Category Archives: Winter forecast

Months of snow on way? It’s too early to tell

Sections of the tabloid media have been going into overdrive these past couple of weeks with tales that the UK will soon be in the grip of an Arctic freeze – one headline in the Daily Express boasted that parts of the UK were in for FOUR MONTHS OF SNOW.

excess
The Daily Express ‘forecast’ was published at the end of September

These stories are nothing new though they seem to be published earlier and earlier in the autumn. By the time we reach November – once the traditional time when winter forecasts started appearing – the tabloids have already turned their attentions to spring. Much of it is just ‘clickbait’ – a means for publishers to prove their stories are being read to keep their advertisers happy, a symptom of an industry in financial dire straits.

There will be snow somewhere in the UK during the next five months but predicting heavy snowfall in a given area, such as London, is impossible. But given the outrageous claims at such a long way from the start of the season on December 1st I decided to have a look to see if there is anything wintry on the horizon.

I started by comparing a range of historic datasets, including quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) and el niño–southern oscillation (ENSO), against monthly mean temperature and rainfall anomalies. Because ENSO data only goes back to 1950 the findings are obviously far more restricted than my winter forecast method which uses local data going back to 1797.

The results of my data trawl are underwhelming. The best fit years were as follows:

analogues

For anyone who likes snow the above is not encouraging, however, given the past year which has seen several daily and monthly records shattered, including a record warm December, who’s to say that recent warm temperatures will suddenly swing the other way.

The above table would also suggest that the coming winter will be colder and snowier than the previous three – but that gives little away given how mild the past three winters have been.

scand
October 2016 has seen a strong blocking high become established over Scandinavia, the earliest this has happened since 1881.

A study of mean temperature anomalies in London since 1950 suggest that sudden swings, both positive and negative, are becoming more likely. Last month was the fifth month in a row that I recorded a positive anomaly – the longer this goes on the more likely it is the mean could turn negative – though bear in mind that I have recorded 12 months in a row of positive anomalies, from February 2011 until January 2012.

Current weather also suggests that something maybe afoot with the earliest establishment of a strong anticyclone over Norway (the fabled Scandinavian high) since 1881! This weather pattern gives the south-east its best chance of snow with the feed of cold air often coming all the way from Siberia. Time and again, however, I’ve seen these patterns break down in November just as everyone starts talking about an imminent severe winter. There is more than an element of truth to the saying:

Ice in November to bear a duck, rest of winter will be slush and muck

In conclusion, while the early figures look bleak for snow in the low-lying south-east, it is still far too early to tell if the coming winter will be mild or cold.

 

 

The GFS countdown to Christmas Day

xmas2412
The op chart for Christmas Day on 24/12 shows the UK split between influence from a low to the north of Scotland and a European high giving a balmy SW’ly . Rain moves up from the SW during the day. Temps in London rising to 13C after a low of 4C. Best chance of anything wintry northern Scotland

The odds for snow on Christmas Day have been shortened for those that live in northern Scotland, reflecting the latest operational model runs that suggest the current mild regime will continue in the south.

 

The operational runs of the weather model GFS began to include Christmas Day in its forecast on December 9. Admittedly T+384 is la-la land in terms of trying to accurately predict what the weather will be like on the day but I thought it would be fun to see how the outcome changes over the next two weeks or so.

William Hill odds for snow on Christmas Day:
9th: London 5/1; Aberdeen 5/2; Edinburgh 3/1; Glasgow 3/1; Newcastle 4/1; Belfast 5/1;  Birmingham 6/1; Norwich Airport 7/1; Penzance 10/1
10th: unchanged. 11th: unchanged. 12th: unchanged. 13th: unchanged. 14th: unchanged. 15th: unchanged. 16th: London 8/1; Aberdeen 7/2; Edinburgh 4/1; Glasgow 4/1; Newcastle 5/1; Belfast 5/1;  Birmingham 7/1; Norwich Airport 10/1; Penzance 16/1.

22nd: London 12/1; Aberdeen 5/2; Edinburgh 7/2; Glasgow 7/4; Newcastle 5/1; Belfast 10/3;  Birmingham 10/1; Norwich Airport 10/1; Penzance 12/1.

23rd: London 18/1; Aberdeen 5/2; Edinburgh 7/2; Glasgow 7/4; Newcastle 5/1; Belfast 10/3;  Birmingham 10/1; Norwich Airport 10/1; Penzance 16/1.

My predicted outcome for London made at the beginning of December:  TMax: 7C  TMin: 1C Moderate westerly 60% chance of rain shower 1hr of sunshine

  • Please note that the outcome will change markedly from run to run, day to day. The best hint of what the weather will be like will be from T=240z (10 days) and, reliably, T+120z. If the pattern is zonal then detail can only start being pinned down at T+72z.|
xmas091206z
5C, variable winds with threat of rain approaching from south-west. Chance of wintry showers Liverpool northwards. Snow On Christmas Day 5/2 Aberdeen Airport 3/1 Edinburgh Airport 3/1 Glasgow Airport 4/1 Newcastle Airport 5/1 Belfast Int. Airport 5/1 Leeds Bradford Airport 5/1 Liverpool Airport 5/1 London Heathrow 6/1 Birmingham Airport 6/1 Dublin Airport 6/1 Manchester Airport 7/1 Bristol Airport 7/1 Cardiff Airport 7/1 Norwich Airport 10/1 Penzance RNAS Culdrose
xmas1012
The operational chart for Christmas Day on 10/12 shows ridging from the south allowing a brief spell of quiet weather. Temps in London a couple of degrees above freezing with frost at night. A flurry possible almost anywhere though east coast most likely.
xmas1112500mb
The op chart for Christmas Day on 11/12 shows a ridge bringing a brief spell of cold, quiet weather. Temps in London about 6C after a cold, possibly frosty start. Dry to start though increased risk of rain from the west later. Best chance for anything sleety probably Glasgow…
xmas1212
The op chart for Christmas Day on 12/12 shows the UK in a col. Rain a possibility almost anywhere but chiefly in the SW and south. Temps in London about 6C and a low of 3C. Best chance for anything wintry probably Aberdeen toward midnight…
xmas1312
The op chart for Christmas Day on 13/12 shows the UK in a returning N’ly regime. Heavy rain spreading in to SW and S. Temps in London about 12C and a low of 6C. Best chance for anything wintry in the far north
xmas1412
The op chart for Christmas Day on 14/12 shows the UK in a returning N’ly regime. Starting dry in the SE but rain spreading in later. Temps in London peaking at 13C after a low of 10C. Best chance for anything wintry in the far north
xmas1512
The op chart for Christmas Day on 15/12 shows the UK split between a returning N’ly regime and a large area of high pressure centred over Switzerland, advecting warm air from North Africa. Mostly dry across the UK with best chance of precipitation NW Scotland. Temps in London peaking at 10C after a low of 7C. No chance of anything wintry, anywhere
xmas1612
The op chart for Christmas Day on 16/12 shows the UK split between a returning N’ly regime and a large area of high pressure over central Europe, advecting warm air from North Africa. A band of rain lies across the UK though dry in the SE. Temps in London peaking at 13C after a low of 11C. No chance of anything wintry, anywhere
xmas1712
The op chart for Christmas Day on 17/12 shows most of the UK in a balmy SW’ly regime, controlled by a strong high pressure over central Europe. Air over the SE is all the way from the Sahara. Any precipitation confined to Scotland. Temps in London peaking at 11C after a low of 8C. No chance of anything wintry, anywhere
xmas1812
The op chart for Christmas Day on 18/12 shows the UK split between influence from a low centred over Iceland and a European high giving a balmy SW’ly . Air over the SE is from northern Spain. A band of rain heralds cooler air from the NW. Temps in London peaking at 11C and falling away during the day. Best chance of anything wintry Western Isles of Scotland
xmas1912
The op chart for Christmas Day on 19/12 shows the UK split between low centred off north of Scotland introducing a cooler NW’ly airstream while south just about hangs on to the European high. A band of rain clears SE early on 25th from the NW. Temps in London peaking at 10C and falling away during the day. Best chance of anything wintry high ground in N England and northern Scotland
xmas2012
The op chart for Christmas Day on 20/12 shows the UK split between influence from a low to the north of Scotland and and a European high giving a balmy SW’ly . Rain moves in from the west during the day. Temps in London rising to 12 after a low of 4C. Best chance of anything wintry northern Scotland
xmas2112
The op chart for Christmas Day on 21/12 shows the UK split between influence from a low to the north of Scotland and and a European high giving a balmy SW’ly . Rain moves in from the west during the day. Temps in London rising to 12 after a low of 4C. Best chance of anything wintry northern Scotland
xmas2212
The op chart for Christmas Day on 22/12 shows the UK split between influence from a low to the north of Scotland and a European high giving a balmy SW’ly . Rain moves up from the SW during the day. Temps in London rising to 13C after a low of 4C. Best chance of anything wintry northern Scotland
xmas2212
The op chart for Christmas Day on 22/12 shows the UK split between influence from a low to the north of Scotland and a European high giving a balmy SW’ly . Rain moves up from the SW during the day. Temps in London rising to 13C after a low of 4C. Best chance of anything wintry northern Scotland
xmas2312
The op chart for Christmas Day on 23/12 shows the UK split between influence from a low to the north of Scotland and a European high giving a balmy SW’ly . Rain moves up from the SW during the day. Temps in London rising to 13C after a low of 4C. Best chance of anything wintry northern Scotland

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Winter 2014/15 – second sunniest on record

This winter was the second sunniest on record in this region. Sunshine hours totalled 238 hours during December, January and February – that’s 142% of average and second only to 2007/08.

It was the sunniest December on record in the series going back to 1979. Some 11 mornings were completely clear at the 9am observation time
Winter 2014/15 was the second sunniest on record with 238 hours of sunshine

The first lying snow for two years is also a notable observation of winter 2014/15. That it lasted just a few hours emphasises how little snow there was at sea-level for the second winter in succession.

The mean temperature of 5.2C was just 0.3C below the 1981-2010 average. Some 152mm of rain fell – that’s just 7mm over the winter average.

Winter began with the sunniest December on record in my series going back to 1877. Over 90 hours of sunshine was recorded in this area which is 224% of what we can expect to see during an average December.

January saw the first falling snow in nearly two years with the last three days of the month seeing the first flakes of winter – nothing much to write home about by average winter standards.

February produced the first lying snow in nearly two years. The 1cm depth at 9am on 3rd, however, is nothing much to write home about by average winter standards.

The wettest day during the three months was January 12th when 13.1mm fell.

Snow fell on 6 days. Air frosts: 27 Ground frosts: 48

Full stats for winter can be found here: http://1drv.ms/1rSfT7Y

At the end of November I published my annual winter forecast. I said the season would *probably* be colder with a better chance of snow than last winter. If I’m honest I thought we’d see more incidents of snowfall though, with my predicted mean temperature of 4.2C being exceeded by 1C, the air around the UK just wasn’t cold enough for snow at sea level. My predicted rainfall was more impressive – I forecast 156mm and was out by just 4mm!

Obviously when the season is average long-range forecasts like this have a much higher chance of being correct. One could argue that basic climatology has made my forecast look a reasonable one. But I stick to what the stats suggest and try to steer clear of the endless hyperbole published almost daily by certain tabloids.

Winter forecast 2014/15

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There is a higher chance of snow this year. The average for lying snow in Wanstead at 9am in winter is 6 days

Probabilities for winter for the London area would be a more apt title for this post but that’s not very exciting compared with the hyperbole published almost daily by the likes of the Daily Express.

Much has been written about the sources of their forecasts over the past couple of years. Splash headlines that promise Armageddon Arctic conditions or Biblical blizzards never seem to materialise. So without boring you further I’ll move on to my own views on how I think the next 90-odd days will unfold.

Taking into account more sophisticated methods than my own there seems to be a signal for something colder than last year – though that’s not saying much given that 2013/14 was the 11th warmest winter on record with NO snow falling observed in this area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Jack Frost could also be around more this winter than last

Though it was abandoned by the Met Office years ago I have decided to base my predictions more on analogues this year. I have a lot more data at my disposal – the series I use now extends past 1881 back to 1797.

The figure I arrived at, taken as an average of the closest matching autumn periods, is a mean temperature of 4.2C with rainfall totalling 156mm over the months of December, January and February – that’s about a degree colder than average and about average rainfall – though I think it could be less given that December is looking relatively dry on the current model output.

The probability of a winter with a mean temperature of between 3C and 4C is 33% – the most likely outcome – though this low figure emphasizes the mixed signals this autumn. With this in mind a winter similar to 1984/85 is possible which saw a brief cold snap at the end of December together with a two-week cold spell that began during the first week of January. There was also a 10-day cold spell during February of that winter.

iced anemTo try to add value to the above outcome I also had a look at the likelihood of this winter being as mild as last winter.

It has been noted in the past that mild winters often come in twos. I had a look back through the series to see if this was true.

The occurrence of two very mild winters in succession is 27/217 (12.4%). The occurrence of a very mild winter being followed by a very cold or severe winter is 16/217 (7.4%). So while, from these simple stats, another mild winter is more likely, it is not really high enough to consider over the average I  found in the first calculation made from straight autumn statistics.

A final fact to consider is just how mild and wet this year has been. Every month this year, apart from August, has been warmer than average by an average factor of 1.2. If December continues warm this year could possibly end as the warmest on record. However, it is also possible that nature is about to redress the balance.

Here is a link of my method to predict the coming winter.

winter 2014-15

* Forecasting models use probability on any given outcome. Millions of observations are fed into the Met Office database (and other countries’ weather agencies) every day. Supercomputers then crunch through this data to give probable outcomes. With the volatility of the atmosphere it is not surprising that certainty of any outcome often falls away rapidly. Forecasting has improved greatly in the last 20 years – though anything the models churn out beyond three to five days should be handled with caution. Long range models can give *some* idea of general trends for the months ahead – but changing just one variable can vastly alter an outcome at the end of the run.

* *Over the past few months I have been collating data for the area around Wanstead. This data is freely available from the excellent Met Office library and is emailed via Excel spreadsheet. Rainfall stats include a near-complete daily archive, stretching from 1961 to 2003, from City of London Cemetery . Sadly the rainfall station, along with many others, ceased to supply the Met Office after cuts were made shortly after the turn of century. Prior to 1961 I have used monthly figures taken at the Greenwich Royal Observatory stretching back to 1881. Though this is 6 miles away the difference in temperature between the two areas would be miniscule compared with rainfall data and so can be used. I use my own stats for the period after 2003.

http://benvironment.org.uk/post/36504022174/coldestwinterin100years

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/paulhudson/posts/whats-behind-the-coldest-winter