Rainforests: exploring the global weather maker

The belt of rainforests around the tropics may seem distant from most people’s day-to-day lives in the UK but these rich areas provide many essential services – such as providing key foodstuffs and helping to regulate the climate – that it has been all too easy to take for granted, until now.

A major new exhibit – which has opened this month – at Cornwall’s Eden Project aims to highlight the extensive links between climate and rainforests in a series of installations known as The Weather Maker. This forms part of the latest phase of the Eden Project’s Rainforest Canopy Walkway enabling people to explore the world’s largest indoor rainforest from the treetops.

A series of Weather Maker exhibits in the Eden Project’s Rainforest Biome explore the links between tropical forests and the climate.

The Met Office’s Professor Richard Betts has been assisting the Eden Project with the exhibit in the rainforest biome. He said: “Rainforests are well named because they have a two-way relationship with the weather. These extensive blankets of forest actually help create rain, as warm moist air rises above the forests. The winds carry moisture from over the ocean, which falls out as rain and is then recycled back to the atmosphere through evaporation.

“As water evaporates from leaves this has a cooling effect and this effect is amplified as the moisture rises to form clouds above the forest which help to reflect sunlight.

“Beyond the forests themselves, rainforests have an influence on the global climate by stimulating the circulation of air around the globe and helping to absorb atmospheric carbon as the vegetation grows.

“2015 and 2016 were the warmest years in a record stretching back to 1850. At a time when we are reaching new global extremes, scientists are beginning to unravel the numerous bonds between rainforests and the climate.  One of the key allies in helping to ameliorate the changing climate is itself under stress as these once seemingly endless evergreen blankets are being eroded through deforestation. These actions are leading to more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, further fuelling the cycle of change. While deforestation is slowing in some areas, it is continuing in others.”

The complexities of the rainforest and climate cycle are being brought to life in the Eden Project’s Rainforest Biome with the Weather Maker exhibit, which includes installations exploring how the world’s rainforests act as air movers, water sweaters, flood defenders, rain makers, sun reflectors and carbon catchers. The Eden Project team has worked with climate scientists, including Professor Richard Betts, from the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of Exeter, to gain access to the latest research exploring the links between rainforests and climate.

Speaking at the opening event, Dr Jo Elworthy, Director of Interpretation at the Eden Project, said: “Fifteen years after opening, our forest has grown sufficiently to take our visitors into the treetops.  From on high, visitors will be able to explore the forest’s hidden secrets and discover how the world’s hot, steamy rainforests help to regulate the climate.”

The experience of visiting a rainforest may seem a distant dream for many, but this doesn’t stop the need for people to understand the importance of these rich and humid landscapes.

Experts from the Met Office help Eden Project visitors understand more about the earth’s climate.

In addition to providing assistance with the Weather Maker exhibit, Met Office staff have also been helping visitors to understand the role of rainforests and climate through interactive exhibits and educational experiments.

Felicity Liggins of the Met Office said: “We visited the Eden Project on the Weather Maker’s opening weekend. It was fantastic to be involved with helping people appreciate the value of rainforests to the weather and climate, especially in such a stunning environment.  The team at the Eden Project have done a great job in making the biome feel as much like a rainforest as possible.”

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Will ‘Storm Stella’ affect the UK?

There’s been some media speculation that a storm which brought snow and blizzard conditions to the United States, from Virginia to Maine, is now heading towards the UK. Whilst this makes great headlines, it is not quite the case.

The storm, named “Stella” by some in the US, brought around 16 inches of snow to parts of Pennsylvania and around 7 or 8 inches to New York state, is moving away northeast, changing its characteristics as it does so, as commonly happens as storms cross the Atlantic. Ultimately some remnants of it are heading well to the north of the UK towards Iceland, drawing mild and unsettled conditions from across the Atlantic to our shores for the end of the week and the weekend.

Here in the UK we are in for a blustery and wet Friday and weekend however this is a spell of fairly typical spring weather with strong to gale force winds, rain and  spells of blustery sunshine for many. We could even see some snow over high ground in Scotland.

A strong jet stream is helping drive this unsettled weather our way.  This is due in part to a big temperature contrast between areas of warm air and cold air in the United States at the moment. Alex Deakin explains all this in more detail.


Tomorrow starts cloudy for many with outbreaks of rain and drizzle gradually moving south-east followed by sunshine and showers in to the north.

Then as we head into Friday and the weekend it turns unsettled with bands of rain pushing in from the west. Hill snow and patchy ice are likely at times across Scotland and it will turn windy for all.

As always keep up to date with the weather in your area using our forecast pages, Twitter or Facebook, as well as using our new mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store. Search for “Met Office” in store.

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What weather can we expect for Easter and May?

There have been some reports in the media that the Met Office has forecast a freezing Easter and icy May for the UK with headlines such as  Wild weather is set to hit the UK with a ‘polar vortex’ forecast and temperatures threatening to plummet to as low as -8C in the run up to Easter.’ and ‘The next three months will see March storms, below freezing temperatures in April along with expected snow- before a ‘sizzling May’ with heights of 26C’.

These predictions seem to have been based, in part, on the latest Met Office three month outlook for contingency planners, but our outlooks do not tell us the weather for specific days in the coming months.

The science of long-range forecasting is at the cutting edge of meteorology and the Met Office is leading the way with research in this area.  However, with Easter over a month away it is too early to be able to predict the weather with any certainty.

As we’ve discussed previously, the outlook is not a normal weather forecast. It’s a forward look at the probability of the broad weather themes that might occur in the next 3 months, and is useful for those who plan for various contingencies based on their likelihood.  It assesses the chances of five different scenarios for both temperature and rainfall for the whole of the UK for the next three months. It does not give an indication of what the weather will be like at specific times or for events such as those referred to in the recent media articles.

Some of these reports predict we could be in for some bitterly cold, freezing weather, but our 3-month outlook doesn’t specify that cold weather will occur.

What does the current outlook say?

The outlook for March, April and May as a whole talks about competing influences governing the UK weather this spring, from unsettled Atlantic weather patterns to more settled weather due to blocked, anticyclonic conditions.

After the wet and mild start to March, later in the month and in early April a greater likelihood of blocking patterns leads to more even chances of milder and colder-than average weather. Over the three month period as a whole, however, there is an increased chance of above-normal temperatures and a decreased chance of below-normal temperatures.

Its important to note that this tendency is for UK temperature on average.  This takes into account both day- and night-time temperatures over the UK as a whole – conditions will vary at different locations; one area could be warmer than average over the three months while another is colder giving an average result overall.

The outlook also indicates there is only a slight increase in the chances of above-average rainfall in the next three months; essentially the probabilities of above and below-average rainfall are similar to normal.

Currently, therefore, we cannot say whether we will get a ‘bone chilling’ Easter with ’snow and ice sparking travel chaos’ or whether there will be a ‘heatwave’ in May. The 3-month outlook can only highlight the general trends in temperatures or rainfall over the whole period.

We will undoubtedly get both wet and windy and dry and sunny spells of weather as the season progresses, and these will be picked up in our accurate seven day forecasts, as well as our 30 day forecast which gives a more general view of the weather ahead.  In addition, our weather warnings will provide advice during any spells of extreme weather.



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Will you #BeBoldForChange on International Women’s Day 2017?

Met Office meteorologist Alison Davies was one of just four UK women invited to join a trip of a lifetime to Antarctica last December (2016) to advance her knowledge of polar science while developing leadership skills. The international expedition was one of many opportunities which have been afforded to female scientists in the last year, helping extend their role within the Met Office, meteorology and science as a whole.

International Women’s Day 2017 is calling for groundbreaking action that will truly drive change for women. With women making up less than a third of meteorology and hydrology professionals, the Met Office actively supports STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach work including training courses and international fellowships. Ensuring women have equal access to science education and technology is essential if women are to be fully represented amongst the developers of weather and climate services.

With some survey’s predicting the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186, the Met Office has committed to respecting and valuing diversity and supporting men and women to achieve their ambitions. Our international development team has been working with the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) to look at gender equality at a policy level and ways to incorporate valuable knowledge from women into building societies which are resilient to changing climates. Met Office is also working with WMO to understand how we can ensure the skills of women who work in weather and climate science are not lost when shift patterns are no longer possible with family commitments.

Meteorologist Claudia Riedl reaches new heights in her career at Austria’s Sonnblick Observatory.

Working in partnership with the WMO we hope to better understand and provide ways in which women and men access and use weather and climate information for greater resilience, preparedness and communication around weather-related disasters.

Met Office Chief Executive Rob Varley sits on the WMO Executive Council Panel of Experts on Gender Mainstreaming. He said: “Our involvement in this panel allows us not only to consider how we can improve Met Office gender equality practices, but also to contribute to the development of good practice across the global meteorological community”.

Developing weather and climate services

Weather and climate-related disasters can affect men and women differently, so ensuring both genders are encouraged to engage in plans to mitigate disaster risk is crucial.

Our experience of developing weather and climate services across the globe includes disaster risk exercises to explore the development and communication of severe weather warnings. Making sure a cross-section of stakeholder groups, including women, take part in these exercises is crucial to ensuring the resulting plans are adapted to local context.

Sarah Davies, Senior Met Office Advisor (Civil Contingencies), at a stakeholder workshop in Fiji


From policy development into practical application, developing and providing sustainable weather and climate information  empowers people to take action to protect their lives and livelihoods.

Today, International Women’s Day, March 8, gives us an opportunity to highlight how the Met Office and the global meteorological community are essential to providing life-saving knowledge to people in a diverse and equal way.  #BeingBoldForChange

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Cyclone Enawo heading for Madagascar

Cyclone Enawo is at present just to the east of northern Madagascar in the South Indian Ocean, with 10-minute averaged wind speeds near 105 mph and much higher gusts.

The 2016-17 cyclone season has seen record low levels of activity with only six named tropical cyclones occurring across the whole southern hemisphere prior to this weekend. The southern hemisphere tropical cyclone season runs from about October to April across the South Indian Ocean, around Australia and in the South Pacific.

At the weekend Tropical Cyclone Blanche developed north of Australia and tracked across Bathurst Island bringing a local record of 384 mm (15.1”) rain in 24 hours. Blanche has now made landfall over a relatively sparsely populated part of the Kimberley coast of Western Australia and is expected to continue moving inland bringing heavy rain.

Meanwhile Cyclone Enawo is expected to make landfall tomorrow morning UK time. There are likely to be impacts from wind near the coast, but of greater concern are huge amounts of rain with 750 mm possible in some locations as the cyclone moves inland and turns southwards. Madagascar has suffered drought conditions in recent months, so whilst rainfall is welcome, this quantity over a very short period of time is likely to cause damaging impacts across a large part of the country.

Cyclone Enawo on 6 March 2017

Cyclone Enawo on 6 March 2017

Madagascar is familiar with cyclones and over recent years several have caused damage, destruction and loss of life. The most recent was Tropical Storm Chedza in January 2015 which caused severe flooding and 80 fatalities after making landfall on the western side of the island. A year earlier Cyclone Hellen struck the north-western side of Madagascar before moving back out to sea. In 2013 the far south-western part of the island was affected by Cyclone Haruna resulting in much wind damage, floods and the loss of 26 lives. In 2012 strong Cyclone Giovanna stuck the central part of the east coast again causing damage and loss of life.

The last cyclone to strike the north-eastern part of Madagascar where Enawo is expected to make landfall was Cyclone Bingiza in 2011. High winds and heavy rain caused much damage in the region and 34 lives were lost.

Further Information

Official warnings for the latest tropical cyclones in the Southwest Indian Ocean are issued by the Météo France à La Réunion. 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. We also provide updates on current tropical storms via @metofficestorms on Twitter.

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How the freeze of 1947 gave Liverpool FC a warm glow

The February of 1947 was the coldest on record in the UK since 1910. Between January and March 1947, there were 55 consecutive days with snow falling somewhere in the UK. The impacts on post-war Britain were enormous.

Mark Platt of Liverpool Football Club describes how the winter of 1947 caused problems for the club, but gave the team the ultimate chance to shine.

For Liverpool FC, the inaugural post-war Football League of the 1946/47 season was one of the most memorable in its rich and illustrious history. The style in which they won the First Division Championship that year was to set a precedent for future Anfield success and it was achieved against all the odds; an ultimate triumph against adversity that the British weather did its best to scupper.


An impression of a Liverpool FC training session in February 1947 prior to the famous Stubbins’ flying header. Still photograph courtesy: Liverpool Echo. Video animation: Met Office.

Amid the bleak austerity of a war-ravaged nation and continued rationing, the return of regular competitive football had been eagerly anticipated. Crowds flocked back to the game in record numbers and the British public revelled in its favourite pastime once again.

Liverpool, deemed as unlikely title challengers in pre-season, made a steady start. On the last day of August they opened their campaign with victory at Sheffield United, a game that kicked off in a monsoon and was played under dark thunder clouds. Such unseasonal conditions set the tone for the remainder of a season that would be dominated by the extreme and unpredictable weather.

Just a few weeks later, young Liverpool supporters were being passed out of a sweltering Kop as the country basked in an Indian summer. It wasn’t long before dense freezing fog then started to play havoc with transportation to and from games, while gale-force winds often hampered attempts to play good football.

Liverpool adapted better than most to these ever-changing climates and a run of victories saw them shoot to the top of the table in the run-up to Christmas. Then one of the worst winters on record kicked in and pitches became treacherous ice-rinks. When the thaw set in they were transformed into unplayable quagmires. Getting the ball under control and passing it, even a short distance, was becoming increasingly difficult.


Albert Stubbins’ famous ‘goal in the snow’ has been dubbed by the Anfield faithful as the one of the greatest ever scored. Picture courtesy Liverpool FC

If the players had it bad, so too did supporters. As the snowstorms worsened, attending games became more hazardous. In a bid to prevent the country from grinding to a halt, the government ordered a widespread industrial shutdown and the knock-on effects were felt at the turnstiles. Rail and road links slowly ground to a halt, city streets were plunged into darkness and many factories were forced to close, meaning millions found themselves temporarily out of work. Due to a severe paper shortage, the size of match-day programmes were also significantly reduced, some to just a single sheet.

As the Arctic conditions continued to take a vice-like grip across Britain during the early months of 1947 matches were falling foul of the weather on a regular basis. The fixture list was soon decimated by postponements and Liverpool slithered back down the table. It peaked on Saturday 22 February when more than half that day’s scheduled games were called off. Ironically, Liverpool’s game at home to Huddersfield that afternoon did go ahead, but a new record had been set and it led to calls for the campaign to be extended.

When repeated pleas fell on deaf ears, the entire structure of football in this country was in danger of complete collapse. Thankfully, the authorities eventually saw sense. Although not before the touchlines at Anfield had to be painted blue to make them visible on a surface described as a ‘sea of porridge’ for the visit of Blackburn Rovers at the beginning of March, or when star centre-forward of the time Albert Stubbins lacerated his knees by sliding on the ice in celebration of a now famous diving header against Birmingham City. It was a goal that has gone down in Anfield folklore as one of the greatest ever scored, known simply as ‘the goal in the snow’.

A six-week extension to the season was granted. Playing conditions improved and Liverpool rediscovered their form. When they travelled to Wolverhampton on May 31 to contest their final game of a seemingly never-ending season, they did so on what was the hottest day of the year so far.

The pitch side temperature at a sun-baked Molineux was in the high nineties and the match officials sported unfamiliar white jerseys. For spectators, shirt sleeves, summer frocks and handkerchiefs on heads were the order of the day – a stark contrast to the bitter cold they’d been used to just a few months previous. ‘Hotter than the Melbourne Cricket Ground’ being one newspaper description of the scenes.

A 2-1 win ensured that the red hot Reds completed their league season back in pole position. However, because of the fixture backlog caused by that gruelling winter of discontent, one outstanding game remained and it didn’t take place until a fortnight later. If Stoke City beat Sheffield United they would pip Liverpool to the title. It was to be an agonising wait but one that, for every Liverpudlian, was well worth waiting for.

On June 14 at Bramall Lane, the venue where Liverpool opened the season almost ten months before, Stoke failed to get the result they so desired. The weather-beaten 1946/47 season, the longest ever known, was finally over and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was Liverpool’s fifth League Championship.

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Life and death and community: farming and the 1947 winter

At times the weather can be challenging for everyone, but farmers are always on the front line. That was certainly the case 70 years ago in 1947 with the coldest February on record going back to 1910. In a guest blog post Ceris Jones of the National Farmers Union captures memories from NFU members and others involved in farming of that winter and the hardships caused to the farming community.

Just as John Meredith, BBC agricultural news reporter-to-be came into the world in the upstairs bedroom of the family home – because his mother was snowed in – large numbers of sheep were trapped in snowdrifts across the country.

Three million sheep died in the severe winter of 1947. According to Erwyd Howells, hardy weather-beaten shepherds were reduced to tears at the loss of a life’s work and finally beaten by the weather.  And it wasn’t just the snow.  Tony Evans recalls that getting water for their livestock was especially difficult because the water supply kept freezing. His parents would spend all day battling to look after their animals.


The winter of 1947 brought challenging conditions for many across the UK, in town and country alike. Picture courtesy Bolton News.

Janet Henthorn’s brother was born as it started to snow in January.  Mother and son were eventually able to tackle the journey home to the family’s remote smallholding. At the top of the first field, her mother stopped to check on the baby, who was wrapped in a fur coat, and found to her horror that he was no longer there. She hurriedly re-traced her steps and near the bottom of the field lay Janet’s new brother – a little cold, but unhurt.  It didn’t deter Janet’s parents – they had two more girls and another boy – but not one was born in January.

The snow made it impossible to get milk from John Thomas’ family farm to the processing plant, but the excess milk was put to good use by his grandmother. She made butter and cheese and there was still lots of milk to drink for the three generations of family and farm workers trapped by the snow.

Lord Henry Plumb who was 22 years old at the time, recalls using his tractor to deliver bread straight through the first-floor windows of the houses in his local Warwickshire village.  This was just after the Second World War and people were used to helping each other. And villages were more self-sufficient then, many with  a local baker and butcher.

Then came the thaw. The flooding which ensued significantly affected the East Anglian Fens: Rex Sly’s home. Food was already in short supply and faced with the prospect of not producing a crop from the following harvest, the government drafted in troops and thousands of pumps to repair breaches in banks and to get the water away.  Almost all the Fens were sown with crops that spring, an extraordinary triumph over adversity.

The Met Office would like to thank the following NFU members for sharing their memories of the 1947 winter: Tony Evans (Essex); Janet Henthorn (Lancashire); Lord Henry Plumb (Warwickshire); Rex Sly (Lincolnshire); and also Erwyd Howells (Ceredigion); and John Meredith and John Thomas (Glamorgan).

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Another El Niño on the way?

In the waters of the far-eastern equatorial Pacific – close to the South American coast – sea-surface temperatures are beginning to rise, prompting some climate scientists to believe the world could be heading for another El Niño in close succession to the previous event which ended last year.


This diagram illustrates the observed sea surface temperature for a central region of the tropical Pacific (in black), and the evolution predicted by the Met Office dynamical long-range ensemble forecast system (in red). A typical threshold for El Niño is for the sea surface temperature anomaly to be above 0.5 °C.

The last El Niño, which peaked in the winter of 2015-2016, was the joint strongest event on record. It had impacts around the world and the heat released from it added to existing climate change to break global surface temperature records in 2015 and 2016.

Prof Adam Scaife, head of long-range prediction at the Met Office Hadley Centre said: “The El Niño–La Niña cycle hasn’t been very active this winter, but Met Office predictions and those from some other centres are suggesting an increased risk of an El Niño developing by the summer.”

It isn’t unknown for El Niños to occur in close succession: events developed just two years apart in 1963 and 1965, and have even developed in consecutive years before, in 1986 and 1987. However, the level of warming in current predictions of the tropical Pacific is unusual for this time of year.

Commenting on the likelihood of another El Niño peaking at the end of this year, Prof. Scaife urged caution: “It is very early days and forecasts made at this time of year have great uncertainty, so we are just flagging the raised risk of an event at this stage, given the global consequences if it does occur.”

Any El Niño event (which is the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation) has impacts on the global climate. If an El Niño does grow by summer some of the earliest impacts will be on the Atlantic hurricane season and the Indian monsoon, both of which tend to weaken during a developing El Niño.

You can learn more about the El Niño – La Niña cycle and its impacts on our web pages.

The World Meteoroligical Organization’s ENSO outlook is available here.

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The weather has given us all a dry January

The UK has had its own Dry January, as most parts have experienced lower than average rainfall during the month.

Provisional January 2017 data Mean temp (°C) Sunshine (hours) Rainfall (mm)
  Actual Diff to avg Actual % of avg Actual % of avg
UK 3.9  0.2 56.5 120 75.5  62
England 3.8 -0.3 63.7 117 63.9  77
Wales 4.5  0.4 50.2 103 93.5  59
Scotland  3.6  1 48.5 135 93.7  53
N Ireland  5.1 0.9 45.3 102 53.3  46

As a whole, the UK has witnessed just under two thirds (62%) of the average rainfall for January, when compared to the period between 1981 and 2010. However, the UK overview masks the detail, and drilling down into the figures reveal that some parts have received less than half the average rainfall for the month.

When compared with the long-term average Kinross in Scotland was the driest area during January 2017, as only 25% of the average January rainfall fell during the month, amounting to just under 34mm. In contrast the wettest place relative to the long-term average was the Isle of Wight where 34% more rain fell than in an average January. Buteshire recorded the highest amount of rainfall for the UK, but 136mm was only 69% of what is expected during a typical January.

Heavy rainfall for parts of the UK at the end of January was welcome and helped bring up some totals, especially for some of the driest locations. Murlough in County Down received 30mm of rain on 30 January, more rain than had fallen during the rest of the month. The highest rainfall total for the UK during January was at Cluanie Inn, in Inverness-shire, which recorded 53.6mm on 14 January.

2017_1_rainfall_anomaly_1981-2010Dr Mark McCarthy is the head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre. He said: “Rainfall across the UK during January has been generally low. A few locations in the south and east have recorded more than average rainfall, but some areas have received less than one third of the average amount for January. Some regions, such as Northern Ireland, which had recorded very low rainfall during the month saw a recovery in rainfall in the last couple of days of the month.”

Provisional figures from October 2016 to January 2017 show that these four months have been the second driest October-January in a series stretching back to 1910. The lack of rainfall wasn’t evenly spread across the UK and the statistics from some countries feature more highly than others. Northern Ireland, for example, experienced its driest October to January period in the whole series (back to 1910), while England over the same period was the driest since 1991/92 and 8th driest in the series.

  • UK total October-January rainfall was 314.8 mm, and the only year it was drier was in 1962-63 with 265.3 mm.
  • England driest since 1991/92, ranked equal-8th overall
  • Wales driest since 1962/63, ranked 2nd overall
  • Scotland driest since 1962/63, ranked 2nd overall
  • Northern Ireland driest in the whole series since 1910 (beating 1962/63 by quite a clear margin)


The majority of the UK recorded more sunshine than normal for January. Scotland recorded a 35% increase in sunshine compared with the average between 1981–2010. With 63.7 hours England recorded the most sunshine, and as you may expect the sunniest days were observed in southern England, with 8.4 hours at Culdrose, in Cornwall, on 23 January and also at East Malling in Kent on 18 January.


Locations in Scotland recorded the UK’s highest and lowest daily temperatures. Achfary, in Sutherland, and Plockton, in Ross & Cromarty, recorded 14.2 °C on 25 January, while five days later Braemar, in Aberdeenshire, recorded -10.1 °C as the lowest minimum temperature on 30 January.

The mean temperatures for Northern Scotland were 1.3 °C higher than the long-term January average, while average temperatures in Kent were -1.3 °C below the January average.

Dr Mark McCarthy added: “The reversal of anticipated temperatures with northern Scotland being, on average, warmer than south-east England is largely due to the area of high pressure which sat over continental Europe. This pool of dense cold air had a strong influence on those parts of Britain closest to Europe.”

Recently we’ve seen a return to more unsettled weather, with further rain and strong winds forecast for some areas over the next few days. Looking ahead to next week: after a changeable start with temperatures generally around average, there are some signs that from midweek we will see a return to more settled, drier and probably colder conditions, however details about this will change over the coming days.

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Winter 1947 brought a freeze to post-war Britain

If you’re old enough to remember 1947, then you’ll almost certainly have the winter as one of your most vivid memories of the year. For meteorologists and climatologists, the winter of 1947 was a standout year for the UK, but the statistics don’t tell the full story of the severity of the winter and the significant impact that it had on communities across the UK.

1947Seventy years ago, from late January until mid March, easterly winds drove a succession of snowstorms across the UK resulting in what was believed to have been the snowiest winter since the mid-nineteenth century. Six weeks of snow, which began on January 23, led to thousands of people being cut off by snowdrifts. As the UK was recovering from the effects of the Second World War, the armed forces were called upon to clear roads and railways of snowdrifts that were up to seven metres deep in places.

According to the record, snow fell every day somewhere in the UK for a run of 55 days. Because the temperature on most days barely exceeded freezing, much of the snow settled.

Mike Kendon, who works for the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre, has co-authored several papers on the severity of British winters. He said: “It was clear that no-one expected the winter of 1947 to be severe. At the start of January the conditions were generally very mild and temperatures of up to 14 °C were recorded in places. However, all of this was to change as an area of high pressure set up a weather pattern which dominated the UK for the rest of the winter.”

tmean-february-1947February 1947 was the coldest February on record in many places. At Kew Observatory the temperature didn’t rise above 4.4 °C, and in Bedfordshire on the 25 February, the temperature dropped to -21 °C.

Mike Kendon added: “Meteorologically, spring begins on 1 March. But in the early part of March 1947, people’s minds weren’t on spring. Gales and heavy snowstorms brought blizzard conditions especially on March 4 and 5 when heavy snow fell over most of England and Wales. This led to drifts several metres deep in parts of the Pennines and the Chilterns.

“Many people regard 1963 as a record winter, and in the record going back to 1910, this winter does stand out. But 1947 broke after the middle of meteorological winter, which in one way dilutes the severity of the second half of winter.”

At the end of the freeze, rising temperatures brought a rapid thaw of the deep snow which led to meltwaters pouring into rivers, causing many to burst their banks.

Winter’s impacts on wildlife

chris-packham-bbcOf course it wasn’t just people who were affected, as wildlife was also dealt a cruel blow. Naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham, who is currently on our screens as one of the presenters of BBC Winterwatch, said: “Winter is always a challenging season for wildlife, but some winters stand out as being especially harsh, with 1947 being a particularly brutal example. Reports following the winter showed that many species suffered to an extent and some endured very harsh times indeed. Notably, small-bodied birds, such as wrens, goldcrests, pied wagtails and long-tailed tits, fared extremely badly. In fact the numbers of goldcrest – Britain’s smallest bird – were hit in almost all locations. Fortunately, the populations of these birds recovered and the long-tailed tit – thanks to a combination of a run of relatively milder winters and garden-birdfeeding – is enjoying good times as it is now one of our most familiar garden birds.”

Further information on severe winters is available here.

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