March – a month of weather contrasts

18 03 2013

Winter seems to have hung on for quite some time this year with low temperatures, frost, ice and snow affecting many areas into late March. This isn’t altogether unusual as we are more likely to see snow at Easter than at Christmas. However, March 2012 was very different with plenty of sunshine and temperatures into the low 20s Celsius. How come?

Well, this time last year the UK was under the influence of high pressure. This gave us clear skies, plenty of sunshine and with a light southerly breeze, temperatures that were well above average. In fact, Scotland set an all time record maximum temperature with 22.8 °C at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Visible satellite image from March 2012

Visible satellite image from March 2012

This year, with a strong easterly wind bringing cold air from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, we have quite the opposite with eastern parts of the UK in particular seeing snow, ice and temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius lower.

Visibile satellite image from March 2013

Visibile satellite image from March 2013

The direction of the wind therefore plays a major part in what type of weather you and I will see, especially as we have the Atlantic Ocean to our west and continental Europe to our south and east. Different wind directions bring air with different temperature and moisture contents. Meteorologically, they are termed air masses and in March 2012 we saw a Tropical Continental air mass bringing dry and warm air from the Mediterranean. This year we have been affected by a Polar Continental air mass, bringing cold air from the east. The following video explains exactly what we mean by air masses.

With different air masses constantly affecting the UK, the weather is a particularly challenging thing to forecast, especially so in March. This is because in early spring the sun is starting to rise higher in the sky and the amount of daylight hours start to increase. This means we get more heat building up in the lower part of our atmosphere. The result is slightly more energy, which in turn can lead to heavier showers. We can also see more unstable air and more active fronts as a result of greater heating. With more moisture available in the atmosphere, we also tend to see heavier or more prolonged rainfall and if this mixes with cold air, more snowfall. It makes forecasting more complicated because the extra heat and moisture adds another aspect to the weather, which tends amplify the effects of different air masses.

You can find out more about forecasting snow on our website or on the following video:





Spring swing brings colder weather and snow

7 03 2013

Frosty fence

We’ve had some very mild conditions this week with welcome sunshine pushing temperatures into the high teens. However, in a classic spring swing, colder weather is on the way as we head into the weekend.

By Saturday, we will see a return of easterly winds which will bring in much colder air from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Snow is expected across some eastern parts of the country over the weekend. By the start of next week, most of the UK will see daytime highs in low single figures with some frosty and icy nights.

So how unusual is it to see cold weather and snow in March?

The UK’s weather is very much at the mercy of where our winds come from, and throughout spring we can see sudden swings in the weather conditions. If we look back to last year we had very high temperatures at the end of March as the UK was under the influence of high pressure and light south-easterly winds. This year, this week’s south-easterly winds are now giving way to colder easterlies.

What about snow?

Statistics show that snow is more likely in March than around Christmas. As we know, heat from the sun increases as we head towards summer and this can lead to some interesting weather in March. With more heat from the sun the ground warms up more quickly and gives very unstable air, which can lead to a greater number of showers. Warmer air also holds more moisture so showers can give heavier rainfall. If this combines with cold air we can potentially see some heavy snowfall. However, easterly winds tend to be dry and so substantial snow fall is not expected over the next week.

As always, the Met Office will be working with different agencies to keep Britain on the move, and to keep people safe and well during periods of cold weather. The latest forecasts and warnings can be found online, through our mobile apps and through TV and radio broadcasts.





It’s cold but why is there no frost?

25 02 2013

There’s no denying that we have seen some cold weather this winter with plenty of frost, ice and in many cases, snow. However, the last week has been cold – arguably perhaps feeling colder than any other time this winter – but we haven’t seen any evidence of this on the ground in the way of frost. So how is this possible?

For a classic frosty night we need a few ingredients: low temperatures, clear skies, calm winds and moisture. A clear, calm night gives excellent radiation conditions – by this we mean that the heat absorbed by the Earth’s surface during the day escapes readily back into space and allows temperatures to fall. If the temperature falls to the dew point (the temperature to which air must cool for it to become saturated with water vapour) moisture will condense and form droplets on the ground’s surface. When temperatures fall below freezing the droplets freeze and we get frost.

So what about the last few days? They have been cold but there hasn’t really been any prolonged or hard frost. How come? Well, much of Scotland and Northern Ireland has had the required ingredients and been frosty, but the rest of the UK has only had low temperatures. Much of England and Wales have seen a fair amount of cloud and some brisk winds.

25th Feb 2013 crop

Surface pressure chart from 25 February 2013

Cloud acts as a blanket and although temperatures have fallen during the night-time, cloud cover has stopped them falling well below freezing and therefore made it difficult for a thick frost to form. The wind is also important as it mixes the lower part of our atmosphere. Rather than having cold air pooling in one place and causing low temperatures, the wind can bring less cold air from another location or even bring it down from the upper atmosphere. This also helps to keep temperatures from falling too low. However, easterly winds this week have certainly made it feel very cold indeed!

25 Feb vis pic

Visible satellite image from 25 February 2013

Lastly, the air near the surface has been relatively dry. This is important because it means the temperature of the air must fall very low in order to reach its dew point. The cloud and wind has stopped this from happening easily and therefore reduced the risk of frost.

Cold weather, then, brings lots of different tastes of winter, especially to the UK, and we have seen nearly all of them this season. More information on all types of weather can be found here.





Cold weather across UK

22 02 2013

The start of this week was relatively mild and sunny but we have seen a change to colder and cloudier weather during the course of the week.

20081219_frost_fog

High pressure became established to the north-east of the UK and this dragged in colder air from Scandinavia. It took some time for the cold air to filter across the whole of the UK but over the last couple of days daytime temperatures struggled to rise to 3 °C in some places. Brisk winds across England and Wales made it feel much colder, and we saw a few snow showers across eastern parts of the country.

Will Lang, Met Office Chief Forecaster, said: “This is a different taste of winter to the snow and ice we have seen of late. These largely dry, settled and cold conditions may not be as disruptive to travel but they do present concerns surrounding the health and well being of the elderly and vulnerable.”

The Met Office issued a level 3 Cold Weather Alert in light of the widespread and prolonged cold conditions. These alerts give advance warning of adverse weather conditions, which enable people to take extra precautions to keep safe and well.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Severe cold weather can be dangerous, especially for the very young or very old or those with chronic disease. You can find advice on how to reduce your risk or that of somebody you know on the NHS Choices website, ringing NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or contacting your local GP or pharmacist.

“The NHS is well prepared for the winter and we are providing an extra £330 million to the NHS and social care services to help cope with the added pressure that the winter brings.”

With high pressure remaining in place, cold and largely settled weather looks set to remain across the UK until the end of February at least, and you can find the latest information from our forecasts and warnings, our mobile apps and through broadcasts on TV and radio.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,912 other followers

%d bloggers like this: