Tag Archives: Does SSW affect London weather

The most potent cold spells since 1960

‘This cold spell is rubbish compared to what we used to get!’
Every winter when weather model hype builds expectation for many, often days in advance, the outcome never seems to quite match the hype.

This expectation among weather nerds is inflated even further when the tabloids cotton on and build anticipation further only for it all to end in a ‘damp squib’.

I’ve lost count of the number of times when excited enthusiasts proclaim that an incoming cold spell is going to last at 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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In 2018 the really cold air aloft had warmed after 5 days

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 February 2018 to the mammoth 31-day Siberian blast that began on Boxing Day 1962.

In another blog I remarked how similar the 2018 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.

How does an SSW affect London’s weather

There’s been much anticipation regarding the forthcoming sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event with many hoping that a resultant split vortex will result in unseasonably cold weather in the UK and… copious snow in the low-lying south-east.

An SSW event, which reverses winds high up in the atmosphere from a westerly to easterly, can downwell into the troposphere, bringing weather from a (usually) cold continent instead of the warm Atlantic.

While a split PV event is usually more conducive for cold weather in the UK, as opposed to a ‘displaced vortex’, which usually favours only the eastern US, it is by no means a guarantee of a cold pattern subsequently evolving.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 18.43.11Using results published in the paper Tropospheric Precursors and Stratospheric Warmings (Judah Cohen and Justin Jones), along with meteorological data for east London, I set out to find what influence past warmings had on the weather in the capital.

Looking 45 days either side of the central date for vortex splits gave the following, chaotic graph.

 

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But every year is different. And there appears to be more likelihood of an SSW making a difference, in terms of prompting a colder pattern, the earlier in the winter it occurs.

The SSW in 1985 was followed by a 45-day mean temperature anomaly of -3.8C! If you look at a shorter timescale, 15 days after a split PV and the anomaly is -10C on January 16th: -4.9C is the second coldest January day in Wanstead of the past 60 years.

At the other end of the scale the SSW event on March 23rd 1965 was followed by a POSITIVE anomaly of 3.4C. Perhaps solar influence this late in the year can override any SSW? Elsewhere, however, according to the website london-weather.eu: “3rd March – A combination of deep snow cover and clear skies allowed minimum temperatures to fall below -21C in northern Scotland.”

During another SSW in 2001 results in London were fairly unremarkable though heavy snow fell in Ireland.

 

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This graph shows a general downward trend in the 15 days following an SSW event

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.42.39The other result to consider is the influence from ENSO. It seems that when La Nina is ‘too negative’ this can ‘overcook’ proceedings and actually leave our part of the UK with a positive anomaly, as this table shows. It should be noted, however, that thicker Arctic ice in the 1960s would also possibly have had more influence than now.

There hasn’t been a full SSW event for years. The impact this one will have on our weather in London, a tiny part of the globe, is impossible to quantify. Though the latest model output is encouraging for anyone looking for a chilly end to winter.

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And here’s @wxcharts idea on two weeks from now.