The Met Office Pollen Forecast goes live

25 03 2015

Different types of pollen, released at varying times throughout the year, cause millions to suffer from hay fever and other allergies and these symptoms can have a serious impact on well-being. The Met Office counts pollen from March to August, however, pollen can be in the air much earlier – from January right through to November.

The pollen season has three main pollen type phases :

  1. Tree pollen – late March to mid-May.
  2. Grass pollen – mid-May to July.
  3. Weed pollen – end of June to September

Our pollen calendar has a detailed breakdown of the different types of pollen and their peak times within a season. We manage the only pollen count monitoring network in the UK using information from our network, our weather data and expertise from organisations such as the National Pollen and Aerobiological Unit and PollenUK to produce forecasts that help support allergy and hay fever sufferers through the most difficult time of the year.

There are millions of hay fever sufferers across the UK, and the Met Office forecasts provide vital information to help reduce the impact pollen has on their health.  At this time of year, tree pollen is more prevalent with grass and weed pollens becoming more prevalent from mid May onwards.

Yolanda Clewlow said: “The best way to manage your condition, if you suffer from hayfever, is to keep an eye on the Met Office pollen forecasts to help you understand the best time to take appropriate medication and avoid exposure to pollen.”

We provide free, public pollen forecasts to all of the UK.

Pollen Diary

As part of an important Europe-wide study, hay fever sufferers are recording their symptoms online through the European Aeroallergen Network (EAN) Patient’s Hay fever Diary.

Document your symptoms and compare them with concentrations of pollen in the air, to help identify which pollen you are allergic to, look back at pollen levels from previous seasons and read the latest pollen news. This is a long-term study that will significantly aid research into pollen and hay fever.

Sign up to the pollen diary.

Pollen Maps

Together with Public Health England we have produced species location maps for the south west of key allergenic plant species (Cornwall, Devon, Somerset). The maps show the locations of six different tree and plant species – grass, alder, ash, birch, oak and pine – key allergenic plants for asthma and hayfever.

The pollen forecasts are part of a range of weather-related services offered by the Met Office, which include UV indexHeat Health watch and data supporting the UK air quality forecasts.

 





Partial eclipse of the sun

19 03 2015

Friday morning will see a partial eclipse of the sun over the UK. So what does the weather have in store?

Friday Weather

There is expected to be a lot of cloud around for Friday morning. There may be some clearer spells across central England, Wales and the south west England, with a chance of some breaks in the cloud either side of this.

It looks like Southern England, Northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland will have cloud and this will be thicker the further north you go.

Check out the expected cloud cover in your area on our cloud map.

If you’re interested in seeing the eclipse, it’s worth heading out to take a look regardless of the weather. If it’s cloudy it’ll still get noticeably darker as the moon passes in front of the sun, and you may just get a better look if the cloud thins or a small break in the clouds appears at the right time – but do remember to use appropriate viewing equipment.

Will the Eclipse affect Space Weather?

Earlier in the week we saw the biggest solar storm in 11 years which led to sightings of  the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, as far south as Somerset.  The solar storm was caused by a large explosion on the Sun on Sunday (15 March) throwing huge amounts of magnetically charged particles into space, called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

The eclipse won’t have an impact on the space weather we experience, however it will give scientists an opportunity to study the corona of the Sun in more detail. The detail within the corona is only visible when the extremely bright light from the Sun is obscured during an eclipse. A number of instruments used for monitoring the Sun for space weather forecasting, such as the LASCO instrument on the SOHO satellite, produce an artificial eclipse by placing an obscurer in front of the solar disc. This produces images like the one below showing a ‘streamer’ to the left of the Sun and a twisted magnetic structure within a coronal mass ejection on the right.

Picture courtesy of NASA

Picture courtesy of NASA

In the image, the position of the Sun is indicated by the white circle, with a larger obscurer blocking out the bright light from the Sun exposing the finer and fainter structures.





Northern Lights continue for the UK

18 03 2015

There could be another chance to see the Northern Lights tonight (18 March) in the UK, but we are not expecting sightings to be as widespread as last night.

The lights are the result of the biggest solar storm in 11 years. There were reports of sightings as far east as Norfolk and as far south as Somerset.

Elsewhere areas of Canada reported power outages affecting their electricity grid and satellite operators took mitigating action to protect satellites from the effects of the solar storm.

The storm was caused by a large explosion on the Sun on Sunday throwing huge amounts of magnetically charged particles into space, called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

As the particles travel towards Earth they interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and increase global geomagnetic activity, which releases energy into the atmosphere giving off light in the process.

Called the Northern Lights or the aurora borealis, the light is visible in parts of the globe in darkness. The Northern Lights get stronger and more colourful the further north you are.

The CME arrived at Earth in the early hours of Tuesday morning with the disturbance reaching a level of G4 on the 0 to 5 NOAA geomagnetic space weather scales last night.

There is a chance the aurora borealis will be visible again tonight but mainly in Scotland and Northern Ireland depending on cloud cover. Check cloud cover in your area via our dedicated pages.  See the British Geological Survey  web pages for tips on how best to see the aurora.

Below are some of the pictures you shared on Twitter

 





Holiday Dust

24 02 2015

At this time of year, many of us are in search of some winter sun, and a popular destination for Brits abroad is Egypt.

Typical conditions in Cairo at this time of year are fairly warm, dry and sunny. On average in February you could expect to see daytime highs of 21C, 8 hours of sunshine per day, and 1 wet day in the whole month. However, there may be some disappointed holidaymakers at the moment, as rather than sunshine; there is dust in the forecast. A dense dust plume has been developing across Libya and Egypt and will continue to grow over the coming days.

A deep area of low pressure in the central Mediterranean has given some very unsettled weather over recent days, and will continue to bring heavy rain and snow to northern parts of Algeria, Tunisia and perhaps western parts of Libya over the next few days. Very strong winds around the low will generate dust storms and sand storms and these will move across the rest of Libya and into Egypt during the first part of this week.

The dust storms will be severe and widespread enough to cause some disruption to air travel in the region, with perhaps some public health issues also.

The deep pink area in this satellite picture is the dust, and the line of dust stretches right up towards Greece.

The deep pink area in this satellite picture is the dust, and the line of dust stretches right up towards Greece.

These intense dust storms are often called Haboobs, which were first named in Saharan Sudan. They are frequently associated with thunderstorms or even small tornadoes, and usually last about three hours. The storms tend to develop late in the day during summer, and are sometime followed by rain. They can transport and deposit huge quantities of sand or dust, moving as an extremely dense wall that can be up to 100 km wide and several kilometers high.

Dust storm

For more information about the weather abroad, visit our holiday weather section.





‘Super tides’, the weather and coastal flood risk

20 02 2015

UPDATED 27/02/2015 – this blog has been updated under the section ‘So what are ‘super tides” with the help of the National Oceanography Centre.

In this joint blog from the Environment Agency and the Met Office, we look at the issue of so-called ‘super tides’.

There has been a lot of media coverage about the potential impact of so-called ‘super tides’ which are due from today (Friday, 20 February) through to Monday.

So what are ‘super tides’?

Tides are governed by the gravitational pull of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun. Because the sun and moon go through different alignment, this affects the size of the tides.

When the gravitational pull of the sun and moon combine, we see larger than average tides – known as spring tides. When the gravitational pulls offset each other, we get smaller tides known as neap tides. We see two periods of spring and neap tides roughly every month.

Yet some spring tides are higher than others. This is because tidal forces are stengthened if the moon is closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit (astronomers call this perigee). Tide forces are also enhanced when the sun and the moon are directly over the equater. For ths Sun this happens on or around 21 March or September (the equinoxes). Spring tides are always higher at this time of year. The moon’s orbit also takes it above and below the equator over a period of 27.2 days. Just as with the Sun, the tide generating forces are at their greatest when the moon is directly overhead at the equator.

Very large spring tides occur when these astronomical factors coincide. Approximately every 4.5 years the moon is closest to the Earth, and is also overhead at the equator, at either the March or September equinox.

In some places, these extreme tidal conditions can cause water levels to be 0.5m higher than a normal spring tide, but the weather can have a greater impact than even these largest of tides

What is the role of the weather in sea levels?

It’s important to realise that just because we are expecting big astronomical tides over the next few days, these won’t cause the highest sea levels we’ve seen – even in the last few years. That’s because the weather can have a much bigger impact on sea level than the 18-year tidal cycle.

Strong winds can pile up water on coastlines, and low pressure systems can also cause a localised rise in sea level. Typically the difference in water level caused by the weather can be between 20 and 30cm, but it can be much bigger.

On the 5th December 2013, for example, the weather created a storm surge that increased the water level by up to 2 metres. Although an estimated 2,800 properties flooded, more than 800,000 properties were protected from flooding thanks to more than 2,800 kilometres of flood schemes. The Environment Agency also provided 160,000 warnings to homes and businesses to give people vital time to prepare.

This highlights the importance of the Met Office and the Environment Agency working together to look at the combined impact of astronomical tides, wind, low pressure and waves on flood schemes to assess the potential impacts for communities around our coast.

Will we see coastal flooding this weekend?

Given the height of the tides there may be some localised flooding. Weather isn’t playing a large part in water levels over the next few days, although strong winds on Monday are likely to generate some large waves and push up sea levels slightly. This is nothing unusual for winter. You can see more about what weather to expect with the Met Office’s forecasts and severe weather warnings.

The Environment Agency and the Met Office are working together to closely monitor the situation, and the Environment Agency will issue flood alerts and warnings as required.

In the Humber Estuary, for example, we are expecting total water levels of between 4.20-4.39 metres – well below record levels of 5.22m.

John Curtin, Environment Agency’s Director of Incident Management and Resilience, said:  “We are monitoring the situation closely with the Met Office and will issue flood alerts and warnings as required.

“It’s possible we could see some large waves and spray and urge people to take care near coastal paths and promenades and not to drive through flood water.

“However, we can only get a warning to you if you’ve signed up to our free service. People can also see their flood risk and keep up to date with the latest situation on the GOV.UK website at https://www.gov.uk/check-if-youre-at-risk-of-flooding or follow @EnvAgency and #floodaware on Twitter for the latest flood updates.”

For those in Scotland, you can see flood updates for your area on the SEPA website here.

For those in Wales, you can see flood updates in English and Welsh on the Natural Resources Wales website here.

You can also see John explaining the Environment Agency’s flood warnings here:





Two cyclones to hit Australia

19 02 2015

Whilst here in the UK, we are coming towards the end of our winter season, Australia is coming towards the end of summer, but is in the middle of its cyclone season, and unusually there are currently two tropical cyclones affecting the country.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Lam is currently to the north of Australia’s Northern Territory, in the Arafura Sea. The storm is expected to make landfall on Thursday as a category 4 storm, between Milingimbi and Gapuwiyak. Huge rainfall figures are forecast, with 300 to 600mm daily, potentially adding up to more than 800mm in places throughout the storm event, with flooding likely inland, as well as coastal flooding and damaging winds. Residents close to the coast have been advised to be ready to move to shelter with emergency kit. However, as the area is not densely populated, significant impacts are not expected. The nearest large population centre is Darwin, and although it is likely that there will be some wet and windy weather here, it is not expected to be anything that Darwinians aren’t used to.

Credit: Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory

Credit: Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory

Storm track and warning areas for Tropical Cyclone Lam

Storm track and warning areas for Tropical Cyclone Lam

Meanwhile, Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia is heading towards the Queensland coast, and is expected to make landfall between Mackay and Gladstone on Thursday night as an extremely powerful category 5 storm. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology are forecasting Marcia to track inland for a while and quickly weaken, before turning parallel with the coast, which keeps the main risk area to the north of Brisbane. However, there is some uncertainty with the exact track of the storm, and if it were to remain closer to the coast, Brisbane could be in line for a significant amount of rainfall, potentially as much as 400mm. Destructive winds are likely around the coast and abnormally high tides will be experienced with water levels expected to rise above the highest tide of the year. Dangerous storm tides are forecast as the cyclone crosses the coast, as well as treacherous surf on exposed beaches.

Credit: Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory

Credit: Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory

Storm track and warning areas for Tropical Cyclone Marcia

Storm track and warning areas for Tropical Cyclone Marcia

Met Office StormTracker provides a mapped picture of tropical cyclones around the globe with access to track history and six-day forecast tracks for current tropical cyclones from the Met Office global forecast model and latest observed cloud cover and sea surface temperature. We also provide updates on current tropical storms via @metofficestorms on Twitter.





A very sunny winter on the cards

18 02 2015

Early figures show that while this winter is on track for fairly average temperatures and rainfall, it could be among the sunniest in our UK record dating back to 1929.

If we have average sunshine for the rest of February, it’s likely to be in the top few sunniest winters and could potentially beat the 2001 record of 189 hours.

Between 1 Dec -16 Feb many areas have already received more than their long-term average winter sunshine for the full season (1 Dec – 28 Feb), especially parts of the Midlands, eastern Scotland and north-east England.

December and January were both sunny across much of the country – especially eastern areas, while northern England and eastern Scotland have had a sunny February so far.

As we near the end of winter it looks as though temperatures will be close to the long-term average with December warmer than average, January near average and February so far being just below.

For many it has been a dry winter so far across southern, eastern and north-east England but relatively wet across Scotland, with the north-west having a wet December and January.

Dry start to February

The first half of February has seen some dry settled weather thanks to high pressure dominating the weather for much of the period.

Using figures from 1-16 February, temperatures have generally been around 1 to 1.5 °C below normal across the UK as a whole and clear skies have allowed fog and frosty conditions to develop at times.

Many areas have been on the dry side, with less than 20 percent of expected rainfall so far across large swathes of the country – we’d normally expect around half of the monthly average to have fallen by now.

Sunshine amounts have been variable but parts of northern England and eastern Scotland have already received almost the whole-month average.

 





Stark weather contrasts across the USA

18 02 2015

While the UK continues to see fairly typical winter weather, over the other side of the Atlantic the US is experiencing some stark contrasts.

While some parts in the west are seeing warm and dry conditions, eastern areas are seeing very cold weather.

This week will see a continuation of warmer-than-average conditions in western parts of the USA, with little or no rainfall in the forecast.

Map showing air temperatures across the US, with white (-24C) and blue (below 0C) showing cold air and yellows and oranges showing warm air. From the Met Office's Global Model for 1200HRS GMT on 20 February 2015

Map showing air temperatures across the US, with white (-24C) and blue (below 0C) showing cold air and yellows and oranges showing warm air. From the Met Office’s Global Model for 1200HRS GMT on 20 February 2015

Despite some welcome rainfall at the start of February, California remains in drought, with a large swathe in exceptional drought – which is the highest category that the US Drought Monitor report.

In San Francisco, no rain fell at the downtown observation station or the airport during the whole of January 2015. This is the first January without rainfall since records began in 1850. Normally January is the wettest month of the year, with an average 119mm.

The dry conditions have also resulted in the Sierra Nevada snow pack being at less than 50% of where it should be as we head towards the end of winter.

Meanwhile, the very cold spell of weather is expected to continue across a large part of eastern and northeastern USA, with air originating from the Arctic keeping things icy.

There will be some snow at times, although not as significant as some recent events, though localised heavy ‘lake effect’ snow is likely this week off the Great Lakes.

However, the most noteworthy element will be the extreme cold. Another arctic front will arrive across the East Coast, bringing exceptionally cold conditions.

Places from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic may see some of the coldest weather since the mid-1990s, with numerous record low temperatures expected.

In fact this cold air is expected to reach as far south as Florida, with even the Caribbean expecting well below average temperatures throughout the rest of this week.





One year on – A look back to last winter

17 02 2015

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Valentine’s Day storm, which also marked the end of a particularly stormy three-month period. A new review article – ‘From months to minutes – exploring the value of high-resolution rainfall observation and prediction during the UK winter storms of 2013/2014’ – written by 16 Met Office co-authors reviews the accuracy of our forecasting and warning of severe weather during winter 2013-14, and assesses its performance.

The paper concludes that the “prolonged period of high impact weather experienced in the United Kingdom during the winter of 2013/14 was very well forecast by the operational tools available across space and time scales.”

Here Huw Lewis, the paper’s lead author, and Derrick Ryall, Head of the Public Weather Service, look at the extreme weather last year and the role of the Met Office in communicating severe weather through the National Severe Weather Warning Service.

Analysis chart 1200 GMT 26 January 2014

Analysis chart 1200 GMT 26 January 2014

Winter 2013/2014 in the United Kingdom was remarkable. The country was battered by at least 12 major winter storms over a three month period and was officially assessed as the stormiest period that the United Kingdom has experienced for at least 20 years.

The series of storms resulted in the wettest winter in almost 250 years (according to the England and Wales precipitation series from 1766), significantly wetter than the previous wettest winter in 1914/1915.

Snapshot of UK rain radar surface rainfall rate for 2200 GMT on 23 December 2013

Snapshot of UK rain radar surface rainfall rate for 2200 GMT on 23 December 2013

The extreme weather caused widespread flooding throughout Southern England and coastal damage – most notably in the South West and Norfolk coasts. The impact of the severe winter storms on individuals, businesses and the government were substantial, including several fatalities, widespread power cuts and damaged infrastructure.

Recent advances in forecasting, technology and the scientific developments in meteorology have been considerable. These developments and improvements in accuracy mean that a four-day weather forecast is as accurate as a one-day forecast was just thirty years ago. During the course of last winter, the Met Office was able to use these forecasts to warn of any severe weather well in advance. In the case of the St Jude’s Day storm at the end of October 2013 warnings went out to the Government and the public five days before the storm even existed.

rainfall

As the accuracy of weather forecasts has evolved, so has the communication of the potential impacts of severe weather. The National Severe Weather Warning Service enables more ‘weather decisions’ which in turn help to minimise the consequences of severe weather. The Met Office was at the heart of the government response to the storms, providing advice on weather impacts through the National Severe Weather Warning Service and Civil Contingency Advisors. The Met Office also worked very closely with both the national and regional media, who in turn played a key role in ensuring that the public were fully informed about the potential impacts of any up-coming weather.

In addition to the Public Weather Service, commercial partners and customers were also provided with detailed updates throughout the period in order for them to plan effectively for logistical issues. Together, these advanced warnings helped authorities, businesses and individuals to be better prepared to take mitigating actions.

Driving further improvements in accuracy and therefore reducing the lead time and increasing the detail of severe weather warnings is one of the Met Office’s key priorities . The ultimate aim is to improve the potential for users to plan preventative measures for severe weather events much further ahead. Underpinning all of these developments is a continuing programme of scientific research and access to enhanced supercomputing over the next few years.





How a strong jet stream is affecting aviation

13 01 2015

We often talk about the jet stream and its impacts on UK weather – but it can have an even more direct effect on aviation as covered in the media in recent days.

The jet stream is a band of fast moving winds high up (around 5-7 miles) in the atmosphere. It usually travels eastwards around the northern hemisphere but regularly changes its track and strength.

Pilots travelling east, say from the US back to Europe, use the jet stream to cut journey times and save fuel – just like a cyclist uses a tailwind on a bike.

This has always meant journey times in the northern hemisphere are faster when travelling east than heading west (when airlines avoid the jet stream).

Recently the jet stream has been particularly strong over the north Atlantic, with winds of more than 250mph being seen at times.

You can find out more about the jet stream in our YouTube video:

This has had an impact on flying times – with eastbound trans-Atlantic services arriving well in advance of their scheduled times. Some types of passenger aircraft have reputedly seen record breaking journey times.

All this of course has a knock-on effect for airports as schedules are carefully planned to ensure there’s room, not to mention boarding gates, for each aircraft when it’s due to land. That has meant the strong jet stream creates a logistical challenge for airports across Europe.

The Met Office has been helping airlines and airports to plan ahead with its forecasts of the strength of the jet stream through its role as a World Aviation Forecasting Centre (WAFC).

There are only two WAFC centres in the world; the UK and Washington, in the US. The two centres provide aviation charts for the globe, highlighting conditions between 10,000 and 63,000 feet.

These charts show the location and strength of the jet stream, as well as other important aviation factors, such as clear air turbulence, cumulonimbus (storm producing) clouds, volcanoes and tropical storms. Both centres operate 24 hours a day and throughout the year.

Airlines use our upper-air wind forecasts to predict flight times at cruising altitude. For transatlantic flights during 2012, the average difference between the predicted flight time and the actual flight time was about one minute. This means that our aviation customers can accurately calculate the fuel load required for each flight. Our WAFC charts save airlines globally £2.7 billion a year because our forecasts help them fly safely and efficiently.

Accurate forecasts enable pilots, airlines and airports to assess flying times in advance and use that information to try to ensure things run as efficiently as possible on the ground.








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