The outlook for possible snow over the weekend reminds me of a similar synoptic set-up in December 1990 that left large parts of the Midlands northwards covered in deep snow, but that delivered only cold rain to the London area.
The situation in 1990 is explained on the excellent Booty Weather site.
“A low formed dramatically over central England on the 7th, large quantities of rain, turning in many places to snow, fell on its western and northern flanks. On the 7th and 8th very heavy snow fell over northern England, Wales, the Midlands and south west England, with heavy drifting in gale force winds, causing considerable disruption to traffic and cutting power lines.
“The snow did not freeze, however, but melted very rapidly during the next few days, as the temperature rose a little. By late on the 8th, many parts of the Midlands had 20cm or more of lying snow. Acocks Green, Birmingham, reported 42.5cm on the 8th. The Peak District had 38cm at Middleton and 25cm at Winksworth. Newcastle under Lyme reported 28cm, and many other places had more than 20cm. Drifts up to 60cm on motorways in the Derby area, and at Carlton in Coverdale, near Leyburn, a report of 240cm. Snowfall on the 9th in the Dorchester area in 1990 was the heaviest pre-Christmas fall in that area since 9 December 9th, 1967.”
My stats in London suggest that the system was a bit of a non-event here. Another account of December 1990 is covered here.
Earthquakes in Italy and early season snow cover in Siberia have been well documented in 2016.
They were also mentioned by Luke Howard in his publication The Climate of London in 1810.
He also mentions winter thunderstorms over the Yuletide period, from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day – the amount of rain overflowing the Thames.
24th: Very windy night with heavy rain. 25th: Wind high all day with rain frequent lightning in the evening from SE. 26th: Wind very boisterous early in the morning day fine the rain of the last three or four days being impeded in its passage to the Thames by the spring tides overflowed the banks and filled the marshes.
Within two days of this wild and wet spell, complete with strong north-westerlies, the wind swung north and then north-easterly to usher in 1811 with a 12-day cold spell.
The conditions of the cold spell were not severe, the coldest night was -8C, it was a pretty standard cold spell for the time and one that the south-east used to experience with fair regularity in the early to mid 1980s.
Models currently show a (fairly) narrow chance of a stormy Christmas period. It would be interesting if it were followed with a cold spell in January – just like the ones we used to get in 1980s.
* The Booty website also contains the following on that notable month…
What is thought to be Britain’s strongest tornado occurred in December 1810. A category of “T8” (on a ten-point scale) occurred on the 14th at Old Portsmouth. The TORRO website says it: “tracked from Old Portsmouth to Southsea Common causing immense damage – although no deaths, it is believed. Some houses completely levelled and many others were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished; chimneys were blown down and the lead on a bank roof was ‘rolled up like a piece of canvas and blown from its situation’.”
Frost still lingers on my lawn as I write this winter forecast on the last day of the meteorological autumn. Last night’s minimum was -6.1C, the coldest night this year and, indeed, colder than any night last winter.
It would be very easy to get caught up in the hysteria that happens every November of what the winter will bring. Most of the hysteria comes from ‘coldies’, those folk that hope every winter will be the coldest and snowiest on record. I count myself among them.
But, despite hints from BBC weather forecasters that something maybe afoot in terms of something colder than usual from mid-December, years of disappointment have taught me to just take winter as it comes. Meteorological models this morning look anomalously warm for the first half of December, the UK being on the warm side of an anticyclone centred over France – the theme of so many winters I can remember.
The current phases of ENSO and QBO suggest that their influence on our winter this year will be far less marked than last year. Looking at teleconnections with a slight La Nina and the current QBO cycle have revealed winters that were fairly uninspiring though by no means write-offs for snow, two examples in the case of QBO being 1985/86 and 1990/91 – both had very cold Februaries.
Before I got too bogged down with trying to find patterns here I decided to move on to my more traditional pattern-matching.
Before I trawled through the figures my initial gut reaction to this winter was that it would be the coldest for at least four years – a not-too-difficult feat giving the mildness of the last three winters which saw very little in the way of snow.
The overall mean temperature for December, January and February came out at as4.2C – 1.2C colder than the 1981-2010 average, with average precipitation.
A rather cold winter, over three months doesn’t tell you much. A very mild and stormy December could mask a dry and notably cold February. This makes it worth looking at the individual months of each winter.
There is a lot of spread in the above tables. Considering them altogether I would guess winter will unfold in the following way:
December to start mild, possibly becoming very mild, before beginning to turn very cold mid-month. This pattern will persist, with varying intensity through into January which could also be very cold. Milder conditions to follow in February though this will probably end a fairly average month and drier after a slightly wetter than average December and average January.
As well as my method of using rainfall and temperature I also considered other methods. One was Russian research that states that the weather pattern in the winter will be the opposite to the weather on September 17th and November 7th. This autumn September 17th was N’ly and November 7th was NNW’ly. So, this would suggest a continental flow from S and SSE.
You can read the method of how I reached my conclusion here.
The Met Office’s latest outlook for a relatively high chance of cold weather in the early part of winter has set the internet abuzz with talk that the UK is about to experience its coldest winter in years.
The 3-month outlook, produced by the agency for contingency planners, states:
Lower-than-average temperatures are more probable than higher-than-average values. Overall, the probability that the UK-mean temperature for November-December-January will fall into the coldest of our five categories is 30% and the probability that it will fall into the warmest of our five categories is 10% (the 1981-2010 probability for each of these categories is 20%).
THe ‘30% chance’ for temperatures to be in the coldest of five categories is more significant than it would appear: in this three-year period of mild winters that figure usually hovers far lower.
The Met Office’s method, which includes a combination of data such as QBO, ENSO and ground based observations also agrees with my own method of finding local October singularities back to 1797. This month I found that an average or cold November is most likely: average and cold are both 30 per cent probability. Rather cold and severe are both 20%! There appears no chance of anything mild.
So, we can look forward to ‘a reduction in the normal westerly flow across the UK from the Atlantic, with a greater frequency of northerly or easterly winds’.
But what does this mean for the London area? If the near continent is not cold enough northerly and easterly winds could just bring a succession of cold rain in the form of showers off the North Sea with a higher than average frequency of frosty nights: nothing out of the ordinary for a slightly cooler than average November.
To try and second guess proceedings into December I decided to plot all year singularities to find when the cold spells would most likely fall and how severe they could be.
The results for November look unexciting: the coldest day is likely to be around the 19th with a maximum of 6.9C. The best chance for something cold looks to be in December, around 6th to the 11th – but there again highs of 3C or 4C would mean that any snow would be short lived. There appears to be a warm up in time to scotch hopes of a white Christmas before another cool down toward new year.
So, in conclusion, late autumn / early winter is likely to be a lot colder than the past three years. It is perhaps this fact, together with frosty mornings being common, that will make the season feel colder than it actually is.
I will be publishing my usual winter forecast on December 1st.
Though it was devoid of snowfall February 2016 was average for temperature and sunshine and on the dry side.
Some sharp frosts made for a couple of stunningly sunny days, “ski resort weather” the kind of days that were absent during the first half of winter after the super mild December.
Rainfall of 35.1mm was 90% of average – the driest February for three years. Mean temperature for the month was 5.4C, 0.1C above the 1981-2010 mean.
Sunshine was just above average. Over 79 hours were recorded, 108% of what we can expect to see during an average February.
The wettest day occurred on the 7th with 11.6mm.
Air frosts: 10
Ground frosts: 16
So what has March got in store weatherwise? The late winter synoptic pattern could see the first snowfall above 1cm over the coming days and next week though amounts are likely to be small and temporary and restricted to night hours.
The pattern bringing this messy wintry mix is low pressure moving SE across the UK between now and the weekend each band bringing progressively colder air across the UK. Much of the precipitation will be showery although Friday looks more interesting as a secondary moving south brings cold N or NE winds. Models suggest next week will see high pressure from the west displacing this cold N. The timescale is very uncertain and it may be toward the second half of next week before the general theme of dry and settled conditions prevail. Frosts at night remain likely and daytime temperatures remain close to or a little below normal.
Overall the first half of March does not look like it will offer much in the way of spring weather.
My long range forecasting method suggests the most likely scenarios to be rather cold or cold, though both are only at 33% probability. Something average or below works out at 83% probability. The only mild indicator is for something rather mild at 16% probability.
A dryer than average month looks most likely at 66% probability. Something wetter than average works out at 34% probability.
Very dull conditions look most likely at 83% probability.
So to sum up: Mean: 5.9C, rainfall 31.6mm, sunshine 68 hours.
Taking all of the above into account perhaps the most likely scenario will be that the month will be predominantly anticyclonic with lots of gloom during the day and night frosts, varying in intensity.
So to sum up: Mean: 5.9C, rainfall 32mm, sunshine 67 hours.
My February outlook for temperature was good. I predicted a mean of 5.9C (outcome: 5.4C) with 31.6mm of rain (outcome: 35.1mm). Sunshine 68 hours (outcome: 79.5hrs)
1st: Cloudy, breezy start. Sunshine PM with nacreous clouds reported on east coast. Cold in a brisk wind.
2nd Cloud gave way to sunny spells around 11am – then feeling cold in a brisk wind.
3rd Cloudy and cold start then mostly cloudy with a cold wind.
4th Bright though mostly cloudy start. Cloudy through the day with odd spot of drizzle through the night. Area of very light rain gave about 0.1mm before 9am.
5th Cloudy with light drizzle up to 11am then briefly bright before more drizzle arrived.
6th Cloudy to start with odd burst of drizzle. Very windy and feeling chilly in wind. Rain arriving after 8pm.
7th Sunny start though cloud bubbling up after 11am and feeling cold in wind as dew point fell away. A very heavy, violent squall swept through at 2245z then blustery through the night.
8th Sunny start quickly gave way to squally showers which were mostly light. Strong winds into the afternoon with squally but light showers. Chilly overnight.
9th Cloudy and cold start, briefly clearing before noon before clouding over again.
10th Cloudy start though with some weak brightness lunchtime.
11th Mostly sunny all day and calm – warmth of the sun can now be felt. Just a few cirrocumulus. Stunning.
12th Bright start but cloud thickening. Day felt cold though as DP fell away.
13th Cloudy start with drizzle at obs time. Cold wind through to lunchtime and intermittent drizzle.
14th Bright, cold start with cloud increasing through the morning.
15th Bright, cold start with lots of wispy cirro-cumulus around. . 16th Stunningly sunny and frosty start. Just patchy cirrus through the day.
17th Cloudy through the day until 5.30pm when drizzle then rain set in.
18th Initially cloudy but then quickly brightened up. Sunny spells through the afternoon.
19th Sunny, clear and frosty start. Cloud began to build mid morning becoming overcast by noon. Light rain spread in about 4pm. Milder.
20th Bright start but cloud and wind quickly built. Light at times moderate rain fell through the afternoon – a thoroughly miserable day.
21st Dull, dry day up to 1pm. Very mild. Staying cloudy overnight with rain arriving at 5am, most falling until 7.30am.
22rd Drizzly start turned to a dull, overcast day
23th Cloudy with clearance at 11.30am. More cloud appeared to leave sunny spells. Much advection but cleared to leave frosty night.
24th Sunny, clear and frosty start. Lots of sunshine but quickly turned cold after dark with early frost. Cloud then wind lifted temperature though.
25th Bright start but quickly clouded over to become cold. Clearance in evening allowed temperature to fall quickly but cloud moved in and breeze picked up to prevent a sharp fall.
26th Cloudy, cold start. Brightening up to sunny spells by 1pm. Too much cloud overnight for a frost.
27th Bright start but became cloudy through the day with a cold easterly wind.
28th Cloudy start but some brightness around noon
29th Cloudy start but soon brightened up with long sunny spells before clouding in again early afternoon.
The coldest night in three years was recorded last month together with the first lying snow in January since 2013 – though you had to be up early on Sunday 17th to see it.
For anyone looking for ‘traditional’ winter weather it was pretty desperate stuff and seems a continuation of the mild winters of the past three years.
Apart from a mild final week much of the month was rather cold with a couple of sharp night frosts that affected many early daffodils that bloomed during the super mild December.
Rainfall of 65.8mm was 124% of average – very similar to last January’s total. Mean temperature for the month was 5.8C, 0.6C above the 1981-2010 mean. It felt far cooler, however, because the December mean was 5C above average.
Sunshine was just above average. Over 54 hours were recorded, 108% of what we can expect to see during an average January.
The wettest day occurred on the 10th with 11.6mm.
Air frosts: 6
Ground frosts: 18
So what has February got in store weatherwise? There is no sign of any longer term changes in the pattern of synoptics across the UK. All models continue to suggest a very volatile jet stream with resultant low pressure close to or across the UK for much of the first half of February.
This week westerly winds will remain strong with severe gales in the north in association with Storm Henry over the next 36 hours. The current mild and damp conditions in the south should be replaced with colder, showery air moving south later on Monday, lasting into Wednesday. On Thursday another large warm sector will move up across the UK from the SW returning mild and damp conditions.
At the weekend all models show low pressure areas taking a much more southerly route across the UK with gales and wet weather. While no cold weather looks likely there may be incidences of very heavy and thundery showers. Only GFS on Monday is showing any hint of more settled, colder weather at the end of the period.
Using my long range method February is looking average, very dry and dull.
A mean of about 5.9C, just over average, is the highest probability at 71%. Something ‘rather mild’ comes in at 29% probability.
Rainfall is looking low: 15mm represents something 38% of average.
Sunshine totals will be low and it could be a dull month, around 60 hours of sunshine, that’s just 82% of average.
My January outlook for temperature good. I predicted a mean of 5.2C (outcome: 5.8C) with 59mm of rain (outcome: 65.8mm).
1st: Bright after sunny, clear dawn before clouding over with light rain. Rain at midnight.
2nd: Cloudy start after early overnight rain. Rainy spells and blustery throughout the day.
3rd: Drizzle to start then damp before more rain moved in at 11.30am – this fell intermittently through the day and evening and was often heavy.
4th: Bright, damp start after overnight rain. Some light outbreaks up to 2pm.
5th: Sunny, clear and cold start with contrails dotting the sky. Clouding over later with rain after 6pm. Misty around midnight.
6th: Bright, very damp start. Mostly cloudy with rain in the evening and overnight.
7th: Dull start with outbreaks of rain spreading in, some heavy and very blustery. Drying up after lunchtime though feeling cold. Cool overnight with frost on cars with a very brief shower on school run.
8th: Bright start though light showers around. Gradually clouding over. Clearer spells overnight and cool.
9th: Bright start though with plenty of cloud around. Showers, some heavy with small hail at 8.30pm. Clear spells overnight.
10th: Bright start after overnight rain. Cloud gradually decreasing to leave it clear at noon. Cloud returned after dusk and thickened up around 9pm. Heavy rain from midnight.
11th: Cloudy, damp and cold start. Some breaks after noon then clear spells overnight and cold.
12th: Sunny, cold start. Clouding over at midday to leave cold-feeling afternoon and overnight – too much wind for a frost.
13th: Bright, cold start but turning mostly cloudy. Rain in the evening and on ride home.
14th: Rainy. cold start, then cloudy with sunny intervals. Cold air digging in from midday.
15th: Sunny all day with just a few cirrus. Took a while for frost to form properly.
16th: Sunny, frosty start with just a few cirrus. Variable cloud and evening in London felt freezing. Some drizzle, this turned heavier and by 4am thick flakes were falling to give a thin covering. Some 1cm at High Beach during a bike ride.
17th: Cloudy start. Thin covering of snow (<1cm) thawed by lunchtime. Cloud built into afternoon to leave chilly evening.
18th: Bright start but sunshine was weak so felt cold. Mostly clear into the evening allowed for an early frost. A classic radiative cooling night until the early hours, assisted by a very gentle low-level flow off the continent where there were some very low dew points. Between 2am and 6am there was some thin, high-level cloud that drifted across, which stopped the radiative cooling. Warmth from the ground then briefly lifted the temperature until, once more the cloud cleared after 6am and allowed the temperature to fall again to its minimum of -5C at 0809z. There was also a little mixing of the layers of air between 2 and 6 which would also have had a cooling effect. Had it not been for the cloud I’d suggest that the low could have fallen to -6.2C, which would have been the coldest since February 2012 when it fell to -9.2C over full snow cover.
19th: Sunny all day with occasional alto-cumulus drifting across. Another cold night, the coldest in 3 years.
20th: Bright start with lots of scattered cumulus. Sunnier early afternoon and less cold. Another frost quickly forming after dark.
21st: Frost lifting quickly then cloudy with limited brightness throughout the day.
22nd: Cloudy start with rain arriving at 9.05am. Bursts through the day until early afternoon. Some brief brightness in the late afternoon.
23rd: Sunny, cool start. Clouding over with rain in the evening. Very mild.
24th: Cloudy start after overnight rain. Mostly cloudy with odd spot of drizzle though bright.
25th: Sunny, clear start though cloud bubbled up at 11am to leave mostly cloudy afternoon. Clear spells overnight and chilly.
26th: Cloudy and increasingly gusty up to midday. Some rain in the evening.
27th: Cloudy, blustery start.
28th: Sunny all day with just a few clouds around noon.
29th: Cloudy and breezy with some drizzle in the wind early afternoon. Report of 101mph gust on Shetland from Storm Gertrude. Wind seemed to strengthen at midnight before rain arrived.
30th: Cloudy and damp start after overnight rain. Sky soon cleared to leave mostly sunny afternoon.
31st: Drizzle in morning as warm front moved in.
During the opening months frequent cold blasts brought much wintry weather. Cold weather at the end of January turned severe during the second week of February.
In the early hours of the 7th heavy snow, driven by gale-force north-easterly winds, brought some of the worst winter weather this area has ever seen. Some 35mm of precipitation is recorded on the 8th – this would normally give at least one foot of level snow that could obviously be whipped up into huge drifts.
Luke Howard described the scene in his diary entry saying the abundance of snow “loaded the trees to their tops and weighed down the smaller shrubs to the ground.”
The snow and polar continental air also produced perfect conditions for a textbook radiative cooling night within two days of the snowfall. The minimum recorded on the morning of the 10th: -20.6C has not, as far as I can tell, been repeated since.
To put that into perspective the lowest minimum of the severe winter of 1963 for this area was -12.2C recorded at Greenwich on January 21st. The coldest night I have personally recorded was -10.3C on January 12th 1987.
Howard, who would have taken readings at his laboratory in Stratford and home in Tottenham, remarked on the rare occurrence of the cold and said that the thermometer had remained below 0F (-17.8C) for a number of hours: “an occasion that happened less than five times within a century – the last appearing to be 19 years previous.”
Howard’s theory of the day was that such extremes didn’t occur during long continued frosts but rather at an interval of one winter after such a season. He mentions the frost of 1794-95, which lasted 44 days, immediately before which the thermometer fell to -2F. The following year a low temperature of -6.5F was recorded. The year 1816 followed the cold winter of 1813/14 – the same pattern, so Howard was prepared for the night of February 9th 1816.
Modern climatologists tend to discount these old records by arguing that standard conditions set by the World Meteorological Organisation were not met. However, Howard backs up his findings with a very thorough explanation of how he went about measuring the record low temperature that followed a freezing day where the maximum thermometer didn’t rise above -6.7C.
“Early in the evening on trying the experiment of placing a wet finger on the iron railing it was found to adhere immediately and strongly to the iron. I exposed several thermometers in different situations.
“At 8 pm, a quicksilver thermometer with the bulb supported a little above the snow stood at 0F. At 11pm a spirit thermometer in the same position indicated -4F, the former which had a pretty large bulb had not sunk below -3F. At 7.30am the 10th a quicksilver and a spirit thermometer hung overnight about 8ft above the ground indicated respectively -3F and were evidently rising.
“The thermometer near the surface of the snow had fallen to 5F and probably lower, but at the usual height from the ground of my standard thermometer the temperature was at no time below -5F. The exposure is north and very open.”
Howard goes on to describe the following day:
“From 8am the thermometer continued to rise steadily at noon a temperature of 25F was pleasant by contrast to the feeling and it was easy to keep warm in walking without an upper coat. Even at 0F, however, the first impression of the air on the skin was not disagreeable; the dryness and stillness greatly tending to prevent that sudden abstraction of heat which is felt in moist and quickly flowing air.
“Early in the afternoon the wind changed all at once to SW some large cirri which had appeared all day passed to cirrocumulus and cirrostratus with obscurity to the south. I now confidently expected rain as had happened in former instances but was deceived and the thaw took place with a dry air for the most part and with several interruptions by night.
As often happens with severe cold snaps Howard reported on the 17th that the snow “was mostly gone but very thick ice remains on ponds”; a period of just over a week.
The cold snap saw the mean temperature for February 1816 over three degrees colder than average at 0.8C.
Such extreme temperatures are rare in the capital though not unheard of. I know that there have been cases of sub -20C readings in, for example, the Rickmansworth frost hollow and Ian Currie’s Chipstead Valley, but I have never seen anything so low in east London. Could it be repeated again? Possibly, but like 1816, the synoptics would have to be absolutely perfect for it to happen.
Winter in the London area this year is likely to be average overall, following the pattern of the past two winters that saw little snow.
A rather mild December, dominated by a SW’ly flow with only brief, cooler, NW’ly incursions, will be followed by a rather cold January and average February. Rainfall throughout is likely to be average or slightly above. Probabilities of this scenario are listed in the tables.
The best chance of any snow is most likely to be at the end of January, though given the generally mild pattern it is not likely to last longer than two or three days.
Much has been said about how El Niño will affect this winter. The more hysterical parts of the media tell us we will see a repeat of 2009-10, a cold winter that saw frequent snowfall. But their assertion ignores the fact that other winters following a strong El Niñohave been exceptionally mild.
This autumn has shown some striking similarities with 1997, a record El Niño year, that was followed by a very mild winter in this area, the third warmest since 1797. This autumn was also similar to 1994 – another El Niño year – followed by the fourth warmest winter on record.
But just as you think the pattern is the same the El Niño this year is different in that it is an El Niño Modoki – a full-Pacific basin El Niño that differs from the one in 1997. In other words we really are in unfamiliar territory.
So before I get too bogged down in finding teleconnections with El Niño, perhaps it is wiser to go back to more traditional ways of trying to predict the coming season.
Before I trawled through the figures my initial gut reaction to this winter was that it would be mild – because of some blocking in September/October.
As well as my method of using rainfall and temperature I also considered other methods. One, of which I see mentioned very little these days, was Russian research that states that the weather pattern in the winter will be the opposite to the weather on September 17th and November 7th. This autumn September 17th was NE’ly and November 7th was SW’ly. So, of little use this year.
You can read the method 0f how I reached my conclusion here.
Much of the UK media has been very persistent in the past few months in saying that large positive anomaly El Niño years herald cold winters – basing their assumption on one year: 2009/10.
Whilst that winter was very cold, among the top 10 coldest of the last 70 years in this area, another El Niñoyear, 1997/98 – the strongest in recent history – brought London its third-warmest winter in a record going back to 1797.
When I had a look at ENSO data going back to 1950 a few months ago I found it impossible to find a definitive teleconnection between El Niño and winters in north-west Europe. However, now that we are midway through November, and with a fair impression of how the monthly mean will finish, I had another look.
NOAA data shows that the most similar El Niño years to this are: 1957, 1965, 1972, 1982, 1997, 2002. Taking in to account only mean temperature shows that November values have increased.
What does this mean for this winter? It is still impossible to tell and is just another variable to consider when the time comes to predict winter.
The weather model GFS (Global Forecasting System) has, for years, teased weather anoraks with mouthwatering possibilities of what the weather could be like 5 to 10 days away. Many ‘coldies’, that unexplained breed of weather anorak whom lust after extreme cold and snow every winter, often look at the end of the run, out to 384 hours, and cherry pick these charts, taking as gospel that the synoptics will come to pass, especially if there is high pressure plonked over Scandinavia.
But 16 days is an eternity in weather forecasting and what happens on the day is, more often than not, a world away from what was modelled a fortnight before. But it doesn’t stop the blizzard of toys and dummies being thrown out of prams, often by grown men who really should know better that the weather they really want is always 10 days away.
Is this about to change? Probably not but the improved resolution, from 27km to 13km, will massively improve accuracy at short-range.
In the meantime it is perhaps ironic that the final 18z operational run of the GFS 27km resolution model had some of the most mouthwatering solutions for classic cold and snowy winter weather for nearly two years. But, just for a change, the operational is backed up by the ensemble.
Here are most of the 500hPa charts from that last run