October is one of those months that can see both ends of the spectrum; from calm ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and, rarely, frost, to wet and wild systems whistling in off the Atlantic, best known being the 1987 Great Storm and, more recently, the St Jude storm.
I’ve put together a few top 10s of stats for Wanstead, St James’s Park and Heathrow for the month of October.
Some national UK October values according to TORRO
In terms of climatology October maxima, considering the 1981-2010 average, shows a through the month, though around there is often a spike. This would reflect the October singularities; early October storms, between 5th and 12th, peaking on the 9th, occur in 67 per cent of years. St Luke’s summer, between 16th and 20th, peaking on 19th, also has a 67 per cent probability. If you look at the graph there is a spike just after the 19th.
Mid-autumn storms occur between 24th and 29th October, with a 100% probability.
The average rainfall graphic shows that downpour amounts are variable through the month. A tendency for dry weather around the 17th and 18th before the wettest days on the 20th and 21st.
The long range weather models are causing much excitement on various forums with one run predicting an anomaly of +16C on Sunday, July 29th.
Such an anomaly would see temperatures exceed 40C in London, unprecedented looking back at records to 1841; the highest temperature recorded in the UK was 38.5C at Brogdale, near Faversham, Kent, in Augut 2003.
Though it is improbable it is not impossible. Back in April conditions allowed the temperature to rocket to a monthly record of 29.1C, a positive anomaly of 15.5C!
A repeat of similar synoptic conditions would be needed – these would obviously be helped by the record meteorological drought conditions this area is currently experiencing.
Because reliable thermometer records of heatwaves only go back as far as 1840 it is impossible to quantify whether 40C has ever been exceeded in the UK prior to then.
However, accounts of the heatwave of July 1808 suggest parts of England may have come close. Far removed from images of freezing Georgian winters and miserable summers the July of 205 years ago was among the warmest ever. The monthly mean for July 1808, according to the Central England Temperature series, was 18.4C – the 6th hottest July since the beginning of the series in 1659.
Luke Howard, the ‘father of meteorology’ who at the time lived in Plaistow, referred to the heatwave in his diary on July 13th: “Temperature at 9am 84F. The intense heat of the maximum lasted nearly three hours till about 4pm. At 6pm the temperature was 90F.” Another entry mentions a reading taken nearby. “Another at Plashet, a mile and a half eastward, indicated 96F as the maximum under the shade of a house.”
While Howard’s methods of measuring the temperature ran short of modern standards, his thermometer was hung under a laurel bush, the values still give a valid insight into the heatwave.
Tales of the heatwave, which particularly affected east and north-east England, can be seen in letters sent to local newspapers around the country. Many describe labourers dying from heat exhaustion while working in fields. Farm animals and horses suffered a similar fate.
One letter from Hull, published in the Coventry Mercury, said: “At Sigglesthorne, the honey in some beehives melted, ran out upon the ground, and most of the bees drowned in it. At Sutton, a lamb and a dog belonging to the Rev Mr Croft of Rowley, expired in the heat; and several birds dropped down dead, while flying over the streets of this town.”
Of course it is impossible to know about the health of people and animals that died but that birds dropped out the sky suggests extreme heat.
The thundery end to spring has probably built everyone’s hopes up that we’re about to experience a summer with plenty of fireworks in the atmosphere. But the current pattern that brought four consecutive days of thunder (the whole year average is 3.5!) – a continental influence on our weather – could just as easily flip to a mobile south-westerly.
The mean temperature for summer 2018 is looking average overall with average precipitation.
Like the most recent winter forecast I’ve looked in depth at ENSO, QBO and local meteorological data.
The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a periodic variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. Current neutral conditions are forecast to continue through to September so any impact is likely to be very small. I had a look at similar years were ENSO was 0.2 in May and came up with the following.
Rather cool: 40%
Average to slightly dry: 60%
Average to slightly wet: 40%
Average to slightly sunnier than average: 60%
Average to slightly dull: 40%
I also had a look the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO), the quasiperiodic oscillation of the equatorial zonal wind between easterlies and westerlies in the tropical stratosphere. This produced only two similar years: 1963 and 2010.
Average to slightly dry: 50%
Average to slightly wet: 50%
Average to slightly sunnier than average: 50% Singularities / patterns
Spring was consistently on the wet side this year with all months at least 127 per cent wetter than average, the total of 182mm made it the wettest for 10 years.
The mean temperature for the spring season, despite the very cold start, ended 0.8C warmer than average, just under a degree colder than last spring which was the second warmest on record.
If you take into account all years back to 1797 that were within +/- 10 per cent of these figures, some 10 ‘best fit’ years emerge.
The list of 10 summers, ranging from 1801 through to 2007, predominantly saw summers that were just on the cooler side of average – no real corkers stand out except for 2001 which saw a hot spell at the end of July that made it into my list of best heatwaves.
As an average this summer could be expressed as: Mean: 17.1C (just below average) Rainfall: 150mm (about average). Sunshine 535 hours (just below average)
Or, expressed in probabilities, I concluded the following:
Temperature Average to slightly below: 50%
Average to slightly above: 20%
Rather cool: 20%
Average to slightly sunny: 30%
Average to slightly dull: 40%
From the above you could deduce that the next three months will be slightly below average for temperature, with average rainfall. And slightly duller than average.
To try to give some idea of what month will have the best weather I’ve broken down the summer into June, July and August probabilities.
Looking at June, after the weekend, the outlook is looking unsettled and gradually turning cooler after the first week. July looks average as does August which, apart from two years, has been a very disappointing summer month.
Perhaps the best weather this summer will be at the end of June and the second week of July – just as most schools break up?
* Taking into account the fact that temperatures in London are up to 0.66C warmer than they were 100 years ago I have added 0.66C to mean temperatures before 1915.
** Obviously, in the event of a series of direct hits from thunderstorms, my rainfall estimate could be hopelessly short – a symptom of abundant solar energy at this time of year which creates a ‘noisy’ atmosphere compared with winter.
*** The 1981-2010 average mean for summer in this region is 17.6C, with 144.9mm of rain and 564 hours of sunshine
After the previous two days’ thunderstorm events it would be easy for this one to get lost in the ether. However, being super local and how quickly it developed and then died was enough to pique my interest.
After a very warm and humid afternoon where the temperature peaked at 26.2C clouds began gathering to the east with the first rumbles of thunder at 6.45pm. The huge cumulonimbus could be seen from Southend.
And Simon Cardy took an excellent shot from the other end of the Thames.
By 8.17pm the storm that had moved west had decayed markedly.
The 24hr rain totals at 09 on May 29th show how local the storm was. St James’s Park, 9 miles to the south-east, recorded half Wanstead’s total.
1840 first peals of thunder heard
1847 first drops of rain
1901 16mm/hr 1.7mm
1903 very heavy
1909 burst of >5mm hail recorded. Rain rate 60.4mm/hr
1929 rain ceased (10.4mm in total)
Though March is usually, meteorologically speaking, the first month of spring this year it felt more like an extension of winter.
The mean temperature for March 2018 finished 6.3C, that’s 1.4C below the 1981-2010 average, the coldest for five years but still nearly 3C warmer than the exceptional March of 2013.
Some 61.5mm of precipitation fell, that’s 151 per cent% of average and the wettest for 10 years, pipping the wet March of 2016 by just 1.2mm. The 38th= wettest March since 1797.
Perhaps most notable in this region was the lack of sunshine. There was just 59.1hrs recorded, that’s just 54 per cent of the 1981-2010 average. The dullest March since 1984 and, more notably, the 5th dullest March back to 1881!
Though there were no notable night frosts, the coldest night fell to just -3.8C, the cold pattern was enough to create three new entries in the top 10 of coldest March days in Wanstead and further afield in the capital.
With 6 more days of ‘snow lying at 9am’ winter 2017-18, the snowfall season stretches from October to May, was boosted up to 20th place on my snow index.
Since notably cold weather struck at the end of February I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this phrase uttered by the public and some sections of the press.
The ‘Beast from the East’ (versions 1.0 and 2.0) really captured the imagination in an age where everything has to have a label slapped on it; any message that these cold spells are ‘weather’ and not ‘climate’ seems to get lost.
Both spells, indeed the general pattern of our late winter weather, were driven by the stratospheric sudden warming event that lead to a split polar vortex in February – leading to a very cold end to the month and a mean temperature anomaly of -2.5C, the greatest monthly anomaly since March 2013.
To put it into perspective, however, it was nothing like some of the anomalies that occurred in the early 19th century: January 1814, for example, saw a monthly anomaly of -8.2C and coincided with the last occasion a frost fair was held on the Thames. Januaries back then were generally very cold, the 1801-1831 average monthly mean was -3C, that’s 8C colder than the most recent 1981-2010 average!
So climate now is much warmer but that is not to say that anomalously cold months can’t happen. February 1986 saw an anomaly of -5.6C, the 13th= greatest cold anomaly in my local dataset going back to 1797.
The cold December of 2010 recorded an anomaly of -4.2C, 76th= greatest cold anomaly, while anomalies of -4.1C recorded in January 1979 and March 2013 were 77th=.
With the warming climate it is no surprise that most warm months happened very recently. The balmy month of December 2015 saw a positive anomaly of 5.4C.
The ‘Beast from the East 2.0’ was caused by a narrow tongue of extremely cold air from Russia scoring a direct hit on the UK. The odds of this happening must have been low but it is an example of how, when the synoptics of the atmosphere line up perfectly, anything is possible.
And it is an example how even in a warming climate the UK can still be subject to anomalous cold and warmth at any time of the year.
As the author Mark Twain reportedly once said: “The climate is what you expect; the weather is what you get.”
Because the above graphic is crowded I created one of anomalies since 1970. The upward trend is the same.
The weather this coming weekend reminds me of a March weekend in 2013 when large parts of the south-east woke up to a covering of snow.
Conditions in Wanstead were very knife-edge, the cover being very slushy. I remember going for a bike ride on that Sunday morning. We left Aldersbrook in sleet, the cover grew thicker as we pedalled into Essex. By the time we reached High Beach near Epping there was 8cm of fresh cover. Conditions on the 2-hour plus ride were inclement to say the least – the temperature didn’t rise above 0C!
This weekend we have a similar set-up, only this time the upper air at 5,000ft is a good 10C colder – no knife-edges this time and, if the streamer gets going, many places should see 10cm of cover. Don’t put away that sledge just yet!
After the severe spell at the end of February that lasted into this month there’s lots of excitement / dread (*delete as appropriate) that the synoptic conditions that brought very cold air from our east is about to return.
The latest run on the GFS model shows that very cold air (-10C at 5,000ft) could be over us by next Sunday, with the ECM 12Z operational looking particular cold.
Snow this late in the year is very rare in the London area though, if the conditions are right, a blizzard is not impossible, as happened during the spring of 1952 when a two-day blizzard at the end of March brought drifts up to 6ft deep in the Chilterns.
Much more likely will be severe, possibly record breaking frosts. The coldest March night since 1959 across the London area occurred on the 3rd in 1965 with -7.4C recorded at Heathrow. Central London fell to -5C on the same night.
A look back at cold spells in March reveals that while snow was very scarce in London and the Home Counties it can be common on high ground from the Peak District northwards.
A history of March cold
1812: Luke Howard in The Climate of London noted that “great inclemency of the weather” on the 21st March disrupted mail deliveries between the north of Scotland and Carlisle. The road between Appleby and Brough was impassable because of snow and between Sheffield and Manchester and Bradford and Halifax the snow had drifted from “two to three yards deep”.
Mail deliveries were also disrupted across South Wales.
In Plymouth a “a most tremendous gale from SW the whole of last night and this morning” brought flooding.
Howard’s account would confirm a classic battleground scenario of mild Atlantic air from the south pushing against cold Polar continental air in the north.
His own records from Stratford show a couple of cold days from the 16th, highs never lower than 2C, the coldest night on the 24th, being -4.4C. On the 20th he mentions snow in the morning followed by rain.
Wanstead mean: 4.9C (-2.8C) rainfall: 74.4mm (183%)
The following accounts of cold spells in March are recorded on the site London Weather.
1962: The first ‘spring’ month was colder than any month during the preceding winter. Frosty nights were much more frequent than normal, and sleet or snow fell on 10 days, although amounts were often trivial . On the 5th, the maximum temperature was only 2.2 C. Towards the end of the month, north to northeast winds were replaced by somewhat, cloudier milder, and moister south-westerlies. Atlantic fronts brought rain bands, and on the 29th nearly 10mm was measured.
Wanstead mean: 3.3C (-4.4C) rainfall: 36.5mm (90%) sun: 95.4hrs (88%)
1964: The first week of March was mostly cold with wintry showers and a fresh northeast wind. The temperature on the 7th only reached 2.3C. The second week was changeable and milder, and the high on the 13th was near 14C., but on the 15th, rain turned to sleet and gave a total of 26mm as cold air slowly encroached from the east. Nearly 15mm of rain fell on the 19th as milder air returned, but the rest of the month stayed mostly rather cold and changeable.
Wanstead mean: 4.9C (-2.8C) rainfall: 80.4mm (90%) sun: 63.5hrs (58%)
1969: The first week was mainly dry, and although dull and cold at first, it became fairly sunny and milder but with severe frosts. Overnight on the 6th/7th the minimum temperature was close to minus 8C. During the second week it became dull and wet, but after a cold start temperatures rose above average. Cold north-easterlies returned on the 16th with a high of only 3C., and cloudy, rather cold, and often wet, weather persisted until westerlies returned on the 29th.
Wanstead mean: 4.6C (-3.1C) rainfall: 53.2mm (131%) sun: 55.8hrs (51%)
1979: The first 12 days of March were changeable and windy with temperatures mostly above average. A wave depression formed on a cold front and produced 23mm of rain on the 13th, and as this depression became slow moving to the east of the country the rain turned to sleet and snow on the 14th, and continued into the 15th and 16th with highs near 3C. After mid month, the weather became less unsettled and milder, and the high on the 25th was near 15C.
Wanstead mean: 5.8C (-1.9C) rainfall: 96.5mm (237%) sun: 100.5hrs (92%)
1985: After a changeable start to the month, pressure built, and it became mostly dry, although often rather cloudy, with temperatures close to normal. On the 15th, showery rain turned to snow during the morning, and several cold and unsettled days followed. Sleet or snow fell on 5 days, and on the 21st the temperature failed to rise above 5C. Sharp frosts occurred, and although it then became less cold, the 26th was a miserable day with 11m of rain falling.
Wanstead mean: 5.9C (-1.8C) rainfall: 44.1mm (108%) sun: 100.5hrs (87.4%)
February 2018 saw the start of the first decent cold spell since 2013 with thick (by modern standards) snow cover, deep cold air and bitter winds.
It was the coldest February since 1991, the mean temperature of 2.8C was just over 2.5C below average. The month was ‘cold’ though it was the 19th onwards that really dragged the value down.
Precipitation was just below average; just over 34mm is 87% of average.
It was a sunny month, the sunniest February since 2012 and the 12 sunniest in a local record going back to 1881. Some 87.9 hours were recorded, 120% of average. Of that top 12, eight have occurred since 1988! A mix of changes in weather patterns, industry and council action?
Air frosts: 16. Ground frosts: 19. Snow falling: 6 days. Snow lying: 3 days (greatest depth 8cm 28th)