Tag Archives: Winter 2013/14

A wet winter, but no record breaker

Rain, rain and more rain. Winter 2013/14 will be most remembered for its incessant precipitation that brought flooding to many parts of the country including the Somerset Levels and many towns and villages along the Thames. But, in this locality, it was no record breaker – being only the 6th wettest in my series going back to 1797. The mean temperature of 6.7C made it the 10th mildest, a full degree colder than the warmest winter of 1989/90.

Wanstead Flats by Scott Whitehead
The water table appears to have come to the surface on Wanstead Flats

The winter was notable for its complete lack of lying and falling snow. Indeed NO snow falling was observed for the entire three months – something that hasn’t happened in this area in at least 50 years – possibly longer. There’s still a chance of snowfall before April’s out – the snowfall season can last from November to May – but with the increasing strength of the sun any snow cover will be short-lived.

The opening few days of December were calm and quiet but a storm on 5th caused two deaths and much damage in the north; a tidal surge in the North Sea brought flooding along the east coast. The coldest spell of the winter arrived the second week of December with fog and a couple of frosts. From the 15th, however, the Atlantic cranked into life and pretty much drove the weather for the whole winter. A strong jetstream stayed over or very close to the UK for much of the three months, driving depression after depression over the British Isles.

Though daily totals were not record-breaking it was noticeable how much heavier the rain was at times across the Thames. A storm that ran from December 23rd into Christmas Eve brought 23.4mm of rain to Wanstead while at Kenley, 17.5 miles away, over four times as much was recorded. The intense streamer of rain and high winds brought power cuts to Gatwick airport, delaying thousands of travellers on their way home for Christmas. Five people were killed as a result of the storm.

Tree damage by the war memorial in Wanstead High Street by Scott Whitehead
Damaging gusts associated with the depression on December 23rd felled this tree by the war memorial in Wanstead High Street

The wet theme continued through January with added thunder and lightning. The most notable day was Saturday 25th when what started as a bright, fine day quickly changed around 4pm as a strong squall with heavy rain blew through with associated thunder and lightning and 6C fall in temperature in an hour. Wanstead escaped the damage of elsewhere. Numerous trees blocked rail lines in Kent and gusts of over 60mph were widely reported.

There were two other incidents of thunder and lightning on 5th and 6th – very unusual in the middle of winter and an average normally observed in high summer.

Yet more rain greeted the month of February though things turned somewhat dryer after 15th, though rainfall for this month was still over 180% of normal. A storm on the evening of Valentine’s Day into 15th saw yet more damage, resulting in two deaths including a man killed by a wave on a cruise ship in the Channel. A woman was killed when a 3ft by 3ft block of falling masonry crushed her car outside Holborn station.

A few stats:

Air frosts: 10

Ground frosts: 29

Warmest day: 14.5C (24/2)

Coldest day: 4.2 (12/12)

Coldest night: -2.9 (11/1)

Warmest night: 8.9 (6/1)

Wettest days: 23.4mm (23/12) 16.2mm (28/1) 14.6mm (16/1)

Highest gust: 31.1mph (16/12, 5/1)

Windiest day: January 5th

Full details can be viewed here: http://1drv.ms/1d3JK8J

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This wet winter is by no means unique

With flooding in the Somerset Levels dominating the headlines it is easy to get carried away with media hysteria that we are in unprecedented times in terms of rainfall. But as with so many media stories these days you don’t have to look far back in meteorological records to find that we’ve been here before.

The jetstream has been virtually ever present over the UK this winter, driving depression after depression over our isles
The jetstream has been virtually ever present over the UK this winter, driving depression after depression over our isles

Although I base this blog on local figures – two series of stats going back to 1881 and 1959 – it is notable that this particular microclimate has actually been dryer than neighbouring areas, including east Essex where the rain crossing this area often peters out. With such power in the jet stream, however, bands of rain have been pushing right through this winter. Surrey has also been notably wetter, with orographic uplift only partly responsible for the increased wetness. Anyone driving around the M25 will have noticed the flooded fields at the side of the motorway.

It has been mentioned that this winter has been the most cyclonic in recent memory, but you only have to go back to the winter of 2000-01 to find a more cyclonic winter, though that season saw fewer severe gales.

Since the beginning of the meteorological winter on December 1st Wanstead has recorded 235.6mm of rain to February 6th. Considering the 1959 series that’s 7% wetter than the winter of 1989/90 – though this winter is actually 0.9C colder than that season 24 years ago.

Looking at the bigger picture, and with 22 days to go, this winter is currently 7th wettest in the series going back to 1881 – quite a way behind 1915 which saw 343.7mm recorded. Looking at the GFS model out to 9 days, however, there is much more rain to come.

The season so far, in terms of temperature and rainfall, has been notable in that autumn did not really offer any hints as to how winter would unfold. At the beginning of December I would have put the probability of a winter such as we have had so far at 10%. Should the rain continue to fall while the temperature stays mild the probability would fall to 1% – a truly exceptional winter in the same league as 1962/63 – but at the other end of the scale.

After my less than impressive stab at a winter forecast I am a bit loathe to make any more predictions. Trying to predict the weather more than a few days ahead with any detail is impossible. And seasonal forecasting is fraught with difficulty. However, precedent suggests we could be in for a warm and settled March. Indeed, if this year is anything like what followed in 1990 we could be in for a very nice summer. But then again we might not. As Mark Twain said: ‘Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get’.