Archives For snow

2016-02-29_19-54-33

8-10 day mean upper air chart

The most wintry set-up of the “winter” has decided to arrive at the start of Spring! High pressure over the Pole is still keen to push out polar air into mid-latitudes as the meteorological Spring starts tomorrow.  The Arctic Oscillation shows this tendency as it has been dipping negative, showing relatively high pressure over the Pole and lower pressure in mid-latitudes. The belated rise in Polar pressure has been attributed to the stratospheric warming which occurred around a month ago.

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Unfortunately, for most of late winter the jetstream has remained strong enough to push a predominantly Atlantic flow into the UK and breach any blocks attempting to drag in sustained cold air. This is shown by the slight but persistently positive North Atlantic Oscillation below: this set-up spoilt any chance of proper cold this half of the winter.

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However, this week the wind is expected to turn more northerly as pressure lowers first over the North Sea and then the Channel / N France. By the weekend the UK will be in a cold Arctic flow courtesy of the same LOW lingering over Europe and a blocking Atlantic ridge. Between them and the jetstream they will do a good job of pulling down a cold Arctic flow this weekend. Spot the cold anomalies in the chart below. Lots of lying snow is not likely but some wintry precipitation is possible at times here, especially a marginal chance on Friday am.  Things change though, so check weather professionals like the MetOffice to make any weather related decisions.

Here is the story of how we get to some belated cold by this weekend.  Tuesday sees an end to the cool clear HIGH that brought Spring-like sunshine to Reigate and Tmax 9C.  A warm front will sweep in tomorrow morning and bring rain for most of the day for the SE.  It will be breezy, though relatively mild in the warm sector shown below, Tmax 10C.

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warm sector Tuesday

Things cool off into Wednesday as an active blustery cold front ushers in colder polar maritime air through the morning.  Any snow is restricted to the NW of the UK.

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The flow swings increasingly to the north west during the day with the possibility of showers later here, some quite heavy, maybe even with the outside chance of hail and thunder thrown in.  Tmax 6-7C.  Update: The video below shows how that showery trough passed through Reigate during Wednesday:

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Thursday is the crux to building a set-up capable of producing any snowfall at all for the SE.  A LOW is forecast to develop from a system off Greenland and cross the Atlantic smartly from the NW.2016-02-29_19-50-10

This low, with rapidly occluding warm sector, will deepen slightly and meet the cool pool sitting over the UK from Wednesday’s Polar attempt. The LOW is expected to arrive late Thursday and track south east overnight into Friday bringing in a cool NE flow capable of wintry precipitation for a while on Friday morning.

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The latest charts suggest the track into N France will result in NE winds which could bring snow for a time in the SE on Friday morning.

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meteoearth Friday ppt

It is all rather marginal for us in the SE and Reigate though. A rain / sleet event with a possible wintry mix at times is more likely and nothing much is expected to settle.

By Saturday and into the weekend a cold northerly / NE flow sets as the “Greenland” LOW settles over Europe. Wintry showers could develop across the SE, especially in any distrubances in the Arctic flow.  However, pressure is likely to be on the rise as the Atlantic ridge creeps in from the west under an increasingly anticyclonic jetstream.

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How long any early Spring cold lasts is not certain, the Atlantic ridge looks like toppling over to bring in warmer conditions later next week.

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The UKMet analysis chart for today shows a building ridge in the Mid-Atlantic and a complex large LOW over Scandinavia.  This is dragging down a cold Arctic airmass, which will usher in progressively colder upper air each day through to Thursday.  The low NW of the Azores is drifting ESE but filling and can be ignored for now.

Air at 850hPa, roughly 1500m up, is used to judge airmass characteristics because, at this height, the airmass is not affected by diurnal and surface changes like sea, forest, mountain, towns, which can create big temperature variations near the ground.  The 850hPa temperature by Thursday could dip as low as -8C over Reigate.  Whilst this is not extra-ordinary it is about the coldest and most sustained chilly dip we have seen so far this winter.  Skies will be mostly clear and nights will turn frosty with day Tmax struggling to 5-6C. Wind chill will make it feel more like freezing for most days this week.

High pressure nudging in from the Atlantic will keep any precipitation light and restricted to coastal areas.  Friday sees things get interesting and unusual.

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A southerly diving jetstream gets into action on Friday and is set to amplify the 500mb trough and deepen a low off the west coast of the UK and develop it further into Biscay into Saturday and create a cut-off feature by Sunday.

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The Atlantic / Biscay LOW is unlikely to impact us in the SE much directly but, as it passes south of us through the weekend into Europe it will drag in cold easterly and then NE winds.  Our own mini-Nor-Easter!

Nor-Easters are famous powerful winter storms in the USA.  Our own version this weekend is a rather tame feature in comparison but notable because it is relatively unusual and has potential to bring a more sustained wintry feel to the SE through the weekend and maybe into next week.

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This southerly tracking LOW will move NE through the continent and will set up a cool Easterly then NE wind over the SE. Nothing outrageously cold for us because the coldest air is likely to stick further to the north east in Russia and Scandinavia.  Nevertheless, by Sunday a brisk NE wind with upper air of -8C or so will continue to make it feel chilly, after a cool week.

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The winds over the SE will therefore swing from  Northerly mid-week through to Southerly on Friday and thence to Easterly and finally Nor-Easterly / Northerly by Sunday. This anti-clockwise rotation is called backing and often ushers in cold air.  This is despite the wind turning through a seemingly mild southerly direction.  Remember we are sitting well north of the jetstream this weekend, which is somewhere in the Mediterranean, thus all airmasses are relatively cold and polar.

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Pressure stays relatively high throughout this “mini-nor-easter” episode and so this will limit chances of any snow unless the low decides to track further north nearer the UK OR we pick up sea effect snow as winds turn NE over a relatively warm North Sea.

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Snow showers are theoretically possible near the North Sea coast if Sea Effect / Lake Effect snow can be kicked off.  Such sea effect snow occurs when (very) cold air masses cross warm sea surfaces.  This can trigger lines of convective showers that dump lots of snow in places like the Great Lakes in the US.  Sea Effect snow occurs best when there is a temperature contrast of at least 13C between 850hPa (which must be well below freezing of course) and a warm sea surface.

The charts above show the North Sea is anomalously warm at more than 8C across a large area, although cooler near UK shores.  The upper air temps this weekend are around -8C, making a potential 16C contrast in temperature, theoretically sufficient to trigger showers. Unfortunately the airmass seems to be dry and, at this stage at least, rather stable. Looking ahead the cold spell could last into next week. Check our twitter account @rgsweather for local updates but always check professional weather forecast providers for decision making, of course.

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Atlantic jetstream has been powerful and mostly westerly

This coming week, Arctic air from Svalbard briefly encounters Tropical air from the Bahamas over Europe.  Remarkably, how cold it gets here in the UK and Europe might depend on the story of a sub-tropical storm over the Atlantic just as much as the Arctic air trying to push south.

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pressure is high over the Pole

Pressure has built over the Arctic, nudging cold air uncertainly south into European mid-latitudes.  The build in Polar pressure and relative fall in mid-latitude pressure is called a negative Arctic Oscillation as mentioned in previous posts.  The pattern is already cool because the jetstream is to our south.  The jetstream axis essentially divides the warm tropical air to the south from the cool polar air to the north.

zonal flow with powerful jetstream

westerly flow with powerful jetstream

However, the flow has been mostly westerly and even SW across Southern Britain as the jetstream is blowing purposefully from west to east across the Atlantic.  While pressure remains relatively high over parts of Europe (e.g. Med and Spain), the coldest air has been unable to penetrate very far south.  The jetstream chart above shows the unstable flow we have had this weekend bringing heavy thundery showers, some with hail, over Reigate. Check this pic of mammatus clouds this afternoon over Surrey, after thundery showers with hail.

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mammatus clouds over Brockham, Surrey

 

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cool LOW over UK, south westerlies in the south

It has been cool because the air has been circulating anticlockwise around a deep low over Scotland with a cold source region over Scandinavia. However, the airmass has been modified with a long track over the Atlantic. With such a strong zonal jetstream the more frigid Arctic air has not been able to penetrate far south into Europe, yet.

An unusual sub-tropical storm developed in the Bahamas last week over a very warm Gulf Stream.  This low pressure will come to hover in the Mid-Atlantic this week and it might just hold the key to unlocking some more Arctic air over Europe.

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300hpa shallow trough enter left

A part of the sub-tropical system is forecast to cross into Europe mid-week courtesy of a trough disruption.  This causes a part of the trough to break away and leave the parent “cut-off” in the mid ocean.

low rides jet coat tails into Europe

low rides jet coat tails into Europe

In this case, a small but vigorous “baby” LOW will ride off on the right entrance of the jetstream, a good location for deepening surface pressure, and enter Europe via the Bay of Biscay sometime on Wednesday.

disrupted trough enters Europe

disrupted trough enters Europe

Whilst this vigorous baby low will not impact the UK directly, it is set to lower pressure over Europe and, in its wake, will drag in Arctic air more purposefully SOUTH across more of the continent right to the Mediterranean.  This wind will be significant and create the first proper wintry feel for about three years with wind chill on occasions down to -7C or lower.

Importantly, the trough disruption will also build pressure in the Atlantic to the north of the sequestered parent LOW.  This is often the case in trough disruptions.

builds Atlantic high and lowers pressure in Europe

builds Atlantic high and lowers pressure in Europe

The increasing the pressure gradient in the Atlantic and lower pressure in Europe will push more Arctic air more purposefully south across the UK and into Europe. So the sub-tropical system has been key to unlocking the full Arctic blast!

Details about snow for Reigate will be updated this week.  At this stage heavy snow settling here looks unlikely but some snow fall and wintry showers are certainly possible, especially later mid-week.  It will get gradually colder through to the end of the week.  Thereafter it is, of course, uncertain! The ECM has been performing better as a model than the GFS so, on that basis, continuing cold is more likely than a sudden return to mild westerlies, which the gfs tends to do too quickly. So assume it’ll stay cold into next weekend.

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GEFS cool dip mid January

A cold snap looks more likely next week from around 13 January. Nothing extreme, just a long-overdue “normal” wintry feel is on the cards.

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12Z gefs and ecm ensembles show more distinct dip in temps

 

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ECMWF upper air goes cold

Temperatures are due to take a dip below the seasonal norm.  It’s still a way off so details will change but here’s the current idea moving ahead.

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The current run of wet Atlantic westerlies (above) that has brought flooding to many parts of the country, is due to weaken as pressure rises over the Atlantic and further north over the Pole.   As the persistent Atlantic LOW pressure gradually moves East this week it will bring more rain across the UK.  As it moves further east over the weekend it is forecast to draw down cooler northerly winds from the Arctic next week, at least for a while. (see below). (update: “Atlantic block” noted on chart below is probably overstating it a bit … as HIGH is likely to give way fairly promptly)

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Arctic Oscillation goes negative january 2016

The cause of this Arctic outbreak is indicated by the Arctic Oscillation (AO) going negative.  The AO is a measure of air pressure over the Pole relative to mid-latitudes.  It has been positive for most of the autumn and winter so far and this usually means a strong jetstream and mild wet westerlies for the UK.

When the AO goes negative it indicates building pressure over the Pole and more likelihood of Arctic air “leaking” into mid-latitudes.  The chart below shows the 500mb mean heights for 8-10 days time.  Spot the anomalously high pressure over the Pole relative to the mid-latitudes.

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8-10 day mean 500mb heights (ecm and gfs models)

The negative AO has been predicted by many expert long range forecasters for a long time partly because of a lack of sea ice in the Kara Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean near Siberia).  This is a long-term indicator for potential pressure rises in this region.

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In addition, the recent enormous pump of warm air, courtesy of the Storm Frank, will have encouraged tropospheric height rises over the Pole.  The result is an inflating balloon of relatively cold air waiting to pop into the populated mid-latitudes!

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surface temperature anomalies Jan 14 2016

As well as a push of cooler Arctic air, pressure is also due to rise over the UK.  With increased pressure we can thankfully expect a drier period.

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wintry pressure rise

A classic winter high might be expected to bring dry, bright clear days with cold nights with views of the stars.  On the other hand, frost, fog and icy conditions might also be expected too.  In the SE huge dumps of snow look most unlikely next week from current model runs but lows can move south in the Arctic flow and cause unexpected events. The duration of the cold snap doesn’t look long** as the Atlantic HIGH is swept away by more westerlies.  However, this is uncertain so stay tuned for more regular updates on twitter.  Of course, seek professional forecasts for decision making purposes.

update 06/01 **looking potentially more prolonged now. cold snap turning into a spell.2016-01-05_20-55-31

January 2016 cold snap

2015-16 winter forecasts have long considered the possibility of cold weather in the latter stages from Jan thru to feb. This was explored in a post here

https://rgsweather.com/2015/12/29/winter-is-nigh/

Winter is nigh?

December 29, 2015 — 6 Comments

2015-12-28_19-39-19

The synoptic situation above shows the remarkable contrast building up around Europe this week.  While much of the UK still sits in a mild SW flow brought in by a powerful SW jetstream, a HIGH pressure building over Scandinavia is set to drag in Siberian easterly winds to Eastern and SE Europe which is due to get much colder.

Whilst the jetstream is forecast to sink a little south of the UK by early January, which is the colder side, it is not certain whether any proper cold will reach the UK just yet. The UK looks increasingly sandwiched between bitterly cold easterly air and cool Atlantic NW air.  A stormy and wet set-up is likely with temperature contrasts like these, but will it snow?

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The ECMWF is certainly keen on something cold as pressure falls across the UK and Europe and allows the chance of LOWS ingesting nearby cold continental air.  This could mean snowy weather for the North, especially on hills, in early January, for example.

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However, for the SE Tmins stay above freezing on the chart below for nearby Gatwick, Surrey, and note the absence of snowfall, at least for now.

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While the ECM shows the potential for cold UK conditions by early January, the GFS maintains a more broadly westerly Atlantic flow with temperatures falling to average.

Both show a cooler regime and more persistent rainfall for us in the SE. A fall in pressure means LOWS will also make more direct passage across the UK during early January.

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The jetstream is shown to move south of the UK over the next few weeks. This will bring colder air across the country and lower pressure.

The terrible flooding in the North and West of England and Wales contrasts with the drier than normal December down here in the SE, running at about 70% of normal rainfall so far this month.  Unfortunately, a significant Atlantic storm, named Frank, is bombing-out right now in the Atlantic and is set to bring gales and more heavy rain to the NW, albeit not due to track directly across the UK.

Storm Frank will stay mostly in the Atlantic and arrive in Iceland on Wednesday night. It is unlikely to impact us much here in the south east other than some blustery and wet weather especially through Wednesday pm/evening as the cold front passes over.

Polar Maritime air behind this front will bring a cooler average feel by Thursday. Further wet and windy weather is likely later in the week and into New Year.  The arrival of this NW/westerly air probably spells an end to the extraordinarily warm long-fetch south westerlies that have made December 2015 by far the warmest on record. Whilst there will be warm sectors passing through the persistent warmth is less likely through January.

The wider atmospheric conditions hold more interesting clues than models as to which way the weather could proceed through January.  A more powerful than usual stratospheric vortex has built around the Pole this December. The extra-powerful vortex has possibly been caused by the excessive heat injected into the global atmosphere by the mega-El Nino: increasing the temperature gradient between mid-latitudes and the Pole and thereby increasing the strength of polar vortex as temperatures in the Polar stratosphere have fallen in the polar night.  Much catastrophic weather has been blamed on the El Nino “bar fire” burning across the Pacific.  Whilst Texas tornadoes and Pacific hurricanes are more likely to be directly linked to ENSO, UK flooding and weather has only tenuous links.  El Nino has now reached a peak but will continue to output through Spring until likely turning neutral and even reaching an opposite cool La Nina state by next winter. (more on El Nino impact on UK weather here )

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Mega El Nino December 2015

The powerful stratospheric vortex has “sealed in” cold air into the Pole throughout December (Globe a below).  However, the vortex has been taking a hammering from perturbations from the troposphere known as vertical waves (Globe b). If sufficiently powerful, these waves can lead to sudden warming in the stratosphere which can distort, split or even destroy the vortex, allowing cold Polar air to “escape” into mid-latitudes (Globe c).

Stratospheric experts differ somewhat in their forecasts but, overall, the feeling is that something is afoot high up which could erupt into a full break up of the vortex by Mid-January, something called a sudden stratospheric warming.  This what a SSW looks like in 3D.

A Sudden Stratospheric Warming could then mean, depending on how surface pressure patterns pan out, that some sustained proper cold arrives a few weeks later around late January into February.  This is due to pressure rising over the Poles as a result of warming in the Stratosphere. The increased pressure over the Poles further strengthens the negative Arctic Oscillation giving greater risk of cold outbreaks across mid-latitudes and snowy weather.  Even without a major warming, the super-powerful zonal westerly winds in the stratosphere appear to be abating (chart below: top arrows) due to the perturbation from the troposphere which is forecast to continue.  Whilst lower down the tropospheric jetstream nudges south of our latitude (lower black arrow) as anomalous or neutral winds expand out from 60N (red circles).  This means an increased possibility of cold leaks from the Pole reaching our latitude above 50N.

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Unfortunately, at the moment, none of this is catastrophic for the stratospheric vortex because, to date, the waves and warming have been insufficient to knock this King Vortex off his perch.  Nevertheless, El Nino years see a greater chance of SSWs and, as the westerly QBO weakens, it seems odds-on for such a full sudden stratospheric warming event.

Meanwhile, action nearer the surface in the troposphere (up to 10km) has been even more interesting with changes taking place that may render any stratospheric influence less relevant at least in the medium term. Notably, the Arctic and North Atlantic Oscillations are both trending negative.  This means pressure is building in the north relative to the mid-latitudes and could allow more polar air to push out into Europe. A cold outbreak is also possible in the USA.

Until now, December has been dominated by a positive Arctic Oscillation and positive North Atlantic Oscillation, hence the mild conditions.  A change to negative AO and NAO is therefore a significant indicator of cooler weather ahead.

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warming Pole negative AO

The chart above shows mean anomaly 2m temperatures for the 5 days 08-13 Jan 2016.  Note the extraordinary warmth over the Pole which helps to build pressure.  Note also the cold pool in the Atlantic, associated with cooler sea surface temperatures residing there.  This will be significant because NW polar maritime winds will be cooler than usual and could bring more snow to the NW and especially upland UK, even if we fail to get any truly bitter easterlies. Spot the cold lurking in the N/east of Europe and Russia waiting to pounce should we get a LOW sliding east through the Channel, for example!  Finally, the MJO is an important influence on winter outcomes worth exploring.

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The MJO or MOJO or Madden Julien Oscillation is a measure of convective activity which starts in the Indian Ocean and migrates east as a series of thunderstorms across to the Pacific and thence around the planet in a 30-60 day cycle. Here is a video about how the MJO impacts Australia, but it also impacts weather elsewhere.

The intensity and state of the MJO connects with global weather and correlates to known pressure patterns in the northern hemisphere. We have just left MJO Phase 5.  The expected mean pressure pattern associated with MJO Phase 5 (in ENSO positive phase) correlated pretty well with the pattern that turned out.  See charts below.

The MJO is now going through a nicely organised phase. This could mean that the correlation with real weather patterns continues into the weeks ahead.  Here below is the expected 500mb pressure pattern for Phase 6, which we are just entering and then Phase 7 and 8 which are due in early January.  Note the strong westerlies of Phase 6, which certainly equates with the current state of affairs, as does the building Scandinavian HIGH. This is not a cool phase for the UK.

Phase 7 sees a HIGH pressure building out from Scandinavia as a possible northern block.  This equates with the emerging negative NAO and potential easterly / Arctic winds winding round the base of the HIGH.  It is an increasingly cool phase for Europe, so matches expectations as we move into early January.  Phase 8 is a high pressure phase in Europe as the LOW moves further into the Mid-Atlantic.  High pressure can be cool dry frosty at the surface depending on the exact location of the high pressure.  This is expected by 13 Jan.

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Finally, Phase 1 and 2 (above) are both cool phases as they build Atlantic / Greenland blocks to the NW and place a trough over the UK dragging in potentially cold NE or NW. These MJO phases could weaken according to MJO forecasts but the signal is due later Jan/early Feb.  The MJO is just one teleconnection in winter weather forecasting it will be one to watch in the coming weeks and most interesting to see how it verifies with prevailing conditions.  Below are some links to explore the MJO yourself.

This is a round-up of the atmospheric situation and not a forecast. In summary, however:

  • models are struggling with all the action, ecm might be preferred as gfs does not take account of much vertical extent into the stratosphere, while ecm does. ecm is showing colder runs generally.
  • stratospheric vortex is taking a hammering and a SSW is predicted for January (AER)
  • QBO westerly regime is weakening somewhat, allowing more potential for cold.
  • MJO entering cool phases upcoming in January (esp Phase 7,1 and 2)
  • AO and NAO going negative which indicate blocking in North.
  • latest ensembles show high latitude blocking across Scandinavia to Greenland.

All the above give more likelihood of colder weather for the Northern Hemisphere, albeit not necessarily for the south of England!

http://www.americanwx.com/raleighwx/MJO/MJO.html

http://www.meteonetwork.it/models/mjo/

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/MJO/CLIVAR/clivar_wh.shtm

2015-11-19_21-56-59

MetOffice Fax chart Sat 21 Nov: cold UK weather

A cold Arctic surge will spill south over Friday night bringing a shock to the record-breaking warm November so far.  The airmass trajectory shows the extraordinary journey the air has taken to get to London.

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airmass trajectory (GFS)

It’s a brief Arctic attack but rather potent and Saturday morning will feel especially cold in strong northerly winds.

Snow is also forecast for Scotland and parts of the North of England as the Arctic air is brought south with a North Sea low and attendant fronts.  This system will reach Reigate and the SE early Saturday morning and likely bring a wintry miserable start to the weekend with sleety rain, maybe even some wet snow for the Downs. (in the event: snowfall in Reigate for an hour or so as front passed through, settled momentarily. front cleared off quickly)

In the South East, whilst the airmass temperature is just cold enough for snow and sleet, falling to a cool -5C at 850hPa by early Saturday morning, the dew point is shown to rise quickly above freezing as precipitation arrives in the morning and this will reduce the chance of any proper snow fall. This is fairly typical of the SE!

The main feature of Saturday morning in Reigate will be a truly miserable wet, cold windy start with an impressive wind chill well below freezing lasting all day, something we haven’t experienced in Reigate and Surrey for a long time!

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wind chill November 21 2015

Overall, this cold snap is not due to last long, warming slowly into next week but turning unsettled as the jetstream blasts back from the Atlantic. It will not, however, become as warm as it has been.

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unsettled due to return as jet bites back

Winter forecasters look high into the atmosphere to get an idea of what the winter will bring.  One feature they look at is the Polar Vortex.  The PV is currently getting stronger, which it usually does this time of year.  The vortex is the winter circulation of high altitude westerly winds in the stratosphere that keep the cold polar air locked up in the Arctic.  To get sustained cold outbreaks the vortex needs to be broken down: something that can occur when the polar stratosphere warms, sometimes suddenly.

However, with North Pole stratospheric temperatures taking a steep dive, lower than average, the temperature gradient between the Pole and mid-latitudes is increasing and so the subsequent pressure gradient is also steep: with generally low pressure over the Pole and high pressure further south.  This all really means cold air is less likely to leak south.

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The Arctic Oscillation is an index showing how atmospheric pressure varies between the North Pole and mid-latitudes.  In a positive phase the westerly winds are stronger and the jetstream more powerfully moves depressions across the Atlantic to the UK.  A negative AO is required for wintry outbreaks… El Nino can induce stratospheric warming episodes and many winter forecasters are expecting the Polar Vortex to come under attack later this winter, after Christmas, and possibly produce a colder second half.  meanwhile, expect more unsettled, relatively mild weather to return after this cold snap.

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The brief cold snap is shown in the ensemble forecast from the GFS and ECM models below: cold snap followed by a return to mild.

 

Is this it for winter? Read on…

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

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

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arctic airmass

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

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

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

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

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

refs

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

What’s a Polar Low?

January 29, 2015 — 1 Comment

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

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

early evolution spotted on MetOffice fax

early evolution spotted on MetOffice fax

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

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

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

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decaying polar low

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

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

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

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

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

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

some links on Polar Lows

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

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

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

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

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

theta e chart: good for airmass spotting

theta e chart: good for airmass spotting

 

UK metoffice fax chart

UK metoffice fax chart

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

theta e

theta e

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

arctic air with mixed up mT air

arctic air with mixed up mT air

UK metoffice fax chart

UK metoffice fax chart

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

 

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

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

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

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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