Record breaking rainfall and cold weather grips South Africa.

There has been snowfall, heavy rain, and flooding across parts of South Africa as a low pressure system moves slowly along the southern coast.

Rainfall affecting coastal areas of South Africa.

Rainfall affecting coastal areas of South Africa.

Flooding and mudslides have been reported in and around Durban with the city recording 150mm of rainfall in 12 hours on Monday, that’s equal to 5 times its average July rainfall.   Along the coast in Paddock, 315mm of rain has fallen since Sunday, equivalent to around a third of the rainfall it would expect in a whole year.

Meanwhile inland in the southeastern interior there has been heavy snowfall. The South African Weather Service has issued a number of snow warnings and has highlighted the risk of travel disruption for various passes between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.  There is a further 15-25cm of snow expected in the area over the next few days.

Snow fall at Van Reenen. Image courtesy of Ladysmith Gazette.

Snowfall at Van Reenen. Image courtesy of Ladysmith Gazette.

In addition to the very heavy coastal rainfall, gales or severe gales along the coast could cause structural damage and coastal flooding and may lead to disruption to shipping.  Thunderstorms could cause disruption to flights.

The unsettled weather is expected to continue over the next few days with the potential for a further 75-125mm of rainfall along the coast, which could bring further flooding, and more snow in the mountains and the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

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Heat and rainfall making headlines around the world

While the UK has seen a brief spell of hot weather this week followed by thunderstorms in some areas, heat and rainfall have also been making headlines in other parts of the world. The North Pacific hurricane season has also gathered speed over the last month.

Middle East

Across parts of Iraq, western Iran, Kuwait and northern Saudi Arabia, extremely high temperatures have been recorded over recent days. On Thursday Basrah Airport, Iraq reached 53.4C, while Mitribah in northern Kuwait recorded 54.0C. Both of these temperatures, subject to confirmation, are new national records and the 54.0C recorded at Mitribah is among the highest temperatures ever recorded in Asia.

The highest ever temperature recorded globally was 56.7C at Death Valley, California, USA on 10 July 1913.

The high temperatures will continue today (Friday) with 53.6C recorded at 1200 GMT at Basrah Airport, Iraq, but the weekend should see a break from the heat as northwesterly winds bring cooler air to the region.

Asia

Heavy rainfall has brought disruption to northeastern parts of China this week with a deep area of low pressure enhancing the local rainfall pattern. On Tuesday the city of Xingtai in Hebei province received almost twice the average rainfall for July in the space of 24 hours, recording 295mm. On Wednesday, the capital Beijing recorded 281mm rain in 24 hours, leading to flash floods, significant travel disruption across the region and loss of life.

The next week looks likely to bring further heavy rainfall to the area with strong winds forecast through the Yellow Sea this weekend, enhancing the coastal flood risk.

North Pacific

Our blog on 5 July reported that it had been a very slow start to the eastern North Pacific hurricane season with the first storm (Agatha) not forming until 2 July. Since then this region has made up for lost time with a total of six tropical storms in the last three weeks, three of which have become hurricanes. One of these hurricanes, Darby, has tracked from the eastern to the central North Pacific and is set to cross the islands of Hawaii this weekend. Although it has weakened to a tropical storm it is still likely to bring winds of near 65 mph, heavy rain and high surf to the islands. Tropical storm warnings are in force with a risk of flash flooding in some areas.

The active spell in the eastern North Pacific is continuing with the formation of Tropical Storm Georgette today. 2016 now ties with 1985 for the record number of tropical storms (seven) to form in this region in July in records dating back to 1949.

Tropical Storm Darby approaching Hawaii from the east at 0900 UTC 22 July 2016. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Tropical Storm Darby approaching Hawaii from the east at 0900 UTC 22 July 2016.
Image courtesy of NOAA.

Official warnings for the tropical cyclones in the Central North Pacific are produced by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. The Met Office routinely supplies predictions of cyclone tracks from its global forecast model to regional meteorological centres worldwide, which are used along with guidance from other models in the production of forecasts and guidance. You can keep up to date on current tropical storms via @metofficestorms on Twitter and through our Storm Tracker page.

North America
Across central and eastern parts of the US hot and very humid weather is expected this weekend, with many central and southern states seeing temperatures well into the 30’s Celsius. The heat index, which is a measure of heat and humidity, will be in the range of 35-40C and as a result may have some health impacts for residents and tourists in the area. However, next week should see a return to fresher conditions with temperatures returning to more normal levels.

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Saving Lives at Sea – a window on the work of the RNLI

Saving Lives at Sea group image Crd RNLINigelMillard (2)

This evening, the vital life-saving work of the RNLI will be highlighted in the first of a major new four-part documentary on BBC1: Saving Lives at Sea.

The Met Office enjoys a special relationship with the RNLI because in August the Met Office selected the RNLI as its corporate charity for three years.

Andy Yeatman is deputy head of communications at the Met Office. Commenting on the growing relationship with the RNLI, he said: “We were delighted when our staff chose the RNLI as our corporate charity. There is such a logical fit between the two organisations. Given our respective remits the two organisations have always enjoyed a close relationship, but this is being strengthened through the ongoing collaboration.”

Tonight’s documentary will bring the life-saving work of the charity into sharp focus. Andy Yeatman added: “Since working with the RNLI, Met Office staff have become increasingly aware of the great work the RNLI does to ensure the protection of life around our coasts. Now audiences across the UK will have that opportunity too.”

The Met Office and RNLI have exciting plans to develop the relationship over the next three years. This programme will include a communication strand to share forecasts, warnings and safety information to the widest possible audience, as well as sharing each organisation’s experience.

Ros Whitlock is the RNLI’s partnership manager. Commenting on the association, she said: “At our head office in Poole, we use the Met Office Hazard Manager service during flooding to prepare rescue teams and let volunteers and staff know about weather risks. Storms and floods can create terrifying conditions so we rely on forecasts to make decisions on how to carry out rescues, manage risks and be available at the right time, considering tides and weather.”

Further projects include the development of a pilot rip-current indicator service for lifeguard managers, with plans for a beach forecast service. In addition, the Met Office provides international forecasts to help the RNLI with its international work.

During the first few months of the relationship, Met Office staff have been fundraising for the RNLI, including running the ‘give-an-hour’ scheme: the Met Office salary-sacrifice programme.

Ros Whitlock added: “We are delighted to have been chosen as the Met Office’s charity. And we are looking forward to developing the relationship from both a fundraising and non-financial perspective. We really appreciate the support of all of the Met Office employees.”

The first episode of Saving Lives at Sea will be broadast at 9pm this evening on BBC1.

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Unusual clouds spotted over southern England

There were a number of sightings of unusual and striking cloud formations over the weekend as the UK experienced a mix of weather. Photos were taken in Dorset, particularly the Poole and Bournemouth areas.

Asperitas cloud

Image courtesy of Steven Poulton

This particular photograph looks as if it is an example of a new cloud formation which is in the process of being named. Asperitas (ass-pair-it-ass) is the proposed name for this cloud formation that doesn’t fit easily into the current classifications of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) International Cloud Atlas. It is a relatively rare formation that has only recently started to gain recognition. This is thought to be due to the increased availability of digital cameras and the internet to share information, as opposed to this being an entirely new formation.

These cloud formations first started gaining wider attention around a decade ago, with the formation of the lighthearted Cloud Appreciation Society by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. He asked for members of the society to submit photos of clouds, and soon started seeing a number of images of clouds with a roughened appearance that didn’t seem to fit into traditional cloud classifications. He went on to propose that a new cloud classification would be required, and suggested the name “asperatus”, approximately translating to “roughened” in Latin. The name ‘asperitas’ is now used rather than ‘aperatus’, on the advice of a Latin expert, in order conform with the form of existing cloud names.

Gavin went on to collect more information and examples of the cloud. In 2010, as part of a Masters degree, Graeme Anderson, observations research and development scientist at the Met Office, showed that the reported cloud formations formed most frequently in connection with large-scale thunderstorms in the United States. However, these have been observed all over the world, and are not always associated with thunderstorms. Their rarity and lack of direct observation makes it difficult to determine what causes them, although one theory is that the waves form when mammatus clouds descend into air where the wind direction changes with height.

The WMO is currently reviewing the International Cloud Atlas, to decide on whether it needs updating and whether any new cloud classifications are required. A decision on whether asperitas is to gain its own classification is expected in the coming months. If this happens, then it would be the first new definition in over 50 years.

There are a number of different types of cloud which will continue to be classified and named as new research and understanding of their properties comes to light. If you would like to know more about the different types of cloud and how to identify them you can use our cloud spotting guide or download our latest mostly weather podcast on clouds.

Here at the Met Office we always welcome weather information and photos from the general public, if this is something you would be interested in check out our Weather Observation Website (WOW) or you can share your photos with us on Twitter or Instagram using #loveukweather.

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Stunning North Sea phytoplankton bloom

The Met Office, in conjunction with our partners at NASA, have managed to get some stunning satellite pictures of phytoplankton blooms in parts of the North Sea. This natural phenomenon has been occurring through much of June and into July. However, there have been very few days where we have had cloud free skies over the North Sea, as highlighted in our June monthly statistics. As a result there have not been many opportunities to capture images of the blooms, but those we have are very impressive.

bloom1

The images in question come from NASA Terra and NOAA/NASA Suomi satellites. These are polar orbiting satellites, meaning that they circle the Earth passing over the north and south poles. Several times a day these satellites pass over the UK gathering, and then beaming down to us, a huge amount of meteorological data. One of the products we can create from this data is a true colour image so we can see the land, sea and clouds from space as they would appear to the human eye. One of the many interesting things we sometimes see in this imagery is blooms of phytoplankton in the seas around the UK.

Dr. Robert McEwan, Met Office Marine Ecosystem Modelling Scientist, said: “The light patches seen in the North Sea are due to large blooms of microscopic phytoplankton which occur every year as light levels increase and the essential nutrients required for growth become optimal. The milky colour of the water indicates that these blooms contain coccolithophores, which are covered in tiny calcified scales that scatter light allowing the bloom to be seen from space. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain and are therefore very important to the health of commercial fisheries.”

bloom

These blooms are common at this time of the year due to the increased amount of sunlight due to the longer days. These coccolithophore blooms are not toxic and pose no danger to marine life or humans. The duration of the blooms vary depending on sea conditions, nutrient availability and predation but could be expected to last from a couple of weeks up to a month. Bloom sizes also vary depending on a physical and biogeochemical conditions, so whilst this bloom might increase in size, it may also have peaked. It’s tricky to compare chlorophyll concentrations directly with satellite imagery but it looks like this bloom might have declined already.

As well as being wonderful images to look at, this is another example of how satellite imagery and the Met Office Space Programme are helping to drive forward scientific research and forecast accuracy.

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How our forecasts measure up

You may have read an article in a paper about verification of weather forecasts. We appreciate the importance of this as it is essential our users trust the forecasts ‘when it matters’, and by anybody’s standards the results below are impressive.

Met Office figures for the 36-month period to the end of June 2016 are: table1Met Office figures for June 2016 are:table2

Verification is an incredibly complex task, with many decisions to be made on which forecasts will be verified, when, using which sites, and by what criteria. Our independently scrutinised verification process compares forecast to actual values at 122 UK stations over a rolling 36-month period, which smoothes out extremes and gives a representative average. Most statisticians would argue that 36 months of data will give you a much more reliable assessment than one month alone. We consistently verify our forecasts and have an open and transparent policy on how well we are doing.

The Met Office’s weather forecasting model is world leading. Our global Numerical Weather Prediction model is ranked the number one National Met Service model in the world according to standards set by the World Meteorological Organisation. This world leading accuracy is essential, for example in our role advising airlines operating in two thirds of the world’s airspace.

We recognise that whilst the accuracy of the figures is important, there is more to a weather forecast than just numbers. It is the ‘feel’ of the day that matters to people most; will it be a washout or warm and sunny? Our new Met Office Weather app is the only app to include a UK weather forecast video in which this is expressed. As well as this, the video enables us to explain any uncertainties in the forecast in a user friendly way.

app1

Our new app, which was officially launched in May, provides weather information ‘when it matters’ with severe weather alerts. It is the first on the market to feature pollen alerts and a UK rainfall map video of both forecast rain and radar observations, as well as real-time air pollution figures, which all helps users plan for the expected conditions. The new app has received a great reception with over 370,000 downloads and a current rating of 4.1 out of 5 on the App Store (iOS).

You can keep up to date with the weather using our forecast pages, our App and by following us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also monitor the accuracy of the current day’s forecast for your location using our weather verification page.

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Assessing the global impacts of climate and extreme weather on health and well-being

The impacts of extreme weather and climate change on health and well-being is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century.

Health conference Group01

The Met Office in Exeter was the venue for the conference.

For the first time the Met Office, supported by The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and World Health Organization (WHO), organised an international workshop exploring how meteorological and health organisations, together with other sectors, could address up and coming challenges which cross national borders.

Adverse weather and climate conditions exacerbate some of the most significant health challenges including disease, air pollution and food production. Whether a disease is passed through the air, water or carried by insects, the impacts of climate and extreme weather can increase the risk.

Health conference 3

Opening the workshop, Professor Dame Julia Slingo, Chief Scientist at the Met Office (pictured above) and recipient of this year’s IMO Prize, said: “Addressing the health impacts of climate variability and climate change is really the great gap that has not received adequate attention in the past, but these will be big issues for us all to contend with in a changing world.

“The Met Office already provides health services, such as pollen, air quality and UV forecasts – supporting the natural hazard partnership – and provides support to the health research community. But on an international scale, there is so much more which needs to be done, with much greater global reach.”

Attended by over 50 experts, discussions specifically focused on issues of: health risks, natural hazards impacts; the complexity of global climate risk scenarios; and how to build capacity for climate and health in developing countries.

Following a disaster the impacts on health can be overwhelming. For effective recovery and rehabilitation there needs to be an understanding and awareness of health problems and delivery of effective preventative measures.

Yolanda Clewlow, the Met Office’s health development manager, said: “Given the passion demonstrated by the group on this topic to work toward mitigating the impacts of weather and climate on health, we hope this will be a significant step towards greater collaboration with health organisations to help address some of the significant health priorities.

“There was agreement among participants that the Met Office already has strong existing capabilities that enable it to become a leading global partner in this area and, as a result of this event, the Met Office will look to new partnerships, as well as the strengthening of existing relationships, to help implement some of the key actions that emerged from these discussions.”

Health conference 2

In 2014, the WMO produced a short video on how the UK uses climate services to support public health.

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Encouraging a new generation of weather observers

The Met Office exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition has been up and running for a couple of days now and runs until Sunday 10 July. Our scientists are busy talking about how we ‘Get a Measure of the Weather’, and explaining some of the innovative ways we can increase our knowledge of the atmosphere. These range from using GPS signals to monitor water vapour and intercepting aircraft signals to better understand the wind.

RSSSE exhibition 2

The current observations networks (including surface observations, aircraft and satellites) are sufficient to provide our supercomputer with the data it requires to deliver a highly accurate forecast. The process by which we ‘feed’ our forecast models, called data assimilation, has been designed to handle the very different coverages and measurement types, and any limitations in our current networks.

The other technology we are talking about at the exhibition is our system for enabling citizen scientists to contribute to our weather monitoring  – the Weather Observations Website, or WOW for short. As the forecast models become more advanced in terms of their ability to capture high impact weather on ever smaller scales, additional observations of all kinds help to improve the model further by adding detail to the starting state of the forecast.

rssse

We will always require high quality, high resilience operational observing systems. However, we recognise that a range of new measurement devices, including home weather stations, provide the opportunity to increase the amount of data at our disposal, at a relatively low cost.  We are keen to explore how we might use these for both feeding our forecast models and for real-time use by our operational meteorologists.  One of the ways we can do this is to gather ‘opportunistic’ data that will help us verify the accuracy of the forecast. WOW is designed to work alongside the existing network of observations and to allow the Met Office to gain access to other sources of weather observations, including cars and smartphones.

We are also able to get information about the impact of the weather on people and their daily lives through WOW. Our National Severe Weather Warnings Service provides advice to the public on how the weather will impact them, but without observations to work from we have little knowledge of how effective these warnings have been. WOW provides a way for anyone to share their experiences of how the weather is immediately impacting on them, through sending a photograph into WOW which is automatically checked and provided to our meteorologists.

Meteorological history owes a vast amount to the role of the Voluntary Climate Observers. Many will have heard the phrase ‘since records began,’ and many of those records were started by interested amateur meteorologists, the citizen scientists of their day. This honourable tradition is still with us now and we rely on a dedicated network of Voluntary Climate Observers who send us their readings every day using WOW.

If you would like to find out more about how you could become involved in contributing weather and climate records, please visit our stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition (RSSSE) at the Royal Society in central London until Sunday 10 July.

 

 

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North Pacific Tropical Cyclone Season Finally Gets Underway

2015 saw very high levels of tropical cyclone activity across the North Pacific due to the strong El Niño. Numerous records were broken during the season which included the exceptionally strong Hurricane Patricia in the eastern North Pacific. In recent months the El Niño has rapidly waned with slightly cooler than average sea surface temperatures now being present in the equatorial eastern Pacific.

In contrast to last year, 2016 has seen an exceptionally quiet start to the North Pacific season. In the western North Pacific Nepartak, the first tropical storm of the season, formed on 3 July. The last time there was such a quiet start to a season was in 1998 when the first storm formed on 8 July. However, the stormless period in the western North Pacific leading up to the formation of Nepartak was slightly longer than that in 1997-8. Like this year, 1998 was also the year after a strong El Niño and historical data suggests that tropical storm formation can be suppressed in the western North Pacific as an El Niño event wanes.

In the central North Pacific, Hurricane Pali developed in January, but there have been no storms since then. In the eastern North Pacific, Tropical Storm Agatha formed on 2 July. The last time the season started later than this was in 1969 when the first storm formed on 3 July.

Whilst Tropical Storm Agatha was fairly short-lived, it was soon joined by a second storm in the eastern North Pacific which is now Hurricane Blas. As with many eastern North Pacific tropical cyclones it is likely to remain out at sea. However, the same cannot be said for Typhoon Nepartak in the western North Pacific which looks set to head towards Taiwan and make landfall later this week as indicated by the Met Office strike probability forecast map.

storm05

Met Office tropical cyclone forecast strike probability from 0000 UTC on 5 July 2016. This shows the probability of a tropical storm passing within 120 km in the next seven days.

Heavy rain across Taiwan and nearby parts of China is likely with 200-300 mm rain in 24 hours possible. Increased rainfall may also be triggered over areas not directly in the path of the typhoon such as the Philippines and South Korea.

storm06.png

Recent satellite image of Typhoon Nepartak (credit: NOAA/RAMMB)

Official warnings for the latest tropical cyclones in the western North Pacific are produced by the Japan Meteorological Agency. Central North Pacific warnings are issued by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center and eastern North Pacific warnings by the US National Hurricane Center.

The Met Office routinely supplies predictions of cyclone tracks from its global forecast model to regional meteorological centres worldwide, which are used along with guidance from other models in the production of forecasts and guidance. You can keep up to date on current tropical storms via @metofficestorms on Twitter and through our Storm Tracker page.

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How was June in your part of the UK?

Depending where you live in the UK, your impression of June’s weather may be very different to others, even those living just a few miles away. These local differences have been driven largely by the development of isolated thunderstorms, which were a feature of much of the month and led to extremely heavy downpours in some areas, especially parts of southern England and parts of eastern Scotland.

During June 2016, East Anglia received more than twice the amount of average rainfall for June, when compared with the period between 1981 and 2010. Essex received 116.3mm of rain, nearly two-and-a-half the amount (243%) of the normal June amount. With 109mm of rain, Suffolk also recorded more than double the amount of rainfall (205%). Overall, Norfolk was also a very wet county, but the more detailed map shows that the north Norfolk coast received closer to the average amount of rainfall, while the Fenland districts recorded around double this amount.

2016_6_Rainfall_Anomaly_1981-2010

Surrey with 118.4mm of rain endured the worst rainfall of any county, relative to its average. The June average rainfall for Surrey between 1981 and 2010 is just 50.7mm. This month’s total was 246% of normal. Other counties recording more than twice the June average include: Leicestershire (210%); Middlesex (241%) and Aberdeenshire (204%).

The rainfall led to media speculation that June 2016 would be a record for rainfall, this was no doubt fuelled by the localised nature of the rainfall which led to extreme impacts in some areas and not others. In the ranking in the series beginning in 1910, 2016 was the 11th wettest June. During the month an average of 102mm of rain fell. This compares with 2012 – the wettest June since 1910 – when 149mm of rain fell on average across the UK. Nowhere in the UK broke any June rainfall records, although some recording stations did achieve this feat.

If parts of southern England received more rain than normal, then some other counties were drier than normal. All of the top ten driest areas were in Scotland, apart from the Isle of Man. Caithness, which is home to peat bogs and the Flow Country was the driest area in the UK when compared with the June average. This normally wet area received only just over half the usual June rainfall (51.6%).

Of all the four UK countries, Scotland was closest to the long-term June average with 107% of June rainfall. Northern Ireland received 127% of its average June rainfall, while England and Wales both received 163% of normal.

2016_6_Sunshine_Anomaly_1981-2010

The rainfall figures tell a story, which the sunshine figures endorse. No region of the UK received more than the long-term June average for sunshine. The most sunshine (151 hours) was recorded in north-west England and north Wales. Although North Scotland only recorded 139 hours of sunshine during June, this is still 99% of the June average. The worst place for sunshine during June was the Midlands with only 127 hours of sunshine, only 73% of an average June. The sunshine map above shows that parts of north Wales, Orkney and Shetland basked in more sunshine than usual, while a band of central and southern England enjoyed far less sunshine than usual.

2016_6_MeanTemp_Anomaly_1981-2010

Overall, June 2016 was warmer than the average June. Only East Lothianshire recorded a lower temperature (12.1C) than the long-term 30-year average for the county (12.3C).

Mean temperature
Actual degC
Difference between average 1981-2010
UK 13.9 0.9C
England 14.8 0.7C
Wales 14.5 1.3C
Scotland 12.2 0.9c
Northern Ireland 14.2 1.4C

 

Sunshine
Actual hours
Difference between average 1981-2010
UK 138 hours 81%
England 133.3 hours 73%
Wales 149 hours 86%
Scotland 144.2 hours 96%
Northern Ireland 127.5 hours 85%

 

Actual rainfall Difference between average 1981-2010
UK 101.8mm 139%
England 100.5mm 163%
Wales 139.6mm 163%
Scotland 95.2mm 107%
Northern Ireland 96.5mm 127%

 

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