Whilst there were fortunately no severe weather events in Reigate and few across the UK in May, the weather we experienced more widely could be linked tenuously to climate change. Of course, caution is required with such speculative statements but attribution studies on the May floods in Paris, not so far away, have concluded that they were made 90% more likely due to climate change. The same stalled low pressure system delivered our easterly winds so we were influenced, albeit on the edges, by the same blocked weather pattern.
more sunny than usual Wales
easterly winds with some sunshine but heavy showers Surrey
People attempting to climb Snowdon in North Wales in May were lucky to experience sunnier-than-usual conditions for much of the month (south wales had more thunderstorms which reduced the sunshine totals there). Meanwhile, in Surrey, we experienced occasionally warm conditions with an unusual mean monthly wind direction from the NNE.
Reigate pressure rose hesitantly mid-month
Pressure fell across the UK to start May but then rose mid-month, especially to the North, bringing a relatively unusual easterly flow into Reigate and the south. Whilst there were few severe weather events during the month, this post briefly explores some of the wider factors that may have contributed to this Easterly flow and the possibility of it being linked to climate change.
Whilst mostly dry for the UK as a whole, occasional showers, some thundery, brought Reigate rainfall totals to just above average at around 42-45mm as recorded from our two weather stations respectively in and out of town. SE England as a whole recorded rainfall at 111% of normal rainfall, mostly falling in thundery showers, more common in SE wind regimes.
With relatively dry Easterly winds, sunshine totals for the UK were accordingly above average given the relatively high pressure overall. Reigate experienced 182 hours of sunshine in total for the month.
sunshine anomaly May 2016
about as sunny as normal
Unusually, the sunniest places in the UK were in the North and West given the easterly winds bringing occasionally cloudier conditions off the North Sea to the south and east. May 24 shows a typical scenario with the higher pressure to the North dragging in E/NE winds across the southern part of the UK with cloud across eastern areas and clearer conditions to the west.
May 24 2016 synoptic chart
May 24 2016
Some great sunny days were recorded in the mountains of Wales, Cumbria and Scotland!
Sunny Snowdonia with kelvin-helmholtz type wave clouds trying to form over Ogwen Valley
The higher than average rainfall patches shown below in the south were associated with showers on occasionally unstable warm and humid SE winds. Reigate reached a Tmax of over 27C in this warm flow.
Rainfall anomaly May 2016
Temperature anomaly May 2016
The wider pressure pattern across the northern hemisphere was characterized by anomalously high heights over the Arctic and LOWER than normal pressure in mid-latitudes including Europe. This situation is called “northern blocking” and in winter could cause cold conditions in mid-latitudes. In Spring, as the continent rapidly warms up in stronger sunshine, easterly winds can be warm or even hot for the UK.
northern blocking over Pole
Northern Hemisphere pressure patterns are measured by the Arctic Oscillation which, as can be seen below, remained unusually negative through much of April and May showing high pressure persisting over the Arctic relative to low pressure in the mid-latitudes. This pressure pattern turned winds from the usual westerlies into easterlies in the UK and Europe.
negative arctic oscillation Spring 2016
The causes of this reversal of the usual mid-latitude zonal westerly wind set-up have been linked to low sea ice extent in the Arctic, especially the Kara and Arctic Gateway seas. Warmer influxes of air into the Arctic builds air pressure which then links to higher chances of Easterly winds in mid-latitudes.
low Arctic sea ice cover March 2016
The very low sea ice extent this year was brought about by much warmer-than-usual conditions during the Polar winter, where monthly average temperatures in the Arctic (>60N) were at times 3.5C or more above average during the cold season of 2015-16. This Arctic amplification is widely accepted as being caused by human induced climate change.
It turns out that Spring Arctic sea ice extent is some of the lowest recorded in the 38 year satellite series.
Arctic sea ice extent 2016
sea ice extent Spring 2016
So, unusual sunshine in North Wales, a warm NNE mean wind direction in Reigate and cloudy conditions on the east coast can be linked to the above tele-connecting weather patterns which, in turn, can be linked to climate change in the far flung Arctic.
Meanwhile, the strong 2015-16 El Niño declined rapidly through May and ENSO conditions were neutral by early June. Models suggest the chance of La Niña (cool Pacific) conditions by Autumn 2016 are as high as 60%. Some forecasters bring La Nina through the summer. La Nina, and the warmer SSTs of the tropical Atlantic, are associated with more frequent hurricanes in the Atlantic basin. In turn, high hurricane accumulated energy transfered to the North Pole during such seasons can build Polar heights in Northern Hemisphere winters, warming the Arctic and further melting sea ice. Whilst this is just outrageous long term amateur speculation, it is nevertheless interesting to ponder the potential for feedbacks to accelerate further climate change in the near future.
ENSO CFS 2016
ENSO ecmwf 2016
The turning down of the vast heat engine of the El Nino might be linked to the slightly lower May global average temperature, though confirmation from expert sources has not verified this as yet.
May 2016 Global temperature anomaly
Global temperature anomaly 2015-16
Local data for May and all months stretching back to 2012 can be found on our data page here
How can there possibly be a link between a modestly cool month in Reigate and the earliest start to the melt-season in Greenland, the devastating wild fires in Canada and the seventh hottest-ever global month in succession?
April summary weather statistics for Reigate
Average Temp 8.2C
precipitation 43.4mm (local Reigate) SE PPT 55mm
sunshine 140.4 hours
Max wind gust 30mph
average wind bearing 199 degrees
Reigate, like the UK as a whole, had a cooler than average April at 8.2C. The town even experienced some unusual snow showers on 26 April in a cool northerly air flow.
The cool month for the UK is in stark contrast to the bulk of the planet which experienced a much much warmer month than average, at over 1.1C warmer than any previously measured April.
Astonishingly, this is the seventh month straight that has brought record breaking global temperature anomalies. This continuing succession of warm months globally should be of concern to everyone. More on this below.
Back to the UK… The Central England Temperature came out at 7.5C, 0.4C below average, and the UK mean was even lower at 6.5C, 0.9C below the long term average.
Rainfall was about average in Reigate with around 40mm of rainfall. The MetOffice SE figure came out at 55mm.
April was sunnier than usual with a total of 140 hours of sunshine.
Mole Gap cool April
This continues the trend of drier and sunnier Aprils in the UK in recent years.
The first half of April was unsettled with most of the rain falling associated with low pressure systems and fronts. The second half of April saw an unusual cool period as northern blocking over the Arctic sent cool northerly winds south with attendant sunshine and showers.
Globally April was the warmest ever April on record. An anomaly of 1.1C sent the Paris target of keeping global temperatures below 1.5C into grave doubt as this is the 7th month in succession to yield much higher temperatures than ever. This is now being dubbed a “Climate Emergency” because of the sudden and rapid increase in global temperature to levels not expected to occur so soon.
The UK / NW Europe was about the only part of the planet, with NE Canada, to record below average temperatures.
The cool spot over the UK was due to northern blocking (high pressure) over the Arctic. As pressure rose over the Arctic, cold air pushed out into mid-latitudes.
It is a matter of chance where high pressure and low pressure set up that determines where cold polar air penetrates in these northern blocking scenarios. This time the pattern sent the cold air to the UK and N Europe. The Northern Hemisphere as a whole saw anomalously low snow cover as a result of incredibly high temperatures elsewhere.
Arctic Amplification, where the northern latitudes experience highest rates of warming, is well documented and of increasing concern to climate change. It is acting as both a response and a further driving force behind rapid climate change.
Temperatures rocketed over the Arctic this cold season with temperature departures over 3C widely across the Polar regions. The Greenland ice sheet experienced one of the earliest starts to the ice melt season on record.
Arctic Sea cover also recorded another record low maximum winter extent.
“On March 24, Arctic sea ice extent peaked at 5.607 million square miles (14.52 million square kilometers), a new record low winter maximum extent in the satellite record that started in 1979. It is slightly smaller than the previous record low maximum extent of 5.612 million square miles (14.54 million square kilometers) that occurred last year. The 13 smallest maximum extents on the satellite record have happened in the last 13 years.” NASA
This is both a response and a further catastrophe for climate change. As snow and ice melt in the Polar regions there are connections with further warming as darker sea and land surfaces heat up more readily.
This Polar warming itself is connected with a weaker jetstream as latitudinal temperature gradients in the atmosphere decline. It is temperature gradient, especially in Mid-Latitudes, that generates the driving force behind the jetstream. A weaker jetstream is said to cause more blocked atmospheric conditions as it meanders with greater amplitude in a meridional pattern that locks in swoops of northerly and southerly winds. More extreme weather is caused as these pressure patterns persist for longer. Sweeps of warmer air penetrate into the Arctic, melting more ice over Greenland and, for mid-latitudes, cooler dry Polar air leaks out causing damaging late frosts and wild fires.
wild fires in Canada
Mole Gap cool April
So, whilst it seems tenuous to connect these far-off events to our own rather benignly cool April, it is still important to think globally when considering how our own weather links to increasingly extreme weather elsewhere.
If we are not certain about the weather next week, how can we be confident about climate change predictions 50 or 100 years into the future? The charts below show two predictions about the temperature in Europe.. one was forecast for a day in June 2015, some 198 hours ahead, the other is a prediction for European July temperature by 2100, some 876,000 hours ahead. If computer model forecasts beyond 120 hours are known to become significantly more unreliable pushed further into the near future, how confident can we be in similar computer models predicting atmospheric conditions some 876,000 hours into the distant future?
Two temperature anomaly predictions for 198 hours and 876,000 hours ahead.
Of course, weather and climate are different things: weather is short term atmospheric conditions over days and weeks and is usually forecast at high resolution over small areas, while climate describes long term weather over decades or more for larger regions or the whole planet. Nevertheless, much like the computer models that broadcast meteorologists use to issue short range weather forecasts, climate models use equations of fluid motion and thermodynamics to determine the behaviour of the atmosphere and ocean and to project predictions of Earth’s climate into the future. Both short range and long range predictions require powerful super-computers to run similar complex models that ingest millions of real time observations and perform trillions of calculations to produce predictions of atmospheric conditions on a huge three dimensional grid across different surfaces and altitudes, including the oceans.
three dimensional NWP grid
global warming prediction
The atmospheric system is essentially unpredictable. Even the most powerful super-computer short range weather predictions can become quite unreliable beyond about 120 hours. This is perhaps why the MetOffice still only widely publish short term forecasts out to 5 days. It’s also why charts beyond 300hours are sometimes called “Fantasy Island”… they are so unreliable and not to be taken seriously as a forecasting tool on their own.
MetOffice 5 days is your lot
beyond 5 days.. probably wrong
Fantasy Island..very unreliable forecasts beyond 300hours
In the medium range, accurate ten day forecasts are still something of a holy grail and longer range seasonal forecasts arguably remain largely experimental as they are based on the unreliable time-frame of most numerical model output and the application of complex teleconnections and /or the extrapolation of observations from historic analogue patterns. The MetOffice have even put their seasonal long range predictions into obscure parts of their website after notable public failures in past seasonal forecasts, where they still languish today despite huge investment in computer power. The charts below show examples of MetOffice contingency planner long range forecast information.
Mean 2 metre temperature anomaly for Jan/Feb/Mar
Mean 500mb height anomaly Nov,Dec and Jan
3 month outlook… experts only
Even with a “perfect model”, weather and climate prediction will always suffer from uncertainties due to the immense complexity of the climate system, the chaotic nature of the atmosphere and the simplifications and approximations necessarily built into models themselves. The ensemble charts below illustrate this growing uncertainty over just a short time scale of a few weeks. Note the increasingly wide range of possible outcomes from the individual members showing the growing uncertainty as time progresses, and this is in a relatively settled period of weather.
ensemble temperature forecast
ensemble wind speed forecast
So, if we really cannot be not certain about the weather next week, how can we be confident about related computer model predictions of climate for 50 or 100 years ahead? To answer this we need to outline the three different types of uncertainty over climate change prediction:
There are three main types of uncertainty over climate change predictions:
Model uncertainty: climate models have to approximate and estimate feedbacks and processes, they do this slightly differently.
Internal variability: weather is chaotic partly due to uncertain internal forcings, like volcanic eruptions.
Scenario uncertainty: future estimates of human behaviour and emissions of greenhouse gases in particular are uncertain
So, do these uncertainties increase over longer time scales thus rendering computer model predictions of climate in 100 years completely unreliable? The answer is “No”! Or more precisely, most of these uncertainties actually decrease over time making model predictions of climate in 100 years possibly more reliable than a seasonal forecast for next summer! Time scale and geographic scale are two reasons that can explain why this happens:
Time scale: climate models deal with longer timescales better than short. The chart below shows lines indicating different model output for temperature change between 1850 and 2010. Note the various models (shown as different lines) all reaching a similar overall temperature increase of +0.8C by 2010.
temperature change more certain over longer time scale
Over the long timescale shown above, the model runs all agree on an overall temperature rise of +0.8C due to initial changes in radiative forcing linked to combinations of, for example, increases in emissions of greenhouse gases, changes in solar radiation and frequency of volcanic eruptions etc. Models confidently handle these changes over long time scales because climate system and model uncertainty both decrease over time..
Now… if we zoom into one part of the chart above the predictive capability of the model is shown to be much more questionable as the lines wiggle about much more over shorter timescales and sometimes go in completely opposing directions. This shows uncertainty increasing over shorter timescales.
less accurate predictions over a short time scale
On the shorter timescale of decades or less, model uncertainty increases as climate variability over short time scales is naturally large from one year to the next i.e. one year can be colder or warmer than the previous due to internal variability of the climate system (i.e.chaos). Models don’t handle this small scale short term climate chaos very well! One model run predicts cooling in a particular decade, while another predicts warming for the same decade. It turns out that predicting climate change over smaller timescales is more unpredictable than predicting changes over broad sweeps of time! This is because of the internal chaotic nature of the climate system and model uncertainty being greater at this higher resolution. For example, models will handle these short term variables differently: How will ocean heat uptake respond? What will happen to ocean currents and regional climates? How will snow cover respond? Will volcanoes erupt? How will cloud cover and type change? … and many more besides.
climate model variables
Despite these transient climatic uncertainties over short time scales the overall direction of change towards a new climatic equilibrium in the long term is confidently predicted by all the models. So… longer timescales are better handled by models than short.
Scenario uncertainties increase over time in long range climate prediction models
The exception to this reduction in uncertainty over time is scenario uncertainty. Most long range climate model charts include a wide range of predictions. This wide range is not due to model uncertainty or uncertainties over internal climate variability. Scenario uncertainty is the uncertainty over predicting future emissions of greenhouse gases. In other words, uncertainty over our own human behaviour in the future, which is historically difficult to predict! This is the reason why the IPCC charts show several “RCP trends”. Representative concentration pathways (or emissions scenarios) show a range of human response to the climate crisis… ranging from drastic curbs to emissions and lower growth, through business as usual, to increased emission pathways presumably due to high growth with no curbs to greenhouse gas emissions. These all yield obviously different outcomes. The uncertainty over human response, known as the scenario uncertainty, increases over time. Despite scenario uncertainty, each RCP is an accurately modelled temperature change based on changes in radiative forcing, the wide range of results is due to our own unpredictable behaviour more than climate chaos or uncertainties in the models.
2. Geographic coverage
On a long term global scale, climate system uncertainties are reduced while uncertainties increase over how climate change will occur over small geographic regions. Predicted global mean annual temperature change is therefore more certain than, for example, regional European or UK temperature change in 100 years. Future climate change on regional scales is more uncertain than on a global scale due to small scale variabilities.
So… prediction of climate change over short time scales and regional scales is more uncertain than predicting longer range changes on a global scale. Models struggle to resolve climate change at small time scales and small geographic scales. Overall however, longer term climate outcomes are more certain than short term small scale weather action. Even with the immense complexity of the climate system, computer models can provide confident predictions of future climate within a range of scenarios. The IPCC quote levels of confidence and certainty for their climate predictions and, even for the end of the century, they claim high confidence in their predictions ranging from “likely” to “more likely than not” for various scenarios.
IPCC AR5 report on confidence in computer model temperature predictions
the range of climate predictions will hit the probable climatological outcome
range of outcomes can be predicted fairly confidently
but the detailed action is harder to forecast!
In conclusion, maybe this analogy might help: Perhaps climate prediction is a bit like a football match: complex uncertainties about precisely where the ball will go during the game are perhaps completely impossible to forecast beyond the first few seconds of the game. Any detailed minute-by-minute action on the field thereafter becomes increasingly uncertain over time as countless variables come into play, including some chaos. For example, individual player performance on the day, how the players and teams interact, the chaotic nature of the ball, the nature of the pitch… these are internal variables that make it almost impossible to model accurate step by step action of a game perhaps beyond the first few kicks after the whistle blows. This is why small scale high resolution weather forecasts are still limited to less than a week ahead. Nevertheless, despite such short term uncertainty the overall score and outcome of the game is still possible to predict with confidence, particularly within a certain range. The same can be said for long range climate models.
This post has only scratched the surface of climate and weather uncertainty. Please let me know of any errors you spot in this post. Further reading available here:
August in Reigate, like the rest of Southern and SE England, came out slightly cooler than average at nearly 17C with about twice as much rainfall than the long term average with a rainfall total of 100mm. (Possibly* half of this fell in one deluge on 24 August when the town centre flooded quite notably from intense rain falling in a few hours (see post below)).
car park soggy
Morrisons flooded car park
Priory Park flood
South East England rainfall August 2015: 177% of long term average
Across SE England the MetOffice official records showed the rainfall total of 103mm was 177% of the August 1961-1990 long term average, so nearly double the usual total in some locations, especially near the south coast (100% being the average monthly total for August in this case). Don’t forget that August is often a wet month and that August 2014 had 84mm. Nevertheless, if you think our Summers are getting cooler and wetter then, yes, you could well be right! Read on to find out more.
August mean 500mb pressure pattern
August surface mean SE flow
August southerly jetstream flow
The mean 500mb pressure pattern for August above shows a deep trough in the Atlantic, dug unusually far to the south for the time of year, and a continuation of the dominant high pressure over Europe from July, nudged further east maintaining the heat wave in Europe, especially Central Eastern Europe. This looks like it should have promised a hot August for SE England with an average upper flow from the south and a surface mean flow from the SE. Unfortunately this pattern did not deliver any heat of note, but it did deliver occasional heavy showers and some thunderstorms, with notably torrential rain showers delivering big precipitation totals in a matter of hours.
August 2015 heat stayed in Europe and away from UK
Despite the average southerly and SE flow bringing occasional thundery Spanish Plumes, the real heat stayed stubbornly on the continent and only fleetingly wafted temperatures exceeding 25C across the SE. While France regularly baked in 30C+ daytime heat, Reigate and the SE could only struggle to Tmax temperatures of 25C and only once nudged 30C. Notably, the mean temperature was a tad below the 1981-2010 average but above the 1961-1990 average, showing how recent decades have been warmer. So August was either above or below the long term average, depending on what LTA you choose. This is a small example of how weather statistics can be presented by the media to suit any argument regarding climate change.
Mean temperature anomaly based on 1981-2010
Mean temperature anomaly based on 1961-1990
The August monthly Central England Temperature (CET) came out at 0.1C above the long term average but this hides the cooler than average Tmax attained in a disappointing month. This again illustrates how headline figures hide many subtle interpretations of weather statistics. Overall, August was nearly average from the perspective of long term Central England Temperatures, with the East coming out slightly above average compared with a cooler West. Maximum temperatures were widely lower than usual for August.
August 2015 CET
Mean August temperature, warmer in East
Below average Tmax August temperatures
At 116.4 hours, sunshine was also only average or a tad below the 1961-1990 average.
sunshine duration August 2015
The dominant wind direction this August was from the SOUTH (i.e. a southerly wind). The highest rainfall totals experienced in Reigate are brought, on our 4 year “long term average”, by southerly winds. This makes sense because mean southerly winds are from warm source regions, travelling across Biscay and the Channel, and are frequently associated with humid warm sectors that precede fronts where heavy thundery showers can occur.
cloudy southerly flow Reigate
beautiful altocumulus Reigate
Our more frequent prevailing Westerly / SW winds bring our familiar frontal rain but this often peters out before reaching the South East as most rain is dumped over the western hills of the UK. In contrast, warm southerly winds containing more water vapour arrive laden with precipitable water (PWAT) ripe for torrential convective downpours across Southern and SE England. The Downs (both the North and especially the South Downs) can also have a marked orographic effect enhancing this southerly rainfall pattern, whereas they have little impact on frontal rain from the west. This warm humid southerly set-up was responsible for the Reigate deluge on 24 August, also known as a Spanish Plume.
August above average rainfall
August wet in the south
August most lightning missed Reigate
High Street Reigate
Tunnel road Reigate flooded
Reigate flooded roads
Finally, research shows that UK Summers have got cooler and considerably wetter since 2000. Cooler by just 0.4C (this despite some warm years) but total summer precipitation has increased by some 50mm over the last 15 years and the 10 year moving rainfall average is on the rise, most likely due to torrential rainfall events. This change to rainfall being delivered in torrential but sporadic events is in-line with climate change predictions.
Reigate summers have got cooler and wetter since 2000
Rainfall challenge! *Our local rainfall totals are proving mighty tricky to verify at the moment. We use three sites for measuring rainfall locally: an automatic tipping bucket rain gauge at RGS, a manual CoCoRaHs rain gauge at the same site and a local sister site in town. Unfortunately they rarely agree and sometimes vary quite considerably. Also, the manual rain gauge is used to measure monthly totals because emptying it everyday (during the holidays for example) is not always possible. Calibration of the AWS and regular rain gauge measurements is therefore an immediate target. Meanwhile, all rainfall figures are available on request and posted in these summaries along with official MetOffice rainfall figures for the South East.