After a quiet spell of weather courtesy of a slow moving area of high pressure, we are now entering an unsettled period as a series of Atlantic depressions are expected to pass close to the northwest of Britain during the next week.
High pressure has now moved away and is settled over Europe and a powerful jet stream is developing over the Atlantic which will be the main driving force behind this spell of unsettled weather.
What is the jet stream?
The jet stream is a band of fast moving westerly winds high up in the atmosphere which circle around the pole in the northern hemisphere. It can feature winds of up to 200 knots (230 mph) or more, and these winds tend to guide wet and windy weather systems which come in off the Atlantic.
The jet moves around a fair bit and its position can have a big impact on weather here in the UK depending on where it is.
If the jet is over the UK or just to the south, we tend to get a lot of wet and windy conditions as it brings weather systems straight to us. If the jet is to the north of us, it guides that changeable weather away to the north to leave the UK with more settled conditions.
What’s the jet stream doing now?
Unsurprisingly given the outlook for the next week, with a succession of Atlantic depressions passing by to the northwest of Scotland, the jet is positioned to the northwest of the UK too.
As you can see from the picture below, the jet currently swoops east from Canada – swinging northeast over the Atlantic towards the UK.
Forecast position of jet stream at midday Saturday 14 December 2013
Closer to the ground very cold air is also streaming south from Canada and meeting warm air moving north from the Caribbean. It is where these two air masses meet under the jet stream that powerful Atlantic depressions form and are blown across the ocean towards our shores.
It is these depressions that bring a significant risk of severe gales and heavy rain affecting at least the northwest of the UK at times.
What’s the weather outlook?
Currently, Met Office National Severe Weather Warnings have been issued for wind across some northwestern and northern areas for the weekend. Gusts of 60-70 mph are likely with a risk of gusts to 80 mph or more across exposed parts of northwest Scotland.
However, at this stage there remains uncertainty regarding the extent of the strongest winds and these warnings will be updated as the weather develops over the weekend.
Looking ahead, while we expect further depressions to develop it is not possible to say exactly how vigorous they may be or pinpoint where they will be in a week’s time. This means it is too early to say which areas will experience the strongest winds and heaviest rain, however there are indications that areas further to the south of the UK may be affected at times.
You can stay up to date with what to expect with our detailed forecasts out to 5-days and our weather warnings, as well as a general view of what we expect out to 30 days and find out what to do in severe weather
You can find out more about the jet stream in our YouTube video.