Archives For rapid cyclogenesis

Whilst Storm Katie was not a record-breaker by any means she did provide some evidence of stingjet winds in the wrap-around feature that showed up especially on IR satellite photos and rainfall radar in the later stages of her track across the SE and UK.

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Here is some analysis from local Reigate Surrey records of these winds to explore this feature more. Stingjets can be the most damaging winds, in this case they were not especially strong.  Professionals, like Matt Hugo (NorthWstWx services) and Simon Lee (MMetReading), saw hints of stingjets during the passage of the storm but what evidence of stingjet winds is there “on the ground” and how can amateur observers watch out for these potent weather features in future?

Katie’s rapid cyclogenesis prior to landfall over the UK was a precursor to the formation of stingjet winds.

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Stingjets are associated with vigorous bomb-depressions developed in a process called rapid cyclogenesis: in RaCy depressions central pressure falls very rapidly and slows the horizontal surface speed of the cyclone.  A stingjet is a narrow band of gusty winds that descend from high altitude in the latter stages of RaCy depressions.  They arrive from some 3-4km above the ground and are associated with descending stratospheric air into the low core.  Ironically stingjets are associated with weakening fronts and aging cyclones.  This descent of upper air pushes the jetstream lower and this can deliver extremely gusty conditions to the surface in a narrow band that is shown by a cloud hook and matching rainfall pattern.

Watervapour satellite loop from 00hrs to 8am showing dry descending stratospheric air forming a dark slot – dry intrusion – that wraps into the developing low core: a sure signal of rapid intensification.

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The hooked rainfall signature below matched a marked increase in the strength of wind and the modest strongest gusts of the whole event of 52mph in Reigate. In exposed places like Redhill aerodrome this exceeded 60mph and over the North Downs at Kenley 68mph was recorded with 70mph in places. 2016-03-28_07-32-34 Arriving from high altitude, stingjet winds are unsurprisingly cold with low dew points. So you’d expect a dip in temperature at the surface.  Parts of Wales and Shropshire had snow in this airstream wrapping round the back of the low as it moved into the North Sea. Stingjets match the mature stage of the Shapiro-Keyser cyclogenesis model.  In all respects, they are aptly named as the “sting in the tale”.

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metoffice stingjet info

Storm Katie had some generally strong winds (for the SE of the UK!) associated with the southern edge of this cyclone where the tightest pressure gradients developed as pressure fell across the SE: in the narrow warm sector especially.  The lowest central pressure was 971mb.  Our Wight-Wash Oscillation reached 16 or 17mb at one stage: the difference between the pressure over the Isle of Wight and the Wash.

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Most significant storms to impact SE England have similar NE tracks through the Bristol Channel and exiting through the Wash. This was certainly the case with October 1987, St Jude 2013 and Storm Katie March 2016.

A complex warm sector and bent-back wrapped occlusion make it tricky to identify the normal Norwegian model of warm-cold frontal passage.

It is more likely that Katie, like other RaCY depressions, developed according to the Shapiro-Keyser model of rapid cyclogenesis which involves a break away cold front fracturing away from the depression core: T-bone.

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The wrapped rainfall radar and cloud hook above both suggest a stingjet feature associated with this kind of development.

Now, onto evidence stingjets… the passage of the strongest gusts shown below do not match the passage of a “normal” cold front but suggest some other process was at work to deliver the strongest gusts.  The strongest winds occurred 3 hours after the passage of the front that started to deliver the expected colder polar air behind the wrapped occlusion. This can be seen from the chart of Reigate wind speeds and temperature below. 2016-03-28_22-25-38 The chart shows the persistent warm sector gales proceeding from midnight on 28 March through to about 5am.  These gales do not exceed 80kmh but they modestly peak just before the passage of the front, an expected pattern.  Fronts then pass through Reigate at about 5am and temperatures fall as expected, as do gusts.  However, from 7am gust strength sharply increase, this matches the timing of the sting jet cloud feature on satellite photos.  This increase in wind speed had no front associated with it and therefore suggests evidence of a stingjet process: arriving out of the blue!

Note the temporary drop of temperature to a minimum and recovery after the departure of strongest winds.  This again suggests these winds are not frontal in origin but are part of the stingjet process.  Are they associated with a sting jet of descending high altitude air originating some 3-4km in the troposphere?  I’d like to think this is a sting jet signature but will need confirmation from official sources to pin this down. 2016-03-29_07-29-56 For comparison shown above is a “normal” cold front passage from the previous weekend when a cold front squall line of some note passed through.  Note there is no dip to minimum temperature associated with the maximum gusts and temperatures remain cold after the passage of the front because of the insurgence of cold polar air.   This is more typical behaviour when it comes to frontal passage.

 

 

Other charts and references support this idea, but some not unfortunately not quite with same timings.

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/2/p/Sting_Jet_Flyer.PDF

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Before we get to Katie, it’s worth mentioning recent and current weather for Easter Sunday: the first convective day of 2016.  A cold pool of polar upper air followed the impressive cold front yesterday which developed a very long squall line.

Thundery conditions followed the cold front in an unstable Polar airmass with notable CAPE (convective available energy) and negative 2 Lifted Index for the time of year – both indicators of potential thundery heavy shower activity.  The limiting factor on multicell thunderstorms locally was lack of wind shear and an anticyclonic jetstream, both subduing anything truly impressive or sustained. Nevertheless, some hail and thunderstorm activity is rife across the UK today in this unstable polar maritime airmass.

Storm Katie is riding a powerful jetstream and deepening rapidly over the Atlantic through today.  She is some 600miles away to the SW but approaching and deepening rapidly as she undergoes rapid cyclogenesis (RaCy) falling from 999mb to 975mb:  24mb in 24 hours, qualifying as a “bomb depression”.

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Katie emerged out of Canada earlier this week as cold continental air met humid sub-tropical maritime air.  She engaged with an active jetstream to be launched across the Atlantic.  Storms tend not to move fast and deepen rapidly at the same time, so her rapid progress across the Atlantic will now slow as she now expends more energy lowering pressure on her approach to the UK.

The evolution and track of this storm is similar to St Jude October 2013, but Katie is forecast to be less powerful, due in part to the slacker pressure rise on her departure into the North Sea.** (update: in the event Katie pipped StJude, see below!)

Katie also has some similarities to the October 1987 but again is significantly less powerful than that rare 200 year event.

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The water vapour sat pics below show the evolution of Katie and cirrus cloud associated with the jetstream.

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Baroclinic leaf in the Atlantic, jetsream cirrus to the UK

 

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dark slot shows rapid intensification stage as strat air descends into LOW, showers over UK

Storm Katie is forecast to deepen through the SW approaches to below 980mb on an expected track overnight Sunday-Monday from Biscay into the Bristol Channel through to exit around the Wash.

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The pressure gradient between the Isle of Wight and the Wash could be as much as 12mb… the highest of our Wight-Wash Oscillations recorded, and greater than the 10mb WWO recorded in StJude, if this comes off.

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However, the pressure rise behind Katie is expected to be less rapid and sustained than St Jude, so this critically reduces the potential for highest gusts, sting jets aside.

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The highest wind speeds for Storm Katie will be south of the low core in the occluding warm sector in the small hours of Monday morning.

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Max gusts of over 80mph are possible in the Channel, 70mph along Channel coasts and 60mph further inland.  For Reigate this means a brief episode of gusts possibly exceeding 50mph and more over exposed hills.  This could wake people up momentarily as gusts roar through trees and round houses.

Rainfall will be significant too and some hi res models put down >40mm over parts of the North Downs, showing the significance of small hills in generating orographic rainfall.

Rainfall more widely is more likely to be around 20-30mm, enough for local flooding. The MetOffice have issued a yellow warning for Storm Katie.  Check the weather impact matrix showing moderate likelihood of moderate impact (low yellow).

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Update: Amber warning issued for Storm Katie.

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The shipping forecast is less equivocal and shows storm warnings right around the UK associated with Katie and other low pressure systems.  Storm Force 10 is possible in the Channel for a while. http://bbc.in/1RtwvyS

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Furthermore, evolution so far matching StJude and the Wight-Wash pressure gradient forecast seems to be matching or beating St Jude.

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Below is a Meteosat picture (courtesy Dundee sat receiving station) showing Katie moving into the North Sea, deepening again slightly to 972mb,

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Meteosat visible photo of Storm Katie moving into North Sea on Monday 28 March

Post-Katie we enter a broadly zonal westerly flow but turning cooler as slack winds swing northerly through the week as LOW pressure moves into North Sea/Scandinavia. Unsettled and showery activity continues through the week but with pressure slowly rising from the west by Thursday. No further significant storms are expected for the time being. Into the start of April, pressure over the Atlantic is expected to rise and progress over the south of the UK into Europe to give a settled period for the start of April.

RGSweather is off to East Iceland, so expect occasional tweets and updates from cooler climes.

Storm Katie: In the Event:

various meteorological impacts show Katie exceed StJude in power but both fall well short of October 1987 Great Storm.

  • Max wind gusts Needles 105mph (St Jude 99mph)
  • Reigate max wind gust 51mph, widely 50-60mph and 70mph on North Downs (Kenley) Gatwick 59mph
  • Redhill aerodrome recorded 70mph gust at 04:50
  • Lowest pressure: 971mb (St Jude 2013 976mb; Oct’87 958mb)
  • Reigate lowest pressure 976mb (St Jude 980mb; Oct ’87 est
  • Reigate rainfall 20mm
  • Wight-Wash Oscillation 14mb (St Jude 12mb, Oct ’87 storm 20mb!)
  • Rapid rise in River Mole catchment – no significant flooding but overtopped bankfull stage.

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Note, compared with the Oct ’87 storm Katie and St Jude are found wanting.  The Wight-Wash Oscillation for the 200 year storm of October 1987 was a whopping 20mb! See the chart below for the exit of the Oct 87 storm through the Wash on 16 October 1987.

Finally, which of these big SE storms are most powerful? Play SE storms TRUMPS to find out..

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-35910151

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24708614

http://www.chichester.co.uk/news/update-more-than-600-incident-in-sussex-as-storm-katie-batters-the-south-1-7299324?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=dlvr.it

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/weather/12205613/Storm-Katie.html?frame=3601967

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35909651

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3512119/Storm-Katie-batters-Britain-Gales-100mph-dozens-flights-cancelled-UK-wakes-Bank-Holiday-washout.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/28/storm-katie-flight-diversions-wind-rain-batter-southern-england-and-wales

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/see-full-carnage-storm-katie-7644830

local coverage

http://www.dorkingandleatherheadadvertiser.co.uk/Storm-Katie-Trees-power-Surrey-storm-hits-PHOTOS/story-29006658-detail/story.html

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The Atlantic is showing off some classic visible cloud features of cyclone birth and decay today.  Systems labelled 1-4 on the satellite photo above show different features including stages of cyclone / mid-latitude depression formation and decaying high pressure ridge all on one satellite picture.  The chart below shows the same view with fronts.

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Starting with LOW number #2 (why not?!): the spectacular classic cloud spiral of LOW #2 indicates a mature low occluding and filling.

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This maturing occluding LOW has a couple of interesting extra vortices near the low core.

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Despite their angry look, classic cloud spirals like this on satellite photos are actually decaying and filling lows, losing their strength as pressure rises in the low core.  This particular LOW has a spectacular cold front of over 1500 miles stretching from 60N to the sub-tropics. The red colours on the RGB false colour eumetsat image below shows the cold continental polar air surging in behind the cold front.

Low #1 is a rapidly intensifying LOW off the coast of Labrador.  It looks harmless as a smudge of cloud but this shape … a so called “baroclinic leaf” indicates the birth of an angry developing storm: rapid cyclogenesis.

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This will deepen and pressure will fall rapidly in the next 24 hours as frigid continental air collides with humid maritime air under the influence of an active 200mph jetstream.

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LOW #1 is expected to form a big storm in the Labrador Sea by Wednesday. The fronts on this storm are then forecast to stretch clean across the Atlantic and bring the SE our first frontal rain for over a week by later Thursday.

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System #3  on the top satellite photo shows the HIGH pressure lingering over the South of the UK but regressing into the Atlantic.  This ridge has dominated mid to late March weather in the UK but brought a lot of anticyclonic gloom to the SE.  The deflating ridge will allow a more unsettled Atlantic westerly regime to dominate late March and early April weather.

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Low pressure #4 is an interesting developing depression in the Mediterranean, courtesy of a southward limb of the jetstream. Currently a disturbance dumping snow over the N Atlas in Morocco, this LOW is set to deepen across the Mediterranean through the week.  It will track directly ENE through the Med and bring snow to the Atlas mountains, rain to N Algeria and foul wet, windy and wintry conditions to Italy and then more snow and wintry weather to the Balkans.

Finally, for the UK our weak ridge is deflating to the SW and this will open the door to zonal westerlies and frontal systems bringing rain and wind from later Thursday and into the weekend.  Ensembles below show the dry spell ending this week and some notable rainfall spikes in the days to come, especially over the weekend.

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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.

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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.

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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

Update for storm prospects for Reigate: an intense low pressure is forming out in the far west of the Atlantic this evening where frigid air from Canada is meeting humid warmer sub-tropical air circulating from the south round the Azores high pressure.  This confluence of winds causes lift to occur at the polar front but a fast jetstream blowing at 180mph directly overhead will cause additional lift of the air lowering pressure extremely rapidly.

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rapid cyclogenesis under jetstreak, then further deepening on left exit of jetstream

This process is called rapid cyclogenesis and gives birth to a deep low pressure with tropical air circulating into the storm from the SW and polar air sweeping round the head of the storm to follow in its wake.

The low will deepen and race 1300 miles across the Atlantic to arrive off the NW UK coast by midnight Thursday.  For inland Reigate and SE England the impacts will be lower than in the west and NW but the English Channel will experience significant gales overnight in the warm sector of the depression with gusts possible of 70mph.  NW Britain and especially NW Irish coast might see the biggest gusts in the wrap around winds on the south side of the low core where stingjet winds are possible even as high as 100mph.

arrival on Thurs 00hrs

arrival on Thurs 00hrs

Winds for SE and Reigate will build through Wednesday from late afternoon and through the evening and are likely to peak at possibly 50mph gusts as the squally cold front passes sometime 4-6am.  Exposed places on the Downs could experience stronger gusts. Winds will ease after the cold front moves through by breakfast time but Thursday will stay blustery with showers and feel cooler.  There is a chance that our record wind gust recorded in Reigate of 52mph will be broken in this storm but the town is sheltered from southerly / SW winds which will be the dominant wind throughout the event so this might keep wind gusts lower.

For Reigate the rain is likely to arrive mid evening on Wednesday.  Rainfall will be persistent throughout the event and heavy at times and possibly with isolated thunderstorms as the active cold front moves across early Thursday morning.  Rainfall totals could amount to over 20mm, most of it falling in a short period probably at the cold front.

The weather on Wednesday will be interesting: starting with cold temperatures and scattered snow showers courtesy of frigid air originating from Canada and Greenland on a brisk NW wind and then warming through the day as the storm arrives with a deluge of rain arriving in sub-tropical air from the deep south Atlantic.

Finally, the storm is due to usher in cold polar winds which eventually swing to the north as pressure builds in the Atlantic to bring an Arctic flow across the UK during the weekend.  Various troughs and any low pressures sliding down the edge of the developing high pressure could cause a more significant snow event any time from Sunday and through the week.  This wintry spell is likely to last into next week so dig out the warm woollies! Any snow that we get in Reigate will be the first since March 2013. Lots going on and very changeable so stay tuned!

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So far this winter Reigate and the SE has been sheltered from much of the weather action, which has focused mainly on the NW and especially Scotland. This coming week might change that somewhat, albeit modestly in comparison with the battering the NW has received.  Charts below show temperatures and pressure are overall on the slide this week while precipitation makes two noticeable spikes.

A moist warm airflow ahead of a slow moving cold front arriving from the north Monday pm could stall over the SE overnight into Tuesday am and bring significant rainfall totals.  Temperatures Monday night could hold up into double figures as a warm moist SW flow funnels up from the subtropics ahead of the sluggish cold front.

slow cold front clearing south

slow cold front clearing south

The wave on the polar front emerges out of the SW through Monday with a characteristic plume of rain and a dip in pressure.  Such waves tend to bring a lot of rain despite hardly showing up on synoptic charts.  A modest kink in the front and isobars (see charts below) is the only hint of potential heavy rain action.  Some wintry precipitation and maybe snow is possible for places on the north side of the front later into Tuesday, in Wales/Midlands for example,  but not for the SE as temperatures remain too high.  The front slips slowly south Mon/Tues bringing some significant rain and then brisk cooler weather from showery westerly winds to follow, some sparse showers could possibly be wintry Tues-Weds but not amounting to much for us, most wintry showers will fall further west.  Temperatures will be cooler at Tmax 5-6 on Tuesday and even cooler on Weds, so cold but frost unlikely as too breezy.

There is a weather warning out for this period especially for the south coast but Reigate totals could reach 20mm+ and exceed 20-30mm for places nearer the south coast in Sussex.  The front is followed by increasingly cool showery westerly winds through Tuesday into Wednesday with the odd wintry shower possible but nothing significant.

There is the possibility of a storm for the UK Wednesday-Thursday bringing gales to our area as a “bomb depression” emerges in the Atlantic this week and probably tracks across Scotland (which would be less windy as a result, for a change).  Details of the storm track remain wobbly at the moment but the strongest winds will be found on the southern flank of the LOW centre and various models suggest that the SE could have some strong to gale force winds, albeit nothing like the scale of Scotland recently.  Models suggest a steep pressure gradient as the low tracks somewhere across the north of the UK.  The precise track will determine the impact on the SE.  Current models suggest the strongest winds for the SE will be associated the warm front approaching Wednesday night / Thursday morning.  Gusts could exceed 50mph inland and more on the coast with some excitable models suggesting more but these usually calm down nearer the time! Nevertheless, wind and rain are likely to be significant and expect updates on weather warnings this week. Colder air follows the storm so showers following cold fronts could turn wintry so watch for updates.

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Our own amateur “Wight-Wash Oscillation (WWO)” is an attempt to quantify the potential impact / severity of storms on the South East of England.  The WWO is simply a crude measure of pressure difference between the Wash and the Isle of Wight ( a mini NAO!).  As a benchmark the St Jude storm (99mph Needles max gust) had a WWO of approx 10mb (976 Wash-986mb Wight) and the modest storm of 12/12/14 was a 9mb on the WWO.

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Current models shown below have a variety of WWO results from 8mb UMET up to 12mb for GFSP.  A difference of 1 or 2mb can make a big difference to the severity of the storm as pressure gradient ultimately drives wind speed. Nevertheless, the WWO is just for fun but interesting to see how it works out in the event. On the basis of our WWO this storm currently looks less severe than St Jude, which is a good thing because that storm caused a reasonable amount of damage.

The unsettled weather this week is being driven by an active jetstream over the Atlantic.  This itself is partly a product of the tremendous temperature gradient over the northern hemisphere and particularly over the North Atlantic with freezing air pouring out of a frigid Canada meeting warm sub-tropical air emerging round the Azores High from the south.  These air masses are set to clash on Monday at the polar front over the Atlantic.

Whatever the storm brings it is looking likely that afterwards a cool northerly wind from the Arctic will bring temperatures further down by the weekend.  Although a long way off, for Reigate and the SE it is unlikely to be snowy and most likely to be the frosty and cool type of cold!  Further ahead some models build a pattern into later January (around 20) that could be conducive to cooler conditions: with possible easterly or NE winds for a time as a low sinks into Europe, though this is not looking either particularly extreme or long-lived.

Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Oscillation is set to remain positive, though decline somewhat to neutral, which means that the LOW over Iceland and HIGH over the Azores synoptic pattern is likely to be maintained, albeit possibly less pronounced and with more anomalous meridional moments of cold incursions possible.  This would mean a continuation of the broadly zonal westerly flow of mild windy and fairly wet unsettled weather for the foreseeable future.  Conflicting signals like this have riddled longer range forecasters this winter: the stratospheric warming was only moderate, much to snow-lovers disappointment, and some supposed good indcators of colder winters (the OPI / early Siberian snow cover in October) have apparently failed to live up to forecasting skill expectations as yet.  A month or so of winter to go and no significant signs of persistent cold … yet!

Update #2 25/12/14: update: cold weather arriving after this LOW, heavy rain overnight Fri-Sat; snow marginal for SE early Sat am, more likely for Midlands and EA, cold weather arrives in lee of this system.  MetOffice warnings updated:

Update #1 25/12/14 latest MetOffice chart lifts pressure and pushes track further south, with low moving SE across our area.  This reduces wind speed, still brings in colder air flow though with risk of snow increased for back northern edge of the system with NE winds. For SE possible sleet/snow on Downs early Sat am. Evaporative cooling could yield more snow for SE if rain sufficiently heavy (drags down cold uppers). Gale risk gone but replaced by some heavy rain, marginal snow risk and retaining the cold easterlies in the aftermath on Saturday with pressure building to dry bright frosty conditions.

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After a pleasantly cool bright and dry Christmas Day, an interesting depression due on Friday and through Saturday is likely to usher in a period of colder weather for the UK and SE in particular. The situation is a little uncertain still but the run of warm mild gloomy temperatures lately this December, already pushed aside gently by a weak cold front passing south through the country today, are likely to be pushed further down into some “proper”cold after the storm passes through by Sunday. This storm, forms in the Atlantic along the polar front and quickly races east towards the UK on Boxing Day Friday.  Storms tend not to deepen much if they move fast, which this one does at first: crossing half the Atlantic in a matter of 24 hours. The storm is mixing some airmasses with contrasting temperatures: cold polar air in the north is about to get up close and personal to mild warm Tropical air from the south west.  They are due to meet in the LOW pressure over the UK soon, so expect some interesting weather!  You can spot the impact of the storm on the upper air temperature chart below but also see the steeper drop to colder conditions thereafter.

GEFS shows cooler days ahead

GEFS shows cooler days ahead

The ECM charts below show upper air temperatures at around 1500m. These “850hPa” charts are commonly used as guides to airmasses because air at 1500m (850hPa pressure level) is not affected by changes day and night or surface characteristics, it is therefore a good guide to true airmass characteristics.  Note the really cold airmass to the north meeting comparatively warm air to the south and SW in this LOW.

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For the South of England the LOW will initially push warmer tropical air ahead with rain arriving for us in the SE on a warm front sometime Friday pm (top diag above Sat 00hrs).  The warm sector is likely to be windy with gusty SW winds and a considerable accumulation of rain, 10-20mm overnight into Saturday.  The warm sector tropical air mass (upper air +5C) could have temperatures near double figures whilst the polar air bearing down from the north is a much more frigid airmass (upper air -6C).  The contrast between these two airmasses could make the frontal rain particularly heavy while the cold front contrast could even have an odd rumble of thunder as cold air undercuts the warm and forces it aloft.  The skew-t diagrams below show the contrast in these two airmasses.

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The LOW centre crosses the North of England and into the North Sea overnight into Saturday when, due to it’s location under the left exit of the jetstream, it is forecast to deepen to possibly around 980mb. quite low especially for a depression located so near the shore.  Deepening occurs as the jetstream aloft encourages air to rise off the surface because air is diverging aloft.  So air is rising off the surface quicker than it can be replaced by air arriving: hence falling surface pressure. This commonly occurs when lows interact with jetstreams on their left hand side, near the exit of a jetstreak.

The classic frontal depression with cold and warm fronts separated by a warm sector only lasts for a matter of hours before the cold front, pushing forward more dynamically than the warm, catches up the warm front and pushes the remaining warm air into the upper atmosphere.  This is an occlusion and signals the end of the development stage of a depression.  The central pressure usually starts to rise after occlusion has occurred.

Whilst the situation is still uncertain, it is likely that Friday afternoon and Saturday will be windy and increasingly cold as the winds veer clockwise from the SW through to North and finally NE and E.  It is the latter NE and E winds that will bring the colder air to the UK and the SE especially.  Continental Europe is currently very cold so any air flowing from this direction will be chilly.  Cold crisp continental air will stay with us for a while as high pressure builds to the west and pushes north over Scotland while the LOW moves over Europe.  This setup allows easterly winds to flow over the UK.  Dry cold is expected as the pressure is likely to rise and stay high.  Expect some frosty nights. The duration of the HIGH varies between models but certainly should keep things cold and crisp through to the New Year.

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cold new year

Further ahead a split in the polar vortex and stratospheric warming are dominating weather chat and these are set to possibly bring colder conditions through January.  On the other hand, Phase 3-4 of the MJO (Madden Julian Oscillation) is usually associated with a positive North Atlantic Oscillation which brings milder westerlies to the UK.  So, it’s interesting times ahead, stay tuned and Happy Christmas!

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The MetOffice charts above show the formation and life-cycle of a December 2014 “weather bomb”, involving the process more properly called rapid cyclogenesis. There are reasons why meteorologists dislike the term “weather bomb” but perhaps the most obvious is that the sensationalist short-hand use of the term “bomb” detracts from the complex processes and variable scale and location of impacts.  The term “bomb” tends to hype stories in the press that can cause over-reaction and unnecessary concern. On the other hand it gets people reading about the weather, which is a good thing (like this post, ahem!).

Nevertheless, a “weather bomb”, a term borrowed from the US and New Zealand, is short-hand for a potentially extreme event.  Bomb depressions are deep low pressure systems that form by the process of Rapid Cyclogenesis (RaCy for short).  RaCy is the rapid formation of a deep depression when the central pressure falls more than 24mb in 24 hours.  Such RaCy depressions are usually of marine origin. About 12 such RaCy bomb depressions hit the UK in the exceptionally stormy winter last year 2013.  Although by no means the most powerful, the first and most famous RaCy depression of last winter was the St Jude storm that hit Southern England with moderate force in October 2013.  Pictures below are from that event and can be compared to the enormous scale of the more recent Atlantic bomb depression of December 2014.

The “bomb” depression that struck this December 2014 seemed to catch media attention, despite the impressive weather impacts being almost wholly restricted to the less populated NW, especially Scotland, where people are entirely used to coping with such lively weather.

http://www.stornowaygazette.co.uk/news/local-headlines/weather-bomb-cuts-off-power-to-18k-homes-1-3630321

December 2014 rapid cyclogenesis: the weather story

The December 2014 “weather bomb” was a depression (low pressure system) which formed rapidly far out west in the Atlantic between SE Greenland and Iceland.  The formation was associated with a fast moving jetstream and the surface convergence of sub-tropical air from the south west meeting a frigid NW polar airstream from Canada and more local air direct from the Greenland ice cap.  The big temperature differences between these air masses accelerated uplift and the lowering of central pressure.

impressive but not the day after tomorrow

impressive but not the day after tomorrow

Descending dry stratospheric air is another defining feature of RaCy systems.  Cold dry air from aloft turbo-charges the depression as it is injected into the depression.  The cold air aloft increases lapse rates in the surface airmass and causes air to rise more purposefully creating a dramatic fall in central pressure.  Descending cold dry stratospheric air can be spotted on the water vapour satellite images as a dark dry slot ingressing into the depression circulation over time and following hard on the heels of the cold front as it is blasted across the Atlantic.  The water vapour images below show the rapid development of the system during Tuesday 8 December.  In later images it is possible to see the speckly cumulonimbus clouds emerging in the unstable cold sector following the cold front. Such instability was caused by the descending dry air.

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Rather than going through the rather measured development stages of a Norwegian Model cyclone, a RaCy depression usually follows a life cycle more like the Shapiro-Keyser model below (though at the time of writing I am not certain as to whether the December 2014 RaCy depression formally fitted all aspects of this model).  Several key characteristics of the December 8 cyclone fit the S-K model fit and this is the usual model associated with RaCy depressions.

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The Shapiro-Keyser depression life-cycle model often features a cold front that is blasted rapidly ahead.   so rapidly that it “fractures” from the wrapping warm front further north. This is known as a T-bone fracture and experts can identify the moment of fracture using satellite photos. Additionally, cf course, upper air moves faster than the surface wind that suffers frictional drag even across relatively smooth ocean.

satellite features of emerging RaCY depression

satellite features of emerging RaCY depression

This meant that the cold front moved so rapidly that it split vertically into a fast moving upper front and a slower moving surface cold front. The cold front literally had its head ripped off!  The frigid upper cold air travelled over a shallow moist zone of warmer sub-tropical air and it is this that increased lapse rates and caused immense instability in the polar air stream that eventually arrived in Scotland.  Instability can be seen on the visible satellite pics as speckly masses of cumulonimbus clouds shown best in the satpic above.  In the charts and sat pics below note the wind speed associated with this polar air and the tropical air preceding it in the warm sector.

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In the S-K model the cold front is sometimes weakened during the formation process while the warm front remains active, wrapping itself in knots around the central “eye” of the storm.  The 850mb chart below shows temperatures of this cold upper air at 1500m above Scotland. The bomb depression this December seems to have matched this because, while the cold front was relatively weak (narrow squall line) the exceptionally unstable polar air behind it was arguably the defining characteristic of this system, bringing persistent convective storms and an outstanding 5000 lightning strikes and thunder-snow blizzards across higher ground in Scotland during the advection of this exceptionally cold and unstable air for an Atlantic NW airstream.

In the S-K model depression life-cycle the warm sub-tropical air is eventually left “sequestered” as a warm pool trapped in the middle of the mature depression which is called a “warm seclusion”.  The usual process of occlusion is bypassed as the centre of the low fills with warm air.  Meanwhile, the rapidly overshooting upper cold front causes S-K cyclones to often elongate in appearance on surface pressure charts, a feature associated with the rapid forward acceleration of the cold front in relation to the tightly wrapped, almost stationary, wrapped warm front. It is this tightly wrapped warm front (sometimes shown as occluded on weather charts) that shows another defining feature of S-K depressions.

As our initial bomb LOW pressure moved due east and filled and decayed offshore near Norway, a wave depression further south on the Polar Front also “bombed-out” to the SW of the UK and swept across Southern England on Thursday-Friday 11-12 Dec.

This was a separate small scale system but technically another rapid cyclogenesis as central pressure fell more than 24mb in 24 hours, but only just.  This illustrates the varying scale of bomb cyclones: some cover vast areas, some a small.  The 11-12 Dec RaCy depression was much smaller in size and intensity, max wind speeds were much more restricted and the whole system several magnitudes smaller in scale than the “mother” cyclone further north. Charts below show the evolution of this storm.

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Finally, the North Atlantic Oscialltion is a measure used to describe and forecast the mean pressure pattern over the Atlantic. A positive NAO indicates “normal” conditions with low pressure over iceland and high over the Azores. This is associated with a zonal west to east flowing jetstream and fast moving cyclones moving rapidly west to east bringing generally mild conditions to the UK in winter. Note the recent positive pattern matching the westerly flow and active zonal jetstream causing the RaCy depressions.  When the NAO turns negative the jetstream is often more wiggly and flows between latitudes in a more meridional flow potentially bringing cold air from the north when pressure patterns are more slow moving and even “blocked”.  A negative pattern is often associated with cold winter weather for the UK. The NAO is not a driver of weather, merely an indicator of pressure patterns.

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For a bit of fun we invented our own local Wight-Wash Oscillation (WWO) which is a measure of pressure across the south of England between The Wash and the Isle of Wight.  This would give an approximately similar local version of the NAO but just for fun!  We noted a WWO difference in pressure of 10mb during St Jude and only 9mb during the recent bomb wave depression.  The WWO particularly suits the passage of wave depressions across the Midlands which tend to yield the highest wind speeds for the SE.  It would also work in negative conditions which would give cold easterly winds in winter. Note this measure is just for fun!

Positive NAO remains likely on the run-up to Christmas 2014 so chances of a White Christmas is much reduced. Remember that a White Christmas for us in SE England is the rare exception to the rule.  On a brighter note, the earliest sunset has just passed and we can at least look forward to later sunsets from now on!

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