Archives For May 2015

After a cool unsettled end to May with a strong zonal jetstream, early June weather prospects are getting interesting for Reigate as models build a tantalizing “heat wave” with potential for warm plumes and thunderstorms, quite a contrast to the start of the week!  The warming is just beginning to cook up on the mean temperature anomaly chart and recent GFS model runs shown below with Tmax temperatures in the high 20’s and some approaching 30C by next weekend/ Saturday especially. Here’s a review, rather than a forecast, of some of the synoptic features unfolding early June weather.  The scenario can change a lot by next weekend of course, so stay tuned, especially to twitter and the fantastic UK weather community (both amateur and professional) for updates.

In the short term, the end of May and start of June will continue to be dominated by LOW pressure to the north sweeping active fronts across the UK with attendant rain and wind, especially Sunday and more on Tuesday, though as usual Reigate and SE will be sheltered from the worst of this which will impact the NW mainly.  Tuesday’s Atlantic depression has an unseasonably low forecast central pressure of 972mb (UKMET) and 968mb (GFS) due to a strong jetstream across Scotland of 160mph.  Expect windy, gales in west and coasts, showery and unseasonably cool weather everywhere but especially in the NW during these episodes. Reigate on Tuesday could have gusts exceeding 40mph.  Update Sunday: MetOffice have issued a weather warning for gales countrywide for this event.

968mb would be close to the lowest June central pressure to impact the UK since 2000**, though the MetOffice chart below showing 972mb is probably nearer what will happen in reality.  Highest winds (40mph inland, 50mph coastal) in Reigate and SE are expected Tuesday am as a daughter frontal wave-low whizzes across the Midlands trailing her bigger parent.

**

 

By the end of this week models build a meridional (wiggly) flow in the jetstream as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) turns negative which means pressure over Iceland rises relative to that over the Azores which falls below average. This weakens the pressure gradient and reduces jetstream strength.  The NAO is not a driver of weather but is an indicator of Atlantic patterns that controls incoming weather for the UK and Europe.  A negative NAO often means fewer Atlantic based LOWS with a less aggressive and frequently more meandering polar front jetstream, with more chance of continental weather impacting the UK as pressure builds to the north (in winter this can bring cold weather from the continent).

A negative North Atlantic Oscillation usually indicates a weaker jetstream and one that meanders with high amplitude waves across latitudes, a so called meridional pattern (rather than zonal which blows purposefully west to east across Atlantic along strong pressure gradient between Azores and Iceland: dragging in frequent LOWS).  A meridional jetstream can slow-down and fix weather patterns into place, especially if a HIGH builds to the north as a so called blocking pattern.  Such a pattern looks possible with current model runs, though with steep temperature gradients building over a heating up USA/Canada, a return to an active unsettled Atlantic pattern seems possible later into June which could breakdown any blocking pattern and finish off our balmy continental flow, but that is way off so remains to be seen!

The meandering jet developing from mid week will encourage a warm / hot continental easterly / SE flow for the UK as pressure builds initially to the north east and pressure lowers to the south from Wednesday.  A cut-off LOW to the west of Iberia sandwiched between the Azores HIGH and the HIGH further NE is also a prime ingredient to waft warm unstable Spanish plumes our way as the HIGH pressure drifts east over Scandinavia (see above charts).

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Spanish Plume June 2015

The threat of heat and thunderstorms peaks next weekend, notably on Saturday, with temperatures peaking as high as 30C. The 850hPa chart above shows the warm plume arriving from Spain.  Upper air temperatures exceeding 15C would yield hot daytime temperatures approaching 30C in sunny conditions.  Such warm plumes of continental air, meeting Atlantic air injected from the cool HIGH offshore, could lead to unstable thundery episodes (more on Spanish Plumes here) On the other hand the pressure is quite high in the East so this could suppress convective action here, the detail will be critical.  On the skew-t chart below spot the steep lapse rates, negative lifted index and high CAPE, high dew points (moist air) and precipitable water content below, all lively indicators of an unstable atmosphere.  It’s a long way off though so things can change a lot and frequently do!

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This set-up is the source of excitement over “heat” by the end of next week: a warm continental plume.  Pressure in this scenario would be highest in the north of the UK so the SE could see more unsettled conditions.  Interestingly, the current Madden-Julian Oscillation Phase 1 and 2 (a tropical disturbance pattern used to forecast patterns in medium range) correlates with this emerging pattern, with P1 and P2 often linked to HIGH pressure to north, LOW over Europe and an unsettled S/SE UK.

Despite this, a prolonged heat wave does not seem to be a strong possibility.  Technically a UK “heat wave” is when daily maximum temperatures for more than five consecutive days exceed the average maximum temperature by 5 °C.  For the SE this usually means exceeding 30C daytime Tmax and 16C night time Tmin, whilst forecasts for the end of next week are warm, sustained heat of this nature does not seem likely.  Pressure and 850hPa temperatures rise this week with some models in the high 20’sC Tmax. Both medium and longer range models suggest either a flat-line or fall in both as June progresses.

Models also suggest a weakening of pressure and some play with a thundery breakdown bringing in wildly high CAPE values (convective potential) into June. This suggests a breakdown as pressure falls. Some CAPE values forecast are extreme for the UK and would not be out of place in a Mid-West tornadic supercell! However, often these scenarios fail to materialise as forecast and often the instability and thunderstorms simply brush past the SW of the UK or stay in France, perhaps clipping Kent alone.

Models in the second week of June seem to suggest the HIGH builds out to the NW, regressing from the location over Scandinavia.  This would put the UK on the cooler side of the HIGH with a northerly flow, thus ending any heat spike. This is just one GFS run and at the unreliable end of the model but a possible solution.

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Finally, over the long term average June is rarely “hot” for a prolonged period and this brief hot spell declining into “warm” would seem to match the emerging pattern.  On average, the hottest day of the year falls in June only 25% of the time and June has shown climate trends of becoming rather duller and wetter bucking the trend of overall warming for other months due to climate change.  The frequency of Atlantic westerlies, on average, also picks up in June making sustained “heat” a rarity.  Nevertheless, a brief warm spell is likely as shown by the end of this week as shown by increasingly convincing model trends. Thereafter, the location of the HIGH and jetstream activity will probably control unfolding June weather events.

Update from @wansteadweather supports idea that June may not live up to any hot start, HIGH dominates but the position may feed average to cool flow from N.  Will be interesting to see how this pans out!

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/weather-phenomena/heatwave

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/forecast/gcpg7rs0t#?tab=fiveDay&fcTime=1432944000

May 19 thundery showers was not a “severe” weather day but 10mm of rain from 7 showers in 7 hours, several with some moderately intense rainfall rate (30-40mm/hr), small hail and episodes of thunder, was of interest locally and deserves a review of some charts leading up to the event.

Often our area of the SE seems to miss convective action but this time showers perked up as they converged across East Surrey and some developed into reasonably impressive cumulonimbus clouds (cb).  As a bonus mammatus clouds were spotted at the end of the day (see photo above). Below is a summary of some key ingredients for the day.

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Synoptic chart thundery 19 May 2015

Low pressure: This synoptic set-up saw an unusually cold plunge of upper air flood across the country during May18-19. The synoptic chart above shows the invasion of cold polar maritime air behind a cold front, itself not especially dynamic across the SE. The LOW over the North Sea dragged this unseasonably cool air from the NW: the basic ingredient for instability on this occasion.

meandering jetstream

meandering jetstream

Note the u-bend wiggle in the jetstream around the LOW pressure in the chart above. The northward limb of the jet on the inside of the U-bend can become the location for instability, though this was not a fast jetstreak occurrence.  The base of the trough also crossed the SE of the UK during the day encouraging lift.  Showers were forecast on the charts days before.

Steep lapse rates: Very cold upper air temperatures fell to below -30C at 500hPa (5500m) across the UK.  In Spring a cold airmass like this can become unstable over land especially if the sun warms the surface to create thermals of warm air able to lift through the cold environmental air. The 850hPa temperatures show comparatively warm air at 1500m which increases the lapse rate.  The morning of May 19 was sunny and the surface heated with 5 hours of May sunshine to a modest 14C, just enough to release thermals and rising parcels of air.  Convection requires heat as a key ingredient to steepen lapse rates and create thermals, rising parcels of air.

Low lifted index: LI forecast for Heathrow (below) showed a LI of -3.  The lifted index is a measure of instability in the atmosphere and shows how readily bubbles of warmed air will rise from the surface to a great height (convection).  It is the difference in temperature between the environmental air at 500mb level (around 5500m) and the temperature of the theoretically lifted bubble of air (parcel).

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lifted index (UK rarely exceeds -5)

Negative LI numbers are good for thunderstorms because they show that the parcel is significantly warmer than the air around it at altitude, which means that at 5km the air is still bouyant. http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/Thunderstorm-Probability.htm

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Moderate CAPE: convective available potential energy is the energy available to push air vertically up and create those surging bubbles of cumulonimbus clouds.  The higher the CAPE the greater uplift potential (above).  Note it is potential energy and a high CAPE often confounds convective activity if other ingredients are lacking, such as heat or moisture.  19 May had marginally unstable values for the UK of 800j/kg.

In the USA Tornado Alley forecast CAPE values exceed 2,000 j/kg in super cell outbreaks.  CAPE on a skew-t chart is the area between the parcel trajectory and the environment temperature.  In the SE of the UK we often just get “skinny cape”, where rising parcels are only just warmer than the surrounding environmental air, whilst in Tornado Alley “fat cape” is frequent which indicate parcels much warmer than the surrounding air, increasing bouyancy.  http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/CAPE—Convective-Available-Potential-Energy.htm

The colourful charts above from lightningwizard.com show streamlines of wind and air mass equivalent potential temperature.  Streamlines show where the airmass is coming from and, if they converge at the surface, can indicate potential for lift.  Theta e charts show moisture and temperature characteristics of airmasses.  Where there is a contrast of colours between high theta e and convergence at the surface and lower values and divergence of air at altitude this can bring on convective weather. The moisture chart shows that the airmass supplied sufficient moisture to the UK to provide for cloud formation and release latent heat.  Dew points stayed relatively low and this showed moisture (and heat) locally was lacking for bigger storms.  Compare these forecast charts with the actual occurrence of lightning on the day.

curved forecast shows showers

curved forecast shows showers

Forecasts for the day (Euro4) showed typical lines of rainfall accumulation which indicate showers.  The actual radar showed “popcorn convection” (@metmanjames) over a wide area drifting east.

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Recommend following @convectivewx for UK convective forecasts.  Their forecast from 3 days ahead was spot on.

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April 2015 Reigate weather chart

April in Reigate was a mostly dry, very sunny, rather calm and relatively warm month.  However, the settled weather came at a price with a significant air pollution event on 10 April. Also, April showers were conspicuous by their almost complete absence so convective weather fans were left disappointed.

Here are some April details for Reigate:

  • Tmax 14.4C
  • Tmin -1.9C
  • Average Temperature 6.8C
  • Total rainfall 23mm
  • Max gust 46mph
  • sunshine total 136 hours (sunniest April on MetOffice records!)

April was 43% drier than average across SE England and this shows up in the diminutive 23mm of rain in Reigate.  Pressure rose early in the month and so April turned out 150% sunnier and about 1C warmer than average too. The central England temperature for April came out at 1.1C above long term average.

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It was the SUNNIEST April on record for the UK according to the MetOffice.  In Reigate we enjoyed 136 hours of sunshine in April.

sunny April 2015

sunny April 2015

The significant downside of this calm weather was high AIR POLLUTION. There was a high pollution warning for a time when easterly / south easterly winds brought high levels of PM2 particles into the SE and across London from Benelux countries.

Here are some photos from Reigate during April showing what a mostly very pleasant month it was.

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

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analysis chart shows HIGH edging out with moist Atlantic winds ready to pounce

The analysis chart above shows a weakening ridge of HIGH pressure over the UK being edged out north by a slow moving Atlantic LOW to the W/SW.  Reigate is still currently (Saturday am) in cool dull easterly winds generated by the HIGH but a significant switch in wind direction will take place over the next 12 hours into the bank holiday period as a wholly different mild and humid Sub-Tropical Atlantic air mass, with a source region round the Azores, takes hold from the SW.

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weather cross-section

A mild moist S/SW wind drives in from the Atlantic as the LOW edges north east tonight. The first mass of rain is edging onto radar from the SW and is expected to arrive in Reigate by around mid-late pm today.  Most rain is likely for places further north and west but the SE is still likely to pick up plenty of wet weather overnight with low cloud and rain into Sunday morning when it could turn heavy and showery for a while in the early morning as the trough passes directly overhead and pressure continues to fall. Things are expected to clear to brighter conditions later in the afternoon as pressure rises and winds turn more westerly. Cloud cover will hopefully break and cloud height will lift during the afternoon becoming more cumuliform.

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trough and fronts migrate north, showers follow

If the sun comes out then there could be a low risk of an odd heavy shower Sunday afternoon, possibly thundery, but these are more likely further north of our area where more unstable air makes progress across the Midlands and East Anglia.

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During Sunday winds will be occasionally blustery with moderate convective gusts possible, especially on hills and nearer the coast, and make the mild temperatures Tmax 16C feel considerably cooler. Temperatures overnight could hold up to a balmy 12-13C.

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Overnight Saturday-Sunday rain could linger as showers through the morning

Winds turn from SW to more southerly through Monday and pressure should up-tick slightly giving a mostly dry and warm day and less windy as things stand currently.  Troughs could progress east during Monday and build cloud and produce some showers.  More importantly there is a looming threat of something special for later Monday-Tuesday night.

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As the northern block (high over Greenland) holds on, the Atlantic LOW just west of Ireland will usher in a mild and moist S/SW flow of air from the continent.  An unstable LOW brewing in the topical Atlantic today (Saturday) is forecast to sweep up and intensify from Biscay later Monday and into Tuesday and this might bring heavy rain and winds to the south and SE and a possible thundery episode later Monday but more likely overnight into early Tuesday for SE.  The jetstream is dipping well south and is forecast to perk up and approach the UK from an unusually southerly direction by Tuesday.  If this happens the jetstream could deepen this low considerably, as modelled by some charts (latest UKMet shows 980mb).

Depending on the evolution we could find ourselves in the unstable left exit region of a jet where divergence aloft enhances convective action and creates heavy rain.  Warm air from the south will also contain more moisture.  A dry slot at mid-levels might also enhance instability (rising dry air cools more quickly increasing lapse rates and CAPE, enhancing lift).  High dew points near the surface temperature also encourage condensation and indicate extremely moist warm surface flows.

So all these ingredients stirred up could be a good recipe for some briefly moderate-severe weather in our region especially some briefly torrential rain, though totals are unlikely to amount to more than 10mm.  Gusty winds and gales near coasts could also accompany this system.  Latest metoffice chart shows pressure dipping to 980mb in the North Sea which is significantly LOW pressure for the time of year.

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coastal gales and convective gusts inland

However these episodes have a habit of tracking across Holland and merely clip Kent with thundery showers and miss us entirely.  Models also generally exaggerate these early on and then things flatten out nearer the time considerably.  Nevertheless, it is worth watching this develop as our first potential “warm plume” of the year.  If we take a direct hit the SE could have some heavy rain.

The GEFS summary below clearly shows the two main rainfall spikes tonight and Monday night.

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GEFS 850hPa temperatures and rainfall London

Later mid-week the LOW is expected to drift east across the UK bringing in a more westerly pattern so unsettled showery weather is likely for a while. Thereafter, a rise in pressure from a developing Euro high pressure may then take place from the south and settle things down for us in the SE, though this might only make faltering progress.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Comments are always welcome. Links to websites used to create our blog posts can be found on our links page.

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faltering pressure rise later next week