Mid-month February statistics on the 40th anniversary of blizzards

It has been a cold and wet first half of February for many of us however there have been a few isolated milder days and plenty of sunshine between the bands of rain.

It’s been rather unsettled, with most of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and south-western fringes of Scotland having already had more than half of their full-month average rainfall, with a few places getting close to the average rainfall for the whole month such as Suffolk with 77%, Anglesey with 79%, Antrim 86%, Armagh 83% and Wigtownshire 101%.  Elsewhere some other parts of Scotland have been drier than average such Fife with 30% of rainfall, Clackmannanshire 28% and Orkney 29%.

 February 1 – 15   Precipitation    Sunshine
 Actual mm  Anomaly % (81-10) Actual hrs    Anomaly % (81-10)
UK 49.3 56 44.2 63
England 35.9 59 46.1 62
Wales 68.0 61 40.0 57
Scotland 63.5 49 41.0 65
N Ireland 66.5 79 50.5 76

Although it has been colder than average so far this month, with temperatures a degree or more below average in most areas, there have been no exceptionally low temperatures anywhere, the lowest being  -11.0 °C at Bewcastle, Cumbria, on the morning of February 7th.

Cold Februaries have not been common in the last 20 years – with 2013 having been rather colder than average in south-eastern areas, and 2010 having been rather cold more widely and especially in the north. The years 1996, 1994 and 1991 were also cold, as was February  1986.

  February 1 -15 Maximum temperature    Minimum temperature
 Actual  degC  Anomaly  degC (81-10) Actual  degC    Anomaly  degC      (81-10)
UK 5.2 -1.4 -0.5 -1.2
England 5.7 -1.5 -0.2 -1.2
Wales 5.7 -1.2 0.1 -1.0
Scotland 4.1 -1.4 -1.2 -1.1
N Ireland 5.8 -1.5 -0.2 -1.4

Blizzards devastated the South West 40 years ago 

It is the 40th anniversary of the start of what was one of the worst blizzards to have affected the United Kingdom in the last 100 years. It affected South West England and south Wales for five days from 15th to 19th February 1978 before milder weather edged in bringing a general thaw.

The cold air initially moved into the UK from the east around the 7th, and was further enhanced by a cold pool of air moving in from central Europe between the 10th and 14th .

The weather set up, with a huge contrast in air-masses either side of a weather front, led to considerable snowfall for the South West on the 15th and 16th and this was followed on the 18th and 19th by an unusually severe blizzard which extended to south Wales.

Snow accumulated to depths of about 60cm in places on Dartmoor and Exmoor and to 85cm at Nettlecombe (Bird’s Hill) in Somerset, but drifts of at least 6m were reported over a wide area which included Dorset and Wiltshire.

The exceptional weather cut communications and caused severe hardship, and although milder weather soon reached the south-west, several towns and villages were isolated by snowdrifts for some days and it was reported that there was still snow on the ground in early July.

Snow depths at 9am on 20th February:

Devon, Somerset, and Devon

85cm Nettlecombe, Birds Hill

60cm Princetown Prison

39cm Bovey Tracey Yarner Wood

38cm Crewkerne

40cm Winfrith (near Dorchester)

30cm Poole

South Wales:

39cm Rhoose

38cm Bridgend

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12 Responses to Mid-month February statistics on the 40th anniversary of blizzards

  1. xmetman says:

    You could have dropped the snow from your title – what other type of blizzard could it be other than of ‘snow’? Most dictionaries define a blizzard as “a severe snowstorm with high winds”.

  2. Graham Davis says:

    A “snow blizzard?” For pity’s sake, just call it a blizzard! A blizzard is a severe snowstorm, so what you are describing is a severe snowstorm of snow. Never heard of tautology?

  3. https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/2018/a-sudden-stratospheric-warming-and-potential-impacts-on-uk (on this – where comments can’t be submitted)
    In recent days the Met Office have seemed fairly sure that cold easterlies will arrive in around a week, whereas the BBC 10 day outlooks at 9.55 pm have reported that some models suggest either southerlies or even westerlies. I know the BBC are now with MeteoGroup not the Met Office but do both the Met Office and MeteoGroup have access to all models – such as those from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts? Also, I assume that the models and numerical weather predictions are not explicitly ‘told’ that there has been a Sudden Stratospheric Warming in the upper stratosphere over the North Pole? Though of course the models will ‘know’ of the split in the polar vortex in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. I have read elsewhere that SSWs are followed by cold easterlies near the UK in around two thirds of cases – and your press release suggests 70%.

    • I hope you are not viewing my comment of 16 February as ‘off topic’.

    • Hello Ashley
      Apologies for the delay in response.

      Hopefully you will have been keeping up with the weather story through our news releases on the Met Office website as it has developed over recent days. You are correct that on average SSWs are followed by cold easterlies near the UK in around two out or three occasions. I can’t speak for other weather providers but the Met Office has access to weather model output from across the world, including that of ECMWF, and one of the important roles our meteorologists play is to interpret and assess which one(s) of these are providing the most reliable guidance at any time and what uncertainty in the forecast is being suggested if there isn’t agreement between them.

      Models include actual observational data at the point where they start running, so the rapid rise in temperature in the stratosphere last week will have been assimilated into them, the model then solves dynamical and physical equations for periods of from hours to days ahead through the atmosphere and into the oceans to produce the forecast. The further ahead the forecast goes the more likely you are to see differences in details between models and this is what you will have seen in the 10 day outlook you refer to.

      This SSW has been pretty much a text book example of how they can bring cold conditions to the UK around two weeks after warming, a trend that was consistently indicated by our long range GloSea5 model https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/modelling-systems/unified-model/climate-models/glosea5


  4. xmetman says:

    You might like this short article I wrote about it a while back:-

  5. Dave Smith says:

    how about showing the minimum temps recorded for the period of cold weather!! I seem to remember Exeter airport getting into minus double digits?

  6. maureen carroll says:

    Hello Met Office, Always remain surprised that the Met Office uses incorrect names. There is no area in Scotland called Fifeshire. The correct name is Fife. Am sure you will correct your source data so that this naming mistake is not repeated. Maureen Carroll, Glasgow.

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