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February 28, 2015

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Reigate Grammar School, UK. Local weather station and forecasts for education.  Reporting global weather. SkyWarnUK storm spotter. RiverSearch River Mole. RMetS education committee. Town VP2 updates website every 10mins, wind every 5secs. CoCoRaHS manual rain gauge. Data to Met Office + Weather Underground.  Status: all good :-)

A system stirred up by a low pressure tracking out of Mexico into the Gulf of Mexico this week is on track to bring unsettled conditions for part of the weekend to the UK.  It’s nothing too severe for most but is an interesting feature that will bring some wind and rain everywhere.  Below is a satpic showing the development of this system as it interacted with a lively jetstreak on Saturday 28/02/2015.

development of LOW on jetstreak

development of LOW on jetstreak

 

This LOW illustrates nicely how extra-tropical systems can rattle clean across the Atlantic in a few days if they are picked up by an active jetstream.   This one does precisely that.  Spot the system leaving Florida on the chart below for today and the sat pic.  This system started as a low pressure crossing from Mexico into the Gulf of Mexico mid-week, so for weather systems it will be an aged fellow on arrival here in the UK.  Its’ longevity is partly due to the exceptional COLD over NE US which interacts with the warm tropical air and causes further deepening.

The Gulf low pressure is tracking quickly NE skirting the US east coast before being picked up and deepened further by an active jetstream.  The jetstream itself is particularly powerful at the moment due to intense cold spilling out of an exceptionally wintry NE USA meeting warm tropical air issuing from a strong subtropical Azores HIGH pressure converging with the moist Gulf airmass.  A result of the powerful jetstream is a positive North Atlantic Oscillation: the NAO is a measure that indicates the difference in pressure between Iceland and the Azores.  In positive NAO conditions the jetstream is often active, producing a strong westerly zonal flow keeping Europe mild and unsettled especially in winter, or early spring!

Our Gulf LOW is due to pass over Reigate fairly rapidly through Saturday pm and overnight into Sunday am and bring some moderately wet and windy weather, likely to go unnoticed because of the nocturnal transit.  Winds gusting in excess of 40mph are possible for Reigate into Sunday am in exposed places.  Notably, due to the TROPICAL origins of this airmass the temperature overnight Sat-Sun could climb to double figures in Reigate.  Tropical air crossing the Atlantic also picks up a tremendous amount of moisture so attendant fronts are likely to bring a lot of rain too, possibly exceeding 10mm overnight, which is a moderately wet night.

Here are the synoptic charts showing the Gulf low progress across the Atlantic, deepening and occluding into the North Sea.  Note the secondary wave which could bring additional rain later on Sunday to the South.

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The additional rain later Sunday afternoon / evening looks potentially heavy for the South and SE.  It’s a rapidly developing wave feature that needs attention as, on the northern edge, it looks to raise the possibility of snow across the Midlands.  Heavy rain is possible for the SE and #Reigate with a period of gales on the south coast.

2015-02-26_22-44-28

The outlook for next week is for the Azores HIGH pressure to extend a ridge to the north and cause a NW then northerly airflow for the UK.  This will bring cooler temperatures to the UK.  Whilst it is likely to be mostly dry for Reigate and the SE with pressure rising, wintry showers especially on east facing coasts of the North Sea could be possible depending on how the HIGH develops.  Frost is likely with temperatures dipping below freezing at night from mid-week.

2015-02-26_19-17-13

Atlantic ridge builds to the west and brings in northerlies

How long this Atlantic block persists, and the cooler weather, is uncertain.  The coldest scenario would depend on the HIGH moving north and east and building over Scandinavia to pull in easterlies from a cold continent.  This scenario is preferred by the ECM by later next week whilst the GEFS topples the high to the SE and brings back a zonal mild westerly flow from the persistent Icelandic LOW pressure that erodes the edges of the HIGH from the NW.  The charts below show the uncertainty as a wide spread of possible pressure and temperature towards the end of the first week in March.

2015-02-26_19-33-18

Gulf low for the weekend, then pressure builds

The cool start to March is shown below.  The overall outlook is for a persistent positive NAO and Arctic Oscillation to persist and this would suggest a brief cool epsiode without the formation of a persistent Scandinavian High.  Models have flirted with possible easterly winds by the end of next week but the outlook is for the positive NAO to persist and this rather suggests a quick return to milder zonal westerlies.  As the high builds in early in the week various troughs and fronts could even push some wintry precipitation as far as the SE on Tuesday (spot the pink on the rainfall chart below for Tues)

First week of March starts cool: MetOffice synoptic chart for mid-week shows Azores high briefly ridging north to block mild zonal westerlies and usher in a cold polar airmass, albeit briefly as this ridge looks to topple SE and by next weekend we could be in a pretty mild SW flow hitting mid-teens possibly.  So a cool, mostly dry middle part of the week for Reigate and much of S England but precipitation, some even wintry, pulling in on NW / N winds is not ruled out with a North Sea low possible.  As the Atlantic is likely to push westerlies back in later in the week we can expect more purposeful frontal rain pushing east across the whole country.

2015-02-28_09-19-25

 

link to accuweather take on this system

http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/winds-to-whip-uk-north-sea-coa/43063930

 

2015-02-08_22-03-51

HIGH pressure dominates but is it all calm?

High pressure is known for calm, clear conditions, with little wind, cold frosty and foggy nights especially when there is little cloud. Pretty unexciting weather.  However, HIGH pressure is not as unexciting as all that.  Anticyclones can sometimes be surprisingly windy especially round the edges.  We spend a lot of time learning about LOW pressure, with associated storms and gales and torrential rain but understanding the inner workings of HIGH pressure is important to get the full picture of mid-latitude weather.

So… buckle up for the ride and let’s get super-geostrophic!  Wind blows from HIGH pressure to LOW pressure.  The wind speed and direction is the result of two forces: the pressure gradient force (PGF) is the difference between high and low pressure and sets up the strength of the wind and the overall direction which is for winds to blow directly from HIGH to LOW pressure.  Coriolis force (or Coriolis Effect) is a result of the spin of the Earth and deflects resultant winds to the right of their intended path in the northern hemisphere.  Here are some video links to review these forces before proceeding with super and sub-geostrophic winds. Skip below these videos if you already know about PGF and Coriolis.

 

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The winds do blow from high to low… but get pushed to the right by that Coriolis fellow!

The pressure difference between high and low pressure determines the speed of wind.  Winds do blow from high to low due to the pressure-gradient but are deflected to the right by another force called the Coriolis effect! Below is a chart showing upper winds at 850hPa (1500m) blowing round the same HIGH pressure shown on the synoptic chart at the top of the post.  Note the relatively high wind speeds circulating round the HIGH in the north of Scotland, the North Sea and across France and Biscay especially.  Winds obviously blow faster across the ocean but remember this is an upper wind chart so is above the boundary layer of most frictional forces upsetting the wind.  In any case, none of these locations is associated with a trough… it is all anticyclonic super-geostrophic wind.  So why is the wind blowing so strong when there is no LOW for miles?

2015-02-08_22-09-10

Given the same isobar spacing the wind speed aloft round high pressure ridges is often greater than the wind flowing around troughs and low pressure. This is surprising because we associate gales and windy weather with “storms” and low pressure systems.  The chart above illustrates super-geostrophic winds circulating around the Azores high across Europe.  These look pretty strong at 850hPa (1500m), the level above frictional effects of the surface.  The chart also shows the trough of low pressure over the Mediterranean where, given some of the locations with similarly spaced and even tighter isobars, the wind strength is not especially any greater and perhaps even less than that circulating freely around the HIGH.

hilo2015-02-08_22-26-30

Wind is a result of pressure differences across the planet surface.  Wind wants to blow from high to low pressure.  This is called the pressure gradient force.  Due to the spin of the Earth winds in the northern hemisphere are deflected to the right of their intended path.  The two forces, pressure gradient and coriolis force, actually balance out to produce a theoretical wind that flows parallel to the isobars called the geostrophic wind, shown above. Unfortunately, isobars are almost always curved so the geostrophic wind hardly ever actually blows.

subg2015-02-08_22-18-44

Assuming a constant isobar spacing.  Around troughs of LOW pressure the wind is sub-geostrophic. This means it blows less than the expected geostrophic wind.  In the chart above the wind is shown as a black arrow.  In addition to the coriolis force, the centrifugal force acts to “push” the wind away from the low centre and is acting in the same direction as the coriolis force.  Note that the resultant wind is pointing slightly away from the LOW towards the HIGH, which is of course not possible because the wind would be moving into and against increasing pressure.  As the pressure gradient force cannot change, the coriolis force must weaken to allow the wind to return parallel to the isobars.  This means that the wind flowing around troughs of LOW pressure has reduced force acting on them given the same isobar spacing of a similar HIGH. These winds therefore blow slower than geostrophic wind and are called SUB-GEOSTROPHIC.

superg2015-02-08_22-18-44

Here is the HIGH pressure situation.  This time the centrifugal force is acting with the pressure gradient force to push the wind into low pressure.  As the pressure gradient cannot change the coriolis force must INCREASE to pull the wind back parallel to the isobars.  This means that the wind flowing around ridges of HIGH pressure has GREATER forces acting upon them than winds flowing round lows with equivalent isobar spacing.  These winds therefore blow faster than geostrophic wind and are called SUPER-GEOSTROPHIC.

Usually, of course, low pressure cyclones and depressions exhibit tighter isobar spacing than HIGH pressure and so resulting wind speeds round LOWS are most frequently higher than the HIGH pressure feeding them.  Nevertheless, assuming the same pressure-gradient force, winds exiting anticyclones can produce higher wind speeds than those entering depressions.

 

useful reference

http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/%28Gh%29/guides/mtr/fw/grad.rxml

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/wind/what-causes-wind

http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/factors-that-affect-wind-pressure-gradient-forces-coriolis-effect-friction.html

 

2015-02-04_18-44-20

January 2015 summary for Reigate, Surrey

Average temp 4.5C (UK av 3.7C, CET 1C above long term average)

Tmax 14.7C (12.2C 2014)

Tmin -4.9C (-1.5C 2014)

Total precipitation 69mm  (183mm 2014)

Max wind gust 42mph (52mph Jan 2014)

snowfall was recorded on 3 days, snow lying on 2 mornings

Total sunshine 96 hours (98hrs 2015)

2015-02-04_18-50-532015-02-04_18-50-11

January was mostly under the influence of an occasionally strong westerly and NW airstream with some stormy weather for the NW of the UK but, predictably, Reigate and the SE was sheltered from most of the weather action and our rainfall total was about on the long term average for the South East at 69mm. This was, of course, considerably less than the 183mm rainfall last January 2014!

2015-02-08_20-12-44

Overall, January was just about average temperature in the UK. This average hides the variation though… the start of January was extremely mild with some very warm Tmax temperatures early in the month reaching nearly 15C in Reigate.  The end of January was considerably colder than average although nothing extreme.

The end of January cold snap ran into the first week of February.  During this period Reigate saw temperatures drop modestly below average and we experienced 3 spells of modest wet snowfall, albeit lying snow from night time falls rapidly melted by early morning and the lowest temperatures we a mere -4C.  Reigate experienced one notable but brief “thundersnow” event on the afternoon of 29 Jan. This caused some local traffic disruption.

The cause of our swings in weather a neatly summarised in the mean monthly sea level pressure and 500hPa anomaly chart from the JMA.  Here you can see the building high pressure over the Azores towards Iceland and the low pressure to the North and NE nudging towards Scandinavia.  It is this configuration of building ridge in the Atlantic and LOW over Scandinavia that eventually brought our modified “Arctic blast” through the last week of January.  As is normal for an Arctic airmass the SE of England away from the North Sea coast of Kent rarely sees any prolonged snowfall and this was the case.  An interesting feature developed on the 29/01/2015 within the Arctic airmass: a polar low may have spun up and moved South through the Irish Sea.  This was controversial and not accepted as a true polar low by everyone but it seemed to have many of the characteristics.  A post on this polar low can be found here.

 

The evolution of the January 2015 cold snap was interesting because it was initiated by an unusually cold and unstable NW airstream on the back of a deep low that crossed Scotland.  The NW airstream was unstable enough to bring the thundersnow event to Reigate. Oddly the original NW “blast” from Greenland pushed through so quickly that a lot of polar maritime returning and tropical maritime air was secluded in the low core over Scandinavia.  It was this secluded / occluded warmer airmass that a) probably contributed to the polar low feature and b) modified the Arctic blast and , at least initially, made it much less cold than is usual for such an airmass direction.  It took several days for any truly cold air to reach the SE of England and, even then, 850hPa temps never fell below -6 or -7C.

The CET for January was nearly 1C above average for the long term average, quite a lot more than the MetOffice.  As can be seen from the chart below this January was not exceptionally warm, being moderated by the cold snap at the end of the month.  Only 6 of the last 20 years have come out colder than the long term CET average.

2015-02-08_21-09-03

Globally January was +0.35C above the long term (30 year) average temperature.  The northern hemisphere was +0.55C above the long term average.

2015-02-08_21-10-04

 

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/2015/january/regional-values

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/2015/january

 

Is this it for winter? Read on…

Reigate stays cool for the first week of February after a couple of modest wet snow non-events overnight this weekend.  Snow thawed in the morning each day as temperatures climbed above freezing.  Whilst the air temperature was comparatively high at 5.8C Tmax at midday, the stiff northerly wind in Reigate was gusting to 30mph in town which brought wind chill as low as -5C at times.

The cause of the current cold weather is a northerly wind set up due to HIGH pressure ridging north in the Atlantic and a LOW over Scandinavia. This sets up a northerly flow, called an Arctic airmass, albeit modified by its significant journey over relatively mild seas.  Also, this particular Arctic airmass is not direct from the Pole, if you follow the isobars back from the UK you can see the air originating from southerly areas in SE Europe, so not truly polar.  In any case, it’s usual for Arctic airmasses to bring dry weather to Reigate and the SE: the long transit over land means it lacks moisture, usually dumping any significant snow over NE facing coasts well before it gets here.  More locally, our sheltered location beneath the North Downs, facing south, also affords good protection from Arctic airmasses and N or NE winds.  So, either way, Reigate rarely gets lots of snow from this airmass.

2015-02-01_17-28-01

arctic airmass

This week is likely to see further cold weather continuing as the HIGH slowly nudges in from the west by mid-week.  With HIGH pressure not far away and a relatively dry northerly airmass, a major snow event or indeed much precipitation at all is unlikely.

2015-02-01_17-27-26

So as pressure rises we can expect a cool mostly dry week with frosty nights and possible fog on occasions in lighter winds (fog not really ’til end of week though as wind remains significant running round high). In this set up a big snow event for Reigate seems most unlikely.  Nevertheless, an easterly / NE’rly wind for a time is a strong possibility, initially Tues-Weds as a front moves south, and so modestly disruptive snow showers reaching us cannot be ruled out.  Also, don’t forget icy roads and fog are arguably the most risky of all winter hazards so this kind of high pressure wintry weather should be handled with care if travelling.

At the moment  GFS, Ensemble and ECM models are agreeing that the HIGH pressure is likely to land up sitting somewhere to the north / NW of the UK by the end of the week.  With unusually LOW pressure in the south of Europe, this could set up a cold easterly wind especially across the south east, albeit this might yet not come off as other runs show the HIGH right over the top of the UK cutting off any easterlies very quickly.

The exact position of the HIGH will therefore make a big difference to whether we get much or any precipitation.  NE’rly or easterly winds, depending on their strength and track, can bring snow off the North Sea and inland into Kent and Surrey as well.  There is already a MetOffice yellow weather warning for the possibility of such an event mid-week, although these often don’t come to much they should not be ignored as the potential for perky snow showers causing local traffic problems has already been experienced with one minor brief thundery shower wintry episode last week.

The time-averaged charts show the overall story for the next week as being dry and colder than normal.  Throughout this episode the jetstream is wrapping round to the north of the HIGH, actually building it with milder upper air from the SW, and, eventually, it could help to deliver our easterlies at the end of the week.  As usual, for exact details check the twitter feed and consult official sites like metoffice for decision making.

refs

http://www.metlink.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/arctic_maritime_jan15.pdf

What’s a Polar Low?

January 29, 2015 — 1 Comment

2015-01-29_18-19-06

Update: this feature is under discussion on met-forums as to whether it was technically a polar low or not!  Some features (e.g. satpic) suggest it was but other features, such as upper temperatures, suggest it may have been a small scale feature with some similar characteristics (referred to below). References below contain more details. This post still valid as it describes an interesting weather feature with several polar low characteristics, albeit jury is out on final definition here!

Polar lows are small but intense maritime meso-scale cyclones, a few hundred km across, that form quickly in cold polar or arctic air advected (moved) over relatively warmer water.  They are much smaller than our usual mid-latitude frontal depressions.  They usually occur in winter in Arctic or Polar airmasses streaming Equatorwards and they form characteristically beautiful swirls of cumulus cloud and a comma cloud formation visible in satellite pictures (see above VIIRS sat pic 29/01/2015).  Sometimes these swirls form an eye reminiscent of tropical cyclones, to which they have surprising things in common.  Heaviest snow / rain occurs near the “eye”.  This similarity is why they are sometimes called “Arctic Hurricanes”, though they do not always produce hurricane force winds.  Despite their scary name they are relatively common over ice-free mid-latitude waters, they can produce rain or snow (due to “warm core” see below) and one was recorded moving down the North Sea in Dec 1995, so they are uncommon but not unheard of around the UK.

early evolution spotted on MetOffice fax

early evolution spotted on MetOffice fax

Polar lows tend to go through a rapid life cycle of a day or two which previously caught Arctic explorers unawares with hurricane force winds blowing up from nowhere and creating high seas in hostile Arctic waters.  Gale force winds wrap tightly into these features.  Polar Lows were invisible to meteorologists previous to satellite pictures and only with very recent upgrades in Numerical Weather Prediction models have Polar Lows been “visible” at all on charts.  They are still hard to predict and models sometimes struggle to track their intensity and path.

Polar Low circulations do not last long and, like their tropical cyclone cousin, they tend to decay rapidly once they move from warm sea over cooler land, because the convective energy and steep lapse rates driving the system are lost.  Cold upper air temperatures and a warm sea assist steep lapse rates that can cause thunderstorms with active convection.   Lightning strikes were recorded in this 29/01/2015 low as it came ashore over Northern Ireland, typical of polar lows.

Charts modelling the evolution of this low, albeit rapidly in the last few hours, have predicted tracks moving the system SE across the UK overnight.  Areas especially at risk from snow include Northern Ireland, N Wales and Midlands and possibly parts of the Southern England into early Friday.  However, the system is likely to fill rapidly overland as the sensible heat flux available for convection is lost over the colder land.  Additionally, the land is rougher than the ocean and this increased roughness increases surface convergence (air arriving faster than it lifts) and this causes the central pressure to rise and the system to decay.

2015-01-29_19-34-48

decaying polar low

Like hurricanes, Polar Lows form over oceans and gain much of their energy from them.  Polar Lows usually form in places where there is a rapid change in temperature and/or pressure horizontally, this is known as a baroclinic zone.  Edges of ice sheets or simply where warm and cold air meet are prime locations.

2015-01-29_20-29-45

baroclinic zone west of Scotland: breeding ground for this polar low

Warmer ocean water is another essential trigger for polar lows.  The warm surface water provides essential mositure and lift that creates convection, condensation in frigid air and the release of latent heat that develops cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds. The clouds then wrap into a tight circulation around a rapidly deepening low core not dissimilar to a hurricane.  Polar lows are much smaller and more transient than a regular mid-latitude depression.  Polar lows tend to form on the eastern side of a high pressure ridge and to the east of a decaying occluding mother low.  Both these features can be seen on charts.

An important feature of a polar low is the formation a warm core.  Charts below show this as milder surface temps at 950hPa and the theta e chart which appears to show warm air too.  Internal evolution of this system seem to suggest it has a warm core perhaps comprising Arctic flow chasing down a long-track of milder airmass originally sequestered by the extremely active cold front that swept through this location yesterday secluding a warm pool in the core of the mother low sat over Scandinavia.  This warm pool appears to have advected east to meet incoming Arctic air.  An area of positive vorticity (spin) contributed to the evolution by adding spin to the air that caused the low to form.

The polar low that developed today NW of Scotland has many of the hallmark characteristics of a Polar Low and seems to be generally accepted as such mainly because of the defining characteristic swirl of cumulus clouds round the low pressure core.

Note:  met community not all agreed whether this was a Polar Low or not : has many characteristics but some consider it too warm with rain in some areas rendering it a meso-scale slide low or similar. 

some links on Polar Lows

http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/The-Polar-low—the-arctic-hurricane.htm

http://rammb.cira.colostate.edu/wmovl/VRL/Tutorials/SatManu-eumetsat/SatManu/CMs/PL/backgr.htm

https://polarlows.wordpress.com/tag/climate-change/

http://www.keesfloor.nl/wolken/sat/polarlow.htm

Reigate and the UK has a cold spell arriving imminently, but nothing as dramatic as the US NE snow storm Juno. Our cold spell has little to do with the US storm except that Juno is doing a good job of pumping SW warm air on its backside into building the mid-Atlantic high pressure ridge that will encourage Arctic air to plunge south over the UK this weekend, in conjunction with a LOW over Scandinavia.  So storm Juno is not arriving in the UK, and never will, but it has indirectly impacted our weather along with other storms in the US NE seaboard.  Theta E charts are good for looking at airmasses, the different air masses stand out clearly as different colours below. The metoffice fax charts are for comparison.

theta e chart: good for airmass spotting

theta e chart: good for airmass spotting

 

UK metoffice fax chart

UK metoffice fax chart

The active cold front sweeps across the UK tomorrow Wednesday bringing rain to the SE but more importantly ushering in a blustery NW polar maritime wind carrying air from a source region over the Greenland ice cap which will push temperatures from near double figures in the morning in Reigate to freezing overnight with wind chill making it feel more like it should at this time of year.  Reigate is unlikely to see snow during the cold front passage as the coldest air takes a while to arrive behind the frontal rain.

theta e

theta e

This cold front is interesting because it roars in so fast across the Atlantic, swinging around a low pressure between Iceland and Norway, that parts of the warm and more humid sub-tropical maritime air ahead of it is effectively chased up into the low core where it is secluded and trapped / sequestered by the advancing polar air.  This has implications for later when warm pools of air form occlusions that could enhance snow risk as they are dragged south by the advancing Arctic airmass through to the weekend.

arctic air with mixed up mT air

arctic air with mixed up mT air

UK metoffice fax chart

UK metoffice fax chart

The polar air from Greenland is a comparatively dry airmass but extremely cold aloft and becomes unstable as it passes over a comparatively warm Atlantic.  This combination is likely to bring considerable snow to high ground over the N/NW after the initial front has passed.  Usually snow showers in the NW would be it with polar maritime air but this wind will be strong enough to push showers across more of the country and even reach us in the SE during Thursday.

 

Expect many of these showers to be wintry in air that is below -5C at 850hPa (1500m).  Often snow showers form streamers / lines of showers that could accumulate reasonable snow cover for some places whilst others see nothing.

The secluded warm air trapped aloft will form occluded fronts that are due to move south later Thursday and into Friday as the isobars squeeze together between the building Atlantic ridge and the Scandinavian low pressure.  This will actually raise the temperature a tad for a while on Friday before the colder Arctic airmass arrives, direct from the north, into the weekend.   The warm secluded air will oddly make the advance of Arctic air initially warmer than the polar maritime, thus temperatures on Thursday are likely to be colder than those on Friday.

The coldest Arctic air is due to arrive through Sunday into Monday when some truly chilly air will make it down through the UK.

2015-01-27_23-16-05

 

A “potentially historic and crippling snow storm” is imminent for the USA NE seaboard especially New York State with cities from New York to Boston being warned by weather agencies of a potentially life threatening blizzard lasting some 48 hours.  Update Tues 27: whilst the worst of the blizzard missed New York heavy snow occurred further North.  The system tracked further east than modelled.

2015-01-26_07-00-13

2015-01-28_21-35-10

New York escaped worst, but Boston hit as expected with record snow in New England

 

Watch unfolding live pictures on webcams here:

http://player.theplatform.com/p/2E2eJC/NBCNewsIE8?guid=nbcnewslive_nyc1

http://www.earthcam.com/usa/newyork/timessquare/?cam=tsstreet

Potentially 36 inches (3 feet) of snow could fall in places (that’s waist deep!) as a Nor’Easter (NorthEasterly) wind buckles round a rapidly deepening low tracking NW up the coast over the next 48 hours. All weather agencies are busy getting the news out to people in the regions likely to be impacted.

Official warnings from NOAA and all regional weather agencies are giving these urban populations warning after the system has caught computer models napping.  The storm has rather unexpectedly “blown up” recently to become a potential threat only in the last 24 hours or so.

The charts below show the synoptic set-up that develops this system, named Juno, currently a rather benign low tracking west out of continental US.   This LOW is forecast to deepen rapidly due to it’s location in relation to a fast meridional jetstream looping round a HIGH pressure ridge in the US west.  The LOW is dragging cold air from the continent interior and, as this cold air interacts with humid air and plenty of moisture over the Atlantic, it will turn into a snow-making machine that could last 48 hours and dump feet of snow widely across many places indicated on maps above.

Here are some synoptic charts showing the development.  Note the track sliding up the NE coast.  The Nor’Easter wind itself can be seen developing on the northern edge of the low which, as it is forecast to slow and stall while it deepens (a common feature of bomb depressions) the strong NorthEasterly gales, some up to 70mph, will continue to pump snow across parts of the NE building up depths to 2 – 3 feet in places.

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Note the warm sea surface temperatures off shore which will provide enormous quantities of moisture for snow production on the NE wind.

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Here is a chart showing minimum temperatures and possible snow cover by Wednesday.

The US is more used to heavy snow and more able to cope with it than the UK because the USA has a continental climate which experiences colder winters with more regular and significant snow events.  Earlier this winter Buffalo recorded feet of lake-effect snow.  Even so, this snow storm is serious and a state of emergency has been issued for New York.  The difference this time is that this storm will dump a lot of snow in a very short space of time and more people will be impacted in a densely populated and urbanised part of the USA.

The National Weather Service and regional weather agencies and the New York Mayor have all issued weather warnings for the blizzard urging people not to underestimate the possible impacts of 2-3 feet of snowfall over the next 48 hours.

2015-01-26_07-28-08

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/NYC-New-York-New-Jersey-Connecticut-Blizzard-2015-NorEaster-Snow-Wind-Whiteout-Record-289770081.html#

Here are some tweets and information emerging on the eve of this storm:

 

More info:

Excellent write up and explanation of the evolution of this Nor’Easter storm http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/01/28/raging-snow-howling-wind-the-meteorological-evolution-of-the-blizzard-of-2015/

http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=NWS&issuedby=OKX&product=WSW&format=CI&version=1&glossary=1&highlight=off

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2902

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/25/us/weather-storm/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/features/30989760?ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbc_weather&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=news_central

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/what-warming-world-means-for-major-snowstorms-18594

http://meteorologicalmusings.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/a-meteorologists-thoughts-on-blizzard.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-30996010

The ensemble charts above show that we can expect a week of change ahead.  At the start of the week fronts will bring modest episodes of rain and swings in temperature to the SE followed by a notable change mid-week as both temperature and pressure fall (see charts above) with the possibility of snow for the SE.   By next weekend there is a risk of some proper cold into the start of February.  As usual Reigate and the SE will be sheltered from most of the action but the weather will take interesting and notable swings in a predominantly downward direction nonetheless.  Models agree on how this transition will happen and it is largely based on the evolution of a LOW starting life off Canada near Newfoundland …. here are charts from the ECM that shows the story of our Canadian LOW and how it is likely to bring another taste of winter to the UK.  (Update: worth explaining that the Canada LOW mentioned here is not the same as the Nor’Easter LOW that caused blizzards in NE USA Monday-Tuesday this week: it is a LP preceding it.  If you look below at Chart 2 for 28 Jan you can spot the infamous Nor’Easter bashing the NE coast well modelled on this ECM chart from back at the weekend. The US Nor-Easter Blizzard2015 storm is responsible for building the Atlantic BLOCK helping to push Arctic winds our way but it is not travelling to the UK. The NYC storm looks to travel North up the Canadian coast, filling near S Greenland, unable to break through the Atlantic high pressure ridge extending north that it, in part, helped to build. Hope that helps!)  In any case, the weather set-up gives Reigate another flaky chance of some snow.

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1. The story starts now with the Azores HIGH pressure giving a dry and pleasant weekend for the SE, Saturday has seen brilliant blue skies as a result.  The Azores HIGH has been dominating the Atlantic recently and our Canada LOW, deepening rapidly off Newfoundland on Monday, will be forced round the HIGH to the north west to Greenland. This LOW will deepen rapidly because of the great temperature difference between frigid air pouring off Canada and humid sub-tropical air fed up from the south courtesy of the Azores high.

For us in Reigate this period sees a ridge of the Azores high pressure ebb away slightly during Sunday and this will nudge a mild SW flow to raise temperatures temporarily high into the UK and SE overnight into Monday morning.  This minor weather episode (marked by the ups and downs in temperature on the 850hPa ensemble chart top of page) will be heralded by increasing cloud on Sunday as fronts bring some patchy rain in on a warm front overnight into Monday.  Polar air will follow a cold front later on Monday and a ridge of high pressure will build quickly overnight turning the winds into the NW with a dry chilly night in store for us in Reigate and SE into Tuesday.

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2. Later on Tuesday the Canada LOW is forecast to move NW to near southern Greenland where it will feed on a brisk northerly wind of freezing cold air from the Greenland ice cap.  This freezing cold air will create a vigorous cold front that will reach the UK early on Wednesday.  This active cold front will usher in an unusually cold Polar Maritime NW’ly wind across the country reaching the SE late Wednesday with the possibility of heavier rain or even snow. One to watch carefully.

A point to note from the charts above is that the central Atlantic is anomalously COLD at the moment and so the brisk NW’ly wind will not warm up as much as usual on its journey over the Atlantic to the UK, increasing the likelihood that it will bring wintry stormy gales to the NW, with some models even showing wintry precipitation for us in the SE too, perhaps reaching us by Thursday, though these are likely to be sparse unless the cold front stalls in which case more significant falls are possible. (Update: GFS 18Z suggests this cold front could be active and bring snow across entire UK in its wake…)

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NW airflow 2m temperature anomaly

Check the temperature anomaly chart above which shows how unusually cold this NW’ly wind is going to be.  Usually NW winds do not impact SE England with snow unless fronts stall or there is an especially active undercut of unstable cold polar air.

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3. Our Canada LOW that started life just off shore from Newfoundland is forecast to cross Iceland mid-week and then slide SE into the North Sea, around the blocking high extending north through the Atlantic to meet rising pressure in Greenland, a good scenario for a COLD Europe!  As the LOW transits SE into the North Sea it will bring down Polar and then Arctic northerly winds on its back and snow for the North, NW and NE coasts.  Arctic air rarely brings snow to Surrey or Reigate … it usually runs out of moisture and lift on its transit across the cool land and instead the south and SE usually gets azure blue skies with frosty nights.  NE and E coasts can get snow showers.  Daytime temperatures everywhere may well stay near freezing if this comes off.

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It’s too far ahead for any detail but some model runs show Polar LOWS sliding round the edge of the trough on the left exit side of the jetstream (where lows develop rapidly) as the trough moves east .  These daughter lows can bring snow to the SE but this is too far off to be certain.

So how long might this cold snap last?

There are indications both for and against a more prolonged cold snap but, on balance, the peak of any Arctic cold looks likely to be shortlived as the high topples east, ebbs south and allows gradually more westerly winds back across the UK.  For enduring cold we really need the LOW to move south into Europe and pressure to build to the north bringing in a blocked situation allowing cold easterlies into the UK (beast from the east).   However, this scenario looks unlikely because the Azores HIGH is likely to remain relatively dominant.  This is shown by the generally positive North Atlantic Oscillation chart above.

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North Atlantic Oscillation

The NAO is a forecast measure of the sea level pressure difference between Iceland and the Azores.  When the NAO is positive it usually indicates a strong pressure difference with a big HIGH pressure over the Azores and a LOW over Iceland.  A positive NAO correlates with a fast zonal westerly jetstream and mild wet winters for the UK.  A negative NAO indicates colder winters in which pressure rises to the north (Iceland) and allows easterly or NE winds to bring cold airmasses from the Arctic or more commonly Siberia into the UK.

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Arctic Oscillation

The Arctic Oscillation (AO) is a related cousin of the NAO.   The Arctic Oscillation is a bigger scale comparison of pressure at the Pole compared with that in the mid-latitudes.  A positive AO usually correlates with lower than normal pressure over the Poles compared to the higher pressure further south in the Atlantic.   This brings mild wet conditions to Europe (zonal westerly winds).  A negative AO sees pressure rise higher over the North Pole and this acts like a balloon to push polar air out into mid-latitudes… a cold winter scenario.  The AO forecast shows it going negative by early February and this correlates with the cold snap.  Unfortunately it looks like the AO will go positive again thereafter but this is too far off to be certain.  On the other hand…. !!

The charts above show a Polar view of the Northern Hemisphere.  They show that pressure is forecast to rise over the Pole disturbing the zonal westerly flow of the polar vortex by a displacement of the polar vortex away from the Pole (see below).  This might increase the likelihood of a prolonged cold plunge of Arctic air reaching the mid latitudes including the UK  This is good for cold weather enthusiasts in Europe!

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The other longer-term chart shown above in favour of a cold late winter is a sudden stratospheric warming forecast in early February.  A SSW can lead to pressure rising over the Polar regions a few weeks later, disrupting the upper westerly winds, potentially upsetting the jetstream and bringing cold to mid-latitudes.  This is well correlated and was significant in bringing a late winter in 2013.  So… much of interest at the moment as we enter the final third of winter 2014-2015.

note: for all decision making purposes and forecasts please consult professional agencies: e.g. MetOffice at http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/forecast/gcpg7rs0t#?tab=fiveDay&fcTime=1422057600

http://www.nc-climate.ncsu.edu/climate/patterns/NAO.html

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Water vapour EUMETSAT rgb airmasses: Arctic red, tropical blue

Update Tues pm: system not bringing any significant snow to Reigate, Midlands north might see accumulations but even this is not likely to be disruptive..  The satellite image above shows water vapour and airmasses.  Notice how tropical (blue!) and Arctic (red/mauvey) airmasses are intruding across latitudes – plunging respectively north and south of their source regions.  Cold Arctic air is reaching right the way down to Spain.  Here’s a look at what is going on and how things might develop for Reigate and SE UK especially this week.  Overall things look cold and wintry and there is a slim possibility of snow for us but it’s worth watching the forecasts and twitter updates because it’s very marginal and things can change locally quite quickly.

The Arctic air arriving in London Monday left the Kara Sea a week ago. This Arctic air is arriving over the UK courtesy of a high pressure ridge over the Atlantic and Greenland / Iceland which blocks mild maritime air in the Atlantic from reaching the UK. A low (the remnants of storm #Rachel) over Scandinavia is dragging down cold northerlies assisted by a northerly jetstream aloft.  This set-up makes this week the coldest since March 2013 and, as some light snow fell in Reigate this morning (Sat 17) then that was the first snow fall here for 2 years.

The result of the pressure pattern is airmass temperatures lowering at 850hPa to -7C or lower over the course of the next 48 hours due to the steady invasion of Arctic air. Overnight tonight into Sunday morning a front in the Channel could bring light snow showers to southern England early Sunday morning.  The situation is “marginal” as the truly cold air has yet to arrive in the south and dew points are hovering around or above freezing tonight which can make a difference between whether it snows or rains.

Over Sunday the Arctic air will arrive and the upper air mass temperature at 850hPa (1500m up) will fall from -4C to -7C by Monday.  In such a cold airmass the surface air temperatures on Monday will struggle above freezing during the day to about 3C and wind chill will make it feel colder.

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An important threshold for snow is an upper air temp at 850hPa of -5C or lower.  So from Monday any precipitation might fall as snow, so long as other factors are in place.  The chart below shows the movement of the Shetland low into the N Sea and eventually further south which ushers in northerly winds.

LOW sinks south bringing Arctic air

LOW sinks south bringing Arctic air

There is reasonable model agreement as to what will happen into mid-week but uncertainty thereafter as to how long any cold will last.  High pressure is set to build over Scandinavia blocking the NE track of a low S Greenland.  A trough disruption is set to occur when the LOW near Iceland splits from the main trough and slides down the edge of the Atlantic high and sinks SE over the UK (called a slider low).  Trough disruptions are notorious for causing models problems with accurate forecasts!

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trough disruption

The slider low will bring attendant fronts with milder air mixed in, thus complicating chances of widespread snow and making forecasts tricky.  Tuesday is the first chance of any snow this week for the SE as a front moves in from the west to reach the SE around the afternoon, though details this far out cannot be certain.  As the front moves into colder air the rain could turn to snow, especially on the back edge as overnight temperatures fall.  It is very likely to be snow across the middle of the country and certainly over high ground but snow for the SE is less certain, it could be just sleety or rain depending on the mix and location of mild air from the south in the occluded front. In any case Tuesday looks light precipitation as the front weakens to the east.  This doesn’t help snow formation in marginal situations because less cold air is dragged down from aloft in light rain and there is less evaporative cooling in light rain.

Charts currently show that Wednesday has a better chance of snow action for the SE as another front, this time with heavier rain, clears east later on Wednesday or overnight into Thursday.  Exact timing is uncertain and indeed the development of this might all change despite there being sound model agreement as to the overall synoptic situation into the mid week period.

The latest UKMET chart for Thursday shows the SE in a COL between HIGH pressure SW and NE and LOWS NW and SE. This looks like a cold wet day with sleet for Reigate, but snow is again possible, especially as the LOW drifts south and introduces a cold NE continental flow for a time on the northerly edge. This is most likely to restrict to inland areas or those higher up locally but it needs watching carefully as heavy rain might tip over into sleet then snow due to evaporative cooling.

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After mid week things look like turning somewhat milder for a while as westerly winds eventually break through properly, possibly by late week or the weekend.  This means snow chance reduces to nothing as milder Atlantic winds return.  Nevertheless, the long range models still show some propensity towards building further chilly Arctic incursions later too.