Oh how we love to talk about the British weather. UK Winters are notoriously long, cold and pretty wet and you couldn’t be blamed for feeling like they seem to go on endlessly. Not only is the rain and ice a total fun sponge, they also pose a real risk on the roads and to commercial business sites. Weather predictions are designed to facilities and premises managers to make better decisions. Safeguarding staff and onsite visitors against slips and falls in the snow or ice is priority, as well as keeping driveways and roads safe with gritting. In this blog, we break down the ins and outs of the UK Winter weather predictions and what this means for your business.
To understand how to make long range weather predictions for the UK means to understand the global weather system, which is extremely complex and not something you can learn about in one blog! There are many different elements driving the temperatures from larger influences to smaller ones. Take a brief look at what is expected to control winter weather forecast predictions for 2020-2021 and learn why the UK Gritting weather forecasting system is industry leading is second to none.
Throughout the end of the last century, we saw a lengthy run of much milder temperatures across the winter season, which ended in 2008. Between then and 2013 we saw much colder periods, notably December 2010 which recorded the UKs first sub-zero temperature since 1986. After a severe weather alert during an extremely cold March 2013, winter has been mainly mild.
Except for the small fly in the ointment! In February 2018, the UK was hit by the now famous ‘Beast from the East’ which cost the UK economy an estimated £1BN per day. Yellow and Amber weather warnings from the Met Office were in place over the south of the country and later including the whole of the North West too. The freezing temperatures and blizzards caused chaos to roads, rail and air for several days with central England temperatures around -5°C and 70mph bitter winds of -15°C.
Let’s take a brief look at average winter temperatures in the UK over the past decade:
2010 – 1.6°C – The coldest winter for over 30 years
2011 – 4.5°C – much milder at 0.8°C over average
2012 – 3.3°C – slightly colder than average at 0.4°C less than usual temperatures
2013 – 5.2°C – We begin to see temperature anomalies, with an increase of 1.5°C above average
2014 – 3.9°C – roughly average at just 0.2°C over
2015 – 5.5°C – The third warmest temperature recorded in 115 years, 1.8°C above average
2016 – 5.0°C – Still very mild compared to usual winter temperatures
2017 – 3.6°C – A drop in climate bringing the mean temperature back to average
2018 – 5.2°C – Another rise, making a mild winter that year
2019 – 5.3°C – Continuing the mild trend
According to the Met Office, 2019-2020 was the 5th mildest winter weather since 1884, but the 5th wettest since 1862.
The truth is, the weather here and across every continent and country in the world is a part of a hugely complex system, which is chaotic and unpredictable. From Russia, Canada and North America, right down to New Zealand and Australia, there are a few major players in what makes the weather.
El Nino Southern Oscillation or ‘ENSO’ is a region of ocean in the tropical pacific which is divided up into regions and alternates between cold and warm phases. The cold ENSO phase is called ‘La Nina’ and the warm phase ‘El Nino’. The easterly winds (known as trade winds) travel the circumference of the earth and mix the oceans’ surface, altering currents. When ENSO changes phases and emerges up and out of the ocean, the resulting pressure patterns on the atmosphere trigger changes in the weather too. These phases are determined by changes in a specific region in the tropical pacific (usually region 3 or 4), which directly impacts the tropical weather and circulation, which goes on to affect global weather. ENSO is currently in the peak of La Nina – the cold phase until January 2021, which is thought to begin weakening in Spring 2021.
La Ninas jet stream is a powerful flow of air that travels around the entire hemisphere of earth from west to east. As it goes, it affects pressure systems, which determines surface weather. The strongest jet stream happens to extend all the way over the UK. This low pressure system that follows the La Nina jet stream in the North Atlantic has resulted in stormy but mild winter conditions both in Britain and onward to Scandinavian countries.
An oscillation is where two things move back and forth at a regular rhythm, so when talking about weather patterns, it is in regard to pressure patterns.
The North Atlantic Oscillation or ‘NAO’ refers to pressure patterns over the North Atlantic, during which block areas of high pressure, pushing colder arctic air down over the UK and some of northern Europe.
The Quasi-biennial oscillation or ‘QBO’ index are the variations of winds that blow miles above the equator in the stratosphere, laterally around the earth, changing direction every year to 14 months. When these winds blow east the phase is negative, when they blow west, it’s positive. The relationship to weather is that, when the QBO is in a negative phase, there’s a greater chance that winter will be colder.
At the moment, the QBO is blowing westward, meaning it’s positive. What’s odd is that they changed direction after just 7 months, as opposed to the usual 14. This change suggests winter will be milder.
Solar activity and the earth’s weather is only a suggested link and as yet not proven. It is thought by some that the position of a solar cycle can increase the chance of a cold winter in Western Europe. Currently, there’s a solar minimum cycle which means improved winter forecast.
So the big question – Is the UK going to get snow this year? Last winter was milder than average, with no recorded snowfall until late February. Although winters are unlikely to return to typical temperatures that we saw late last century (likelihood of a cold winter in the 1980s was 40%), because of global warming, there is still a significant possibility of colder weather for winter 2020-2021 and an even greater possibility it will be wetter. With so many unpredictable factors at play from the ocean to the stratosphere, there aren’t any guarantees.
Seasonal models are public data that include meteorological information which are regarded as the most accurate weather predictions. The UK Met Office is one of the most highly respected, along with the European ECMWF, which has a great reputation for long term forecasting. Both seasonal models (along with many others), make 3 month predictions over December, January and February that the UK winter this year will be mild, but wet.
Data is only demonstrative of how weather patterns might look between 40-60% of the time and so are not absolutes.
The ENSO is still in it’s La Nina (the cold phase), albeit weaker than its peak, and that will influence global weather through the strong, high pressure system over the North Pacific ocean. The NAO is currently in a positive mode, increasing jet streams over the UK. If the high pressure over the Atlantic moves further north, it may blow the zonal winds from the NAO.
So snow winter predictions aren’t looking likely as yet, but having a winter maintenance contract in place means to insure against extreme winter weather and make sure you have a go to if you do end up needing services like snow clearance or gritting.
Our contractors are able to carry out the following winter gritting services:
With GCGRP you can enjoy a regular update on everything that’s happening and what’s coming. Our bespoke live reporting and scheduling system is an invaluable tool for your facilities manager or property manager, helping them stay completely in control. Our gritting services are nationwide, covering all over north and south England alike.
Below is a sample of the site we grit and snow clear in Greater London.