Archives For Arctic airmass

2016-01-09_13-34-29

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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cold plunge of polar air to end April

The newspapers have this colder than average week billed as a “polar plume”.  Cold air cannot really be said to “plume” like warm air (spanish plume).  Nevertheless, it is certainly cold up North with settling snow over the hills and wintry precipitation elsewhere too.

The GFS ensemble (several model runs combined at once) chart below shows that the colder than average (upper air) temperatures will last until the weekend at least.  Thereafter temperatures rise but note the rainfall spikes indicating unsettled conditions.

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upper air temperatures

For us here in the sheltered SE it is just cooler than average with patchy overnight frost and bright days with light showers Tuesday pm. A blustery cold front on Wednesday is likely to bring more purposeful rain for a while, as could further active fronts on Thursday when the trough axis moves through our region accompanied by the jetstream nearby to the south.  Friday is likely to see a transient high pressure ridge bringing settled weather and then a change in wind direction by the weekend.

The overall cool set-up is due to “northern blocking” which is when pressure builds over Greenland and the Pole and the, previously strong, Azores HIGH slackens off and nudges south. At the same time the usual Icelandic low pressure weakens or is dominated entirely by a HIGH pressure (see chart below).

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In this situation the jetstream works its way south of the UK.  The result is that cold polar air is able to leak south out of the polar regions and into the mid latitudes.

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The index shown above summarizes the overall pressure pattern in the Atlantic. It is called the North Atlantic Oscillation. The NAO measures the pressure difference between Iceland and the Azores.  It has been mostly positive this winter: meaning that pressure is LOW over Iceland and HIGH over the Azores.  Typically a positive NAO indicates a strong zonal jetstream and mild often wet conditions for Europe with relatively fast moving LOWS passing through.  The chart below shows how the NAO has gone negative recently and this indicates that pressure has built over the Pole, creating a blocking situation.

The charts above show theta-e temperature which shows cool airmasses over the UK clearly.  These are 850hPa temperature charts which represent temperatures at 1500m (1.5km) above the “boundary layer”.  This height is used to avoid disruptive temperature changes which occur nearer the surface caused by day and night, mountains and water bodies etc that upset the overall temperature pattern for analysis.  The situation shown below by this weekend is quite different, though still unsettled.  Note the warmer flow from the SW.

After the transient ridge on Friday it looks like pressure will fall into the bank holiday weekend as a low pressure nudges in from the Atlantic.

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pressure falls into weekend

The milder humid air brought from the SW by the Atlantic low could potentially cause some significant rain at times around the weekend and into early next week as this meets cold air over the country.  Despite the milder upper air arriving from the SW, it is unlikely the “milder” temperatures will be noticeable in such wetter and windier conditions. In winter this set-up could have brought big snow events but in early May it will simply bring rain. For the detail on timing and amount of weekend rainfall we will have to wait and see, but it certainly looks potentially quite wet, though models suggest pressure building briefly thereafter.

2015-04-27_20-10-05

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

2015-01-29_18-19-06

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

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

early evolution spotted on MetOffice fax

early evolution spotted on MetOffice fax

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

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

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

2015-01-29_19-34-48

decaying polar low

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015-01-24_21-18-11

NW airflow 2m temperature anomaly

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

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

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

So how long might this cold snap last?

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

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North Atlantic Oscillation

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

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Arctic Oscillation

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

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

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

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

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

A 100 mph+ jetstream will shift air currently over the Arctic islands of Svalbard all the way down to Majorca in the Mediterranean. This air will travel 3000 miles in around 24 hours. It will bring cold but eventually brighter conditions across the UK as the Atlantic HIGH slips a little over to the East on Thursday.  Light snow / sleet / rain showers are likely here and there, especially on Wednesday when shower bands pass over in the morning, but generally they will be few and far between and nothing to get excited about for Reigate, eventually clearing up to clearer skies. Enjoy the crisp Polar sunshine and excellent visibility brought from the Arctic!  Sunday and Monday look interesting as a slider LOW (see colour chart) could slip SE down around the HIGH and bring some milder air which meets cold easterlies on their back: a potential recipe for significant snow in the South East. Keep watching for developments.  Meanwhile, wrap up – the Arctic winds will feel well below freezing throughout the rest of this week.

Last week we experienced a quick bath in Tropical air courtesy of the “blowtorch” which raised temperatures to a remarkable 12°C in Reigate. This week will be a big contrast and there are no prizes for guessing the wind direction: the chart shows a breezy northerly “blast”. This is called Arctic air because it travels direct from places like Spitsbergen (Svalbard) and the North Pole: direct from the ice sheet to the High Street! Temperatures in Reigate will begin to drop quite markedly when the wind swings round to the North from Tuesday onwards. Reigate will certainly feel chilly as the week goes on with temperatures only a few degrees above freezing during the day and with some frosty nights.  If you like snow you might be disappointed, it looks like we will miss the true drama of these Arctic winds which will play out in exposed parts of Scotland and the North where heavy snow and gales are forecast: but they don’t reach us in the SE. Some models go warm by next weekend, others stay cold until Mid-February. Currently it looks cool and icy for Reigate rather than snowy. Keep the sledges in the garage for now but do watch for the end of the week bringing in Easterly winds which could bring more exciting winter weather.  Is this the last gasp before Spring?  Old weather saying: “As days lengthen… the cold strengthens.”

showers over east coast 03-02-2013Today was bright and clear with a chilly northerly breeze, as forecast. Clouds developed throughout the day over Reigate but remained benignly flat anf fluffy, eventually joining up to form a thin broken blanket of stratocumulus through which the sun set spectacularly. Typically, in a northerly winter Arctic airflow, snow showers reach the East coast but fizzle-out and disappear inland. Today was an excellent example of this: watch the video. Places near the Kent coast and East Anglia saw wintry showers whilst places further from the sea, like Reigate, saw none at all.  A simple explanation goes like this:
Clouds form when air rises, cools and water vapour condenses into water droplets (clouds are tiny water droplets and/or ice crystals, not cotton wool!). The main driver of rising air is the heating of an airmass by a relatively warm surface. The North Sea is still quite “warm” at a balmy 7°C (note the nearby higher surface temperature in Margate 4.5°C) and this was sufficient to warm the chilly Arctic airmass travelling across it.  This warming caused convective uplift of warm bubbles of air (thermals) which formed shower clouds over the North Sea.  Think of the bubbles formed when a cold pan of soup is heated on the stove: they rise up, just like thermals rising through the atmosphere.  Rising thermals initiated cloud formationover the North Sea produced the shower clouds visible on the video marching across the East coast. The showers died-out inland because the land in January is colder than the sea (note the lower surface temp in Reigate 2.5°C) so warming is reduced and thermals are much less frequent.  Fluffy clouds may form but do not rise to any great height: these are called “fair weather cumulus”.   Showers and clouds tend to fade away in the evening because thermal activity is reduced.  (n.b: April showers occur for similar reasons: the stronger Spring sunshine warms the ground quickly and sets off rising thermals through airmasses which are still cool from the winter.  We must wait a few more months for the sun to get powerful enough for showers of this nature to kick-off inland: something to look forward to!)  Temperature changes with height are called lapse rates. Lapse rates control cloud formation and precipitation.  Try this site for more info.

The Arctic air mass will be replaced by warmer, wetter westerly winds tomorrow.  But don’t despair, if you enjoyed the fluffy cumulus clouds and outstanding visibility today then you will be happy to learn there is more to come this week!  Models agree that another long cold snap is due to return, initiated by an Arctic airmass on Wednesday.  This cold snap could last into mid-February with the possibility of an especially cold dip in temperatures next weekend.