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Worst winter for 5 years?

Recent press reports


Worst winter for 5 or 11 years

A number of articles have appeared in the press recently saying winter 2017/18 will be the coldest for 5 or 11 years. Quotes from several sources are used to support the reports.The suggestion appears to be based on the prospect of high pressure areas forming to the west of the UK and the jet stream buckling. That leads to an increased chance of colder air pushing down from the northwest or north.

The scenario is possible according to some of the seasonal computer models but at this stage developments cannot be predicted with confidence. The UK sits close to the boundary between several different air masses and very small changes at the global level make a massive difference to the weather we experience.

Snowman, winter 2009/10

A mixed decade of UK winters

Returning to the reports it is worth considering what the UK's winters have been like during the last decade. If the coming winter is the coldest for 5 years would that be particularly noteworthy?

The list below summarises temperature anomalies in UK winters since 2005/06. Things have been very varied. 2009/10 was the coldest winter since 1978/79 but a number have been notably mild.

2005/06 Close to average. The UK mean temperature for the winter was 3.9C which is 0.2C above average.

2006/07 Much milder than average. The UK mean temperature for the winter was 5.6C which is 1.9C above average.

2007/08 Milder than average. The UK mean temperatures for the winter was 4.9C, which is 1.2C above average.

2008/09 Colder than average. The UK mean temperature for the winter was 3.2°C, which is 0.5°C below average.

2009/10 Much colder than average. The UK mean temperature for the winter was 1.6°C which is 2.1°C below average. In many parts of the UK this was the coldest winter since 1978/79.

2010/11 Colder than average. The UK mean temperature for the winter was 2.4°C, which is 1.3°C below average.

2011/12 Milder than average. The UK mean temperature for the winter was 4.5°C, which is 0.8°C above average.

2012/13 Slightly colder than average. The mean temperature over the UK for winter was 3.3 °C which is 0.4 °C below average.

2013/14 Much milder than average. The UK mean winter temperature was 5.2°C which is 1.5°C above the average.

2014/15 Close to average. The UK mean winter temperature was 3.9°C which is 0.2°C above the average.

2015/16 Very mild. The third warmest in the series from 1910. The UK mean temperatures was 5.5C which is 1.8C above the average.

2016/17 Very mild. The UK mean temperature was 5.0C which is 1.3C above the average.

The statistics show the last four winters have been mild and 2012/13 was only slightly colder than the average. Therefore if the coming winter turns out to be the coldest since then it would not be notable overall. However the average can hide spells of extreme weather. For example a very mild period could statistically offset a very cold and snowy one so the seasonal average does not necessarily tell the complete story.

So where does that leave things?

The reports may or may not turn out to be correct. Consistently accurate seasonal forecasting in the UK is generally considered to be beyond the abilities of current technology. Nonetheless some of the mechanisms that affect our weather over the winter period are known and a large number of seasonal computer models are available. If you would like to read more about our view of the prospects see the Winter is coming - Winter 2017/18 update 3 feature which was issued on 30th October 2017. Discussion update 4 will be published in mid November and the TWO winter forecast released at the end of the month.

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