Every October as the nights draw in and temperatures begin to drop the discussion turns to the weather prospects for the coming winter. This year is no exception and reports in some newspapers are warning that the UK faces months of snow and freezing temperatures. Is this likely?
As most people know the accuracy of forecasts in the UK for more than about one week ahead isn't very high. Our weather is influenced by a number of different air masses because we sit on the western edge of a continental land mass. Therefore, it's not possible to discount the chance of this winter being the coldest for 50 years or longer. However, statistically it is a very unlikely outcome in any one year and recent monthly temperature trends in the UK don't support it. This year to date, only April (+1.1C) and September (-1C) have brought temperature anomalies of 1C or more.
The suggestions of a harsh winter in part seem to be based on the strong El Niño event taking place in the Pacific and below average Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) in parts of the North Atlantic. There is evidence to support a weak link between some El Niño events and colder periods during the second half of the winter. Also, the lower SSTs will have a cooling effect on westerly winds blowing towards the UK and may increase the chances of snow over high ground. There is uncertainty about the impact they could have on pressure patterns.
High pressure is dominating the UK's weather currently and September also brought similar periods. Should this trend continue through the second half of autumn and into winter the probability of cold spells will increase. Is this trend likely to continue? Possibly, but it's too early to be confident. The jet stream generally strengthens through the autumn as temperature gradients increase north to south.
Many factors influence the UK's weather. At this stage there isn't one overriding signal favouring either a colder or milder than average winter. Recent seasonal computer model updates and pressure patterns in recent weeks perhaps do point to a higher chance of colder periods this winter than looked to be the case at the beginning of September.
The TWO winter forecast will be issued at the end of November.
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