had to tunnel through the snow.
Another was 1950-51 which was very snowy at high levels. There were 102 days of lying snow at Dalwhinnie (1000ft), exceeding the 83 days set in 1946-47. December 15th saw 15in of snow in Shanklin, Isle of Wight in 3.5 hours.