A day in the life of a Mobile Met Unit Meteorologist

Dave is a Senior Operational Meteorologist with the Mobile Met Unit (MMU) deployed on Operation TORAL, the British element of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

The MMU is a Sponsored Reserve unit of the Royal Air Force (RAF) comprised of Met Office meteorologists and engineers. Dave tells us about life on deployment and what the MMU means to him.

My role on Operation Toral is to provide meteorological support to the rotary aviation detachment in Kabul.  As such, my day is dictated chiefly by the flying programme, working as part of operations to maximize efficiency whilst preserving flight safety.

Daily Routine

On a standard day, I will be in the office 3 hours before take-off, which can provide some rather early starts, before briefing the aircrew on the day ahead. Once the aircrew are airborne, my focus shifts to the next day to advise shaping of the programme where possible to avoid any likely delays owing to weather.

By the nature of operations, events are subject to change, so I remain in the office to advise of upcoming weather impacts through the medium term or update the brief if short notice changes of task occur. During flying, I keep an eye on the current weather to ensure any developments or change of forecast are made known to the operations room, engineers and aircrew.

As Operation Toral is a well-founded detachment, conditions are not too dissimilar from working in an office in the UK, except for the sidearm on my hip and tourniquet in my pocket! However, everyone from the Senior Aircraftman on their first tour to the squadron boss never forgets our task or the ever-present threat in country, as it is our role to minimize road moves around theatre to keep our people safe and to support the ongoing NATO training mission.

Creating the forecast

Formulating the forecast is similar to the process you’d go through anywhere.  It starts with assessing a mixture of observations, including a weather balloon ascent and satellite imagery, together with weather models from the Met Office and other national centres, alongside broad guidance from Met Office Headquarters in Exeter. The difference being you’re the only Met Office forecaster for a couple of thousand miles in a data sparse area, so the model isn’t as refined and the best guidance will still be fairly broad so you have to use your own initiative and experience if a sudden decision comes your way.

Background activities include recording statistics and commenting on model performance and guidance to help improve the next iteration of the model, with the MMU presenting a unique viewpoint compared to the UK centric bulk of Met Office operations.

As the afternoon presses on, weather conditions that may deteriorate into the night are reassessed, notably smog, snow or surface ice in the winter, and if required I will be preparing to brief any night flying alongside some prep work for the coming day’s forecast. Then there are some additional external forecasts for the airbridge between the UK and theatre to send to the UK alongside a radio piece for the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).

Fit to fight

Fitness is always a priority in the military so running laps or a quick trip to the COVID-Secure outdoor gym is encouraged, although as Kabul occasionally steals the title of most polluted air in the world during the winter, most prefer to go mid-afternoon as the smog is at its most dispersed!

The day concludes with a debrief for the aircrew – an opportunity to review the day, where I get the aircrew’s experience of the weather as they encountered it, enabling a better understanding of local meteorological effects and a better forecast in future.

Finally, it’s off to the D-Fac (that’s dining facility to you) for dinner, then off to my bunk to catch the folks back home (4.5 hours behind Afghan) thanks to the good internet – another bonus of a well-founded base, which is never a guarantee! Then it’s to bed and repeat until your replacement flies in.

What does the MMU mean to me?

For me, the Mobile Met Unit is the best of the Met Office in one place, the opportunity to work where your output immediately impacts the outcome, and that outcome matters. It is a role where a high degree of autonomy is required, but one where the whole Met Office from the guidance unit to the science department is on hand to help if you need it. Nonetheless, where time allows, I have been involved in charity runs, festive football matches, many a dry pub quiz and even some seriously amateur volleyball; it is a step apart from life in the UK but you are doing so as part of a team, working as part of the RAF, and it builds a great sense of camaraderie – I truly enjoy working with them.

Pictured is a Puma HC.Mk 2 helicopter normally based at RAF Benson in Oxford, currently serving in Kabul, Afghanistan on Op TORAL. The helicopter provides transport and support to coalition personnel based in and around Kabul. The aircraft is used in a variety of combat roles, including the tactical movement of troops, weapons, ammunition and stores on the battlefield, as well as the extraction of casualties and in response to medical emergencies on the frontline. It is also employed during non-combatant evacuations, and humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
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Why the beast from the east is unlikely to roar.

A sudden stratospheric warming high in the atmosphere early in January has led to reports a so called ‘Beast from the East’ is heading our way and speculation of extreme cold weather to come.

A sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) sees a rise in temperature and change in wind direction in the atmosphere high above the Arctic. This happens at an altitude of about 30 km so has a delayed influence on weather at the earth’s surface. We usually start to see knock-on effects on the jet stream a couple of weeks later, which can in turn affect the day to day weather across Europe and the UK.

Met Office Chief Meteorologist, Paul Davies, said; “The unsettled, wintry weather forecast for next week is consistent with the expected effects of an SSW and there is a chance there could be more snow in parts of the UK and Europe.

“However, the winds will be generally from a northerly direction not from the east, as cold air from Scandinavia is drawn across the UK. So perhaps not a Beast from the East but normal wintry weather from the north.”

The cold northerly air is likely to be once again held to the east side of the UK as milder air pushes in from the west. Where these two air masses meet weather fronts will bring rain, which could be heavy at times and turn to snow, especially over higher ground. This suggests the potential for big differences in the weather across the UK next week, with temperatures most likely to be rather cold for the north and near-or slightly above-average across the south. There is always uncertainty when conflicting air masses meet, however, so some cold spells can’t be ruled out here also.

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Fingerprints of climate change on UK weather in 2020

2020 was a remarkable year for our climate, with the year being the UK’s third warmest, sixth wettest and eighth sunniest in the UK national series, extending back to 1884, 1862 and 1919, respectively.
An attribution study looking at the temperatures for 2020 has been produced by the Met Office using peer-reviewed methods. The result is available on Carbon Brief. It suggests that without human-induced climate change, a year as warm as 2020 in the UK would have a likelihood of 1.1 % (uncertainty range 0.9 % – 1.3 %), or around one year in 90. For the present day climate the likelihood estimate increases by around a factor of 50, to 56% (range 53 % – 58 %) suggesting an expectation that we would now expect around half of years to exceed the warmth of 2020.
The impact of climate change on total annual rainfall for the UK is less clear than for temperature. This is a consequence of the high variability in rainfall over the UK, and also because climate change is most likely to result in wetter winters and drier summers overall, change which will consequently be less obvious in an annual total. However the likelihood of years as wet as 2020 is increasing, and is expected to continue to do so through the 21st Century.
Dr Mark McCarthy is the head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre. He said: “The dominance of above average temperatures throughout the year are clearly apparent, with notable warm spells in April, June, August, and November. Only July and October being cooler than average overall. The exceptional rainfall in late winter followed by the extended dry and sunny spring really dominate the rainfall and sunshine series for the year.”
Dr Nikos Christidis is a senior climate scientist with the Met Office. Nikos, who specialises in climate attribution, said: “An attribution study allows you to run scenarios on climate models using varying concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases. By looking at the atmosphere of pre-industrial times you can see that the high annual mean temperature of 2020 would have been quite a rare event. But with today’s levels of greenhouse gases we can expect temperatures of this level to occur slightly more frequently than one year in two. In future this will increase further.”
Dr Mark McCarthy added: “Our weather is playing out on a background of ongoing global climate change. It is therefore no surprise at all that the UK climate is also continuing to change as a result. The UK has warmed by close to 1.0 °C, comparable to the global rise in mean temperature.”

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New year begins with a sudden stratospheric warming

Meteorologists are already able to note a significant atmospheric observation in their 2021 diaries with the beginning of a Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW), which started over the weekend – this was forecast last week.

A SSW sees cold air descending above the Arctic, resulting in warming by as much as 50°C. This is in association with a significant weakening or reversal of westerly winds circulating around the North Pole between 10 and 50 km above the ground – the stratospheric polar vortex.

Professor Adam Scaife – head of long-range prediction at the Met Office – said: “As predicted, atmospheric observations are now showing that the Arctic stratosphere is undergoing a sudden warming event associated with a weakening stratospheric polar vortex.”

During these events the vortex can break down completely, and when this happens the disruption in the stratosphere can trigger a shift from westerly to easterly winds which can be followed by lower-altitude winds shifting in the same direction. On average 70 percent of occasions see this switch to easterly conditions at ground level, with the resulting cold and easterly shift in our weather.

Matthew Lehnert is an Expert Operational Meteorologist with the Met Office. He said: “Although the prolonged cold spell and snow events in February and March of 2018 – dubbed the ‘Beast from the East’ by the UK media – were linked to a sudden stratospheric warming, the record warm spell that occurred in February 2019 also followed such an event.”

Paul Davies is the Met Office’s Chief Meteorologist. He added: “We can’t completely rule out a signal for colder weather following this SSW event later in the month. However, evidence from model data and other drivers of the UK weather support a return to relatively milder and more unsettled conditions next week.”

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Opposing forces battle for winter supremacy

The second half of December has seen dramatic swings between different weather patterns. Storm Bella brought strong winds and flooding, while the current flow of air from the north is bringing colder conditions with ice and some snow across the UK. With dramatic changes in weather over the last two weeks, what is the pattern for the first half of January?

We expect the northerly feel to continue into the new year, however, as we look further ahead there are currently conflicting meteorological signals. To gain an understanding of the longer-term outlook forecasters need to look at signals from around the globe.

Adam Scaife, Head of Met Office long-range prediction, said: “Our latest forecasts now show that a sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) is expected in the first week of January which will maintain the chances of colder weather throughout the coming month.

“During an SSW intense warming occurs high in the atmosphere at around 30km above the North Pole. This is accompanied by a complete reversal of the winds that circulate around the Arctic at high altitude and the mean wind direction switches from the usual strong winter westerlies to easterlies.

“The easterlies at high altitude then slowly burrow down towards the lower atmosphere where our weather occurs. This process increases the chances of colder weather right across Northern Europe for several weeks after the event first occurs high the stratosphere.”

Met Office Chief Meteorologist Paul Davies said: “It’s important to note that not all SSWs lead to colder-than-normal conditions over the UK and there are other global weather factors that can impact our winter weather. This year they include a La Nina.

“During La Nina the second half of the winter in the UK tends to be dominated by milder and wetter conditions which come from the Atlantic on an invigorated jet stream. In effect, we have two opposing forces for winter supremacy at play; the SSW and La Nina.

In the meantime, and consistent with a SSW in early January, our current 6-30 day forecast points to the  likelihood of the cold conditions experienced recently continuing through January.”

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A dry but rather dull month

Mild and dry might not be the first thing you think of looking back at November as we have seen the first significant frosts of the season in England and Wales, but the month for the UK as a whole has had its sixth warmest November (for Mean Temperature) in a series that goes back to 1884.

The east and north-east coast of England has experienced relatively dry conditions over the month having only seen half of its average rainfall for the month. Tyne and Wear has had its driest November in 60 years, receiving only 24% (16.7mm) of its monthly average rainfall. The driest November on record for Tyne and Wear was in 1958 seeing 14.2mm of rainfall. This November is now the second driest November on record for Tyne and Wear, which was also the driest area in the UK.

Tim Legg, a scientist in the National Climate Information Centre, said: “For the UK as a whole it was a rather dry, but also rather dull month. The dryness in eastern counties, most especially Tyne and Wear, has been due to the prevalence of westerly winds during November, and these dry areas are to the lee of the Pennines. The westerly or south-westerly winds are generally moist, but most of the moisture comes out as rain over windward-facing hills – especially the Lake District and Pennines – and hence the air is relatively dry as it descends towards the east coast.  Also at play to some extent is the Foehn or “Föhn” effect, where the drier air warms as it descends.”

The start of November saw a continuation of the very unsettled spell with which October had concluded, with significant rain in many areas. Things then settled down with a cold snap between 4th and 6th, bringing the first notable frosts for much of England and Wales. It soon became milder again with low-pressure systems being held to the west as pressure was higher over the Continent. Towards mid-month it became more widely unsettled again, with some heavier falls of rain in places but remaining very mild.  

Rainfall

East and north-east England was the driest district, receiving only 51% (39.7mm) of its rainfall, Tyne and Wear recording the lowest in the area making it their second driest November on record. Surrounding areas in east and north-east England also received much lower than average rainfall totals, including Durham at 55% (50.2mm), Northumberland 49% (46.1mm), and Lincolnshire 39% (22.7mm).

In contrast, Northern Ireland has been the only region to exceed its average monthly rainfall with 106% (119.1mm), and County Fermanagh recording 129% (154.3mm).

Lower than average rainfall is a theme for November with many other areas across the UK also being much drier, including: Aberdeenshire 42% (47.3mm), Angus 52% (59.6mm), Banffshire 44% (49.1mm), Bedfordshire 58% (34.6mm), Berwickshire 47% (37.5mm), Caithness 49% (57.9mm), Cambridgeshire 52% (27.9mm), City of Aberdeen 29% (26.5), East Riding of Yorkshire 37% (23.2mm),  Kincardineshire 44% (45.7mm), Leicestershire 56% (34.1mm), Moray 48% (39mm), Norfolk 57% (37.8mm), Nottinghamshire 47% (26.6mm) and South Yorkshire 48% (34.7mm).

The counties with the most rainfall relative to the monthly average were: Argyll and Bute 126% (283.3mm), Ayrshire and Arran 112% (182.2mm), Cumbria 114% (176.9mm), Dunbartonshire 116% (226.3mm), Lanarkshire 111% (142.6mm), Renfrewshire 114% (193.6mm), Stirling and Falkirk 118% (239.2mm) and Western Isles 110% (190.3mm).

Rainfall
Provisional November figuresActual rainfall% of the November average   
UK100.9mm84
England62.2mm71
Wales131.9mm81
Scotland153.8mm93
Northern Ireland119.1mm106

Sunshine

Sunshine for most this month has been below or close to the monthly average, but south-west Scotland and Northern Ireland were the dullest areas (western Scotland 69%, 34.6 hours and Northern Ireland 74%, 39.7 hours). The only districts to reach 100% of the monthly sunshine hours were northern Scotland 110% (38.1 hours) and East Anglia 107% (72.6 hours).

Individual counties that experienced a rather dull month were Ayrshire and Arran with 57% (29.8 hours) of their monthly average, City of Glasgow 56% (31.2 hours), Dunbartonshire 59% (30.6 hours), and Renfrewshire 54% (29.8 hours).

Sunshine
Provisional November figuresActual sunshine in hours% of the November average   
UK53.193
England60.994
Wales54.597
Scotland42.192
Northern Ireland39.774

Temperature

Temperatures for the UK were around 1.5°C above average in November, which has contributed to the autumn season finishing around half a degree warmer than average. The warmest county relative to average was East Sussex with a mean temperature anomaly of +2.1 °C above average. Tyne and Wear was not far behind with a mean temperature of +1.9°C above average for the month.

Maximum temperature  Minimum temperature
Provisional November figuresActual °CDifference from Nov average °CActual °CDifference from Nov average °C 
UK10.71.54.81.5 
England11.51.65.31.5 
Wales11.01.45.01.1 
Scotland9.31.63.91.7 
Northern Ireland10.41.04.91.4 

You can get the most accurate and up to date forecast for your area using our forecast pages and by following us on Twitter and Facebook, as well as using our mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store. You can check the latest weather warnings on our severe weather warnings pages. 

For the latest guidance to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic please visit the UK Government’s coronavirus advice page. Those living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can access country-specific advice. 

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Tropical Deforestation – a log jam on the road to Net Zero?

With one year to go until COP26 in Glasgow, and today’s launch of Together For Our Planet, Met Office Chief Scientist Professor Stephen Belcher reviews the influence tropical deforestation is having on the journey to a resilient Net Zero through the significant role they play in balancing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, storing carbon and changing the water cycle.  

We all learn about the basic principles of photosynthesis at school, the importance of plants providing the oxygen we breathe and also how they absorb carbon dioxide. So, on a simple level we all understand how important the ‘lungs’ of the earth are to enable all forms of life. But plants are also playing an important role in global climate change and the challenge to keep warming to manageable levels.  

Tropical forests cover a remarkable area, something like 12% (17 million km2) of the earth’s land surface. With this scale they not only cycle vast amounts of the oxygen that supports life, but are also incredibly important sinks of carbon from our atmosphere. Around 200 gigatons of carbon are stored in tropical forest vegetation, with further carbon stored in soils. If the carbon in the standing timber were released it would be equivalent to emitting 667 gigatons of CO2, which is equivalent to all fossil emissions of CO2 since about 1997. And as atmospheric CO2 concentrations increase as a consequence of human activity, tropical forests are likely to act as stronger sinks for carbon.  

So, deforestation reduces the amount of carbon that forests can store, meaning that a higher proportion of future CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will remain in the atmosphere, leading to larger changes in climate. And deforestation is a double whammy: by cutting down these trees we also release CO2 emissions previously stored in the forest system. 

Deforestation also affects the climate by altering surface distribution of radiation, water and heat, so-called non-CO2 effects.

Tropical forest is often replaced by crops and pasture, which tend to be lighter in colour than forests, which means that after deforestation more sunlight is reflected from the land back into space. This reduced absorption of sunlight leads to cooling.  

However, when plants take in CO2 from the air they transpire, they lose water to the air, which carries heat away from the surface. Crops and grasses tend to transpire less than forests, meaning that after deforestation heat is less efficiently lost from the land surface and the surface climate is warmer. 

The numbers are delicate. At high latitudes deforestation causes a large cooling effect from increased reflection of sunlight and a small warming from reduced transpiration, resulting in a net cooling at the surface. However, in the tropics, where deforestation rates are currently highest, the transpiration affect is much larger, and deforestation causes a net warming at the surface. 

Although not as important on a global scale, these non-CO2 effects are one of the most important contributors to warming near the location of deforestation. This effect does have global implications because warmer local temperatures reduces the ability of the forest to absorb atmospheric CO2 by photosynthesis, leading to a warmer background global climate.  

There is also moisture recycling and land management to consider. For example, different crops can have varying responses to factors such as drought, and ploughing releases further CO2 emissions from the soil, reducing the carbon sink still further. Deforestation can also impact the rainfall in other parts of the forest, meaning they may not get the rainfall they need to stay healthy and resilient. It may even affect rainfall patterns elsewhere in the world.

It’s important to understand the scale. Statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that, at its peak, the rate of deforestation in the tropics reached 95,430 km2 per year. This has gradually decreased from 1990 to 2015, dropping to 55,200 km2 per year. But that is still around a football pitch every 4 seconds for the 2010-2015 period, or all of the forests in the UK gone in about 7 months! Concerningly deforestation of the Amazon has increased, particularly in 2019 which saw the highest rate in a decade.  

So what does this all mean in the context of net zero, the target that nations around the world are racing towards to balance up their carbon emissions and not contribute further to human induced climate change?  

Well, its first important to say that net zero will not be achieved through limiting tropical deforestation alone. Ultimately net zero can only be achieved by substantially reducing the use of fossil fuels. However, net zero will be made easier if tropical deforestation is limited.

While net zero is an important target, it is not only climate change that will benefit from stopping deforestation. Forests are important habitats, are culturally important and provide other ecosystem services. So there are a multitude of benefits from taking the same action.  

Positive steps are being taken. For example, Brazil’s stated Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UN’s climate change treaty includes eliminating illegal logging and restoring 120,000 km2 of forest by 2030. 

So what can science do to play a part? We need to quantify the effects of deforestation on climate, and work at the Met Office is doing just that. We have developed with UK academic partners the UK Earth System Model (UKESM1) to simulate two-way feedbacks between forests and climate, including the impacts of deforestation and the impact of climate change on forest resilience.  

Alongside this large-scale perspective, we are also working to better understand the small-scale processes that drive the processes, using the JULES land-surface model to simulate forests at key observational sites. Much of this work is being done under the CSSP Brazil program in partnership with Brazilian colleagues at INPE, INPA and CEMADEN, and with UK academic partners. 

Ultimately, we are using our earth system modelling to assess the impacts of future deforestation and mitigation on climate and to calculate carbon budgets that avoid the worst impacts of climate change. With this scientific information policy makers can make informed decisions on how they will act when it comes to deforestation.  

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A record-breaking year for Atlantic Tropical Storms

2020 is shaping up to be a year for weather records – a new record for the highest temperature reliably recorded on earth in Death Valley this summer, the most land scorched in a single year during the Californian wildfires and now the busiest season on record for Atlantic tropical storms. 

Julian Heming, Tropical Prediction Scientist at the Met Office said: “With the naming of Tropical Storm Theta earlier this week, the count for tropical storms in the Atlantic this season currently stands at 29, surpassing the previous record busiest year of 2005.   

“Indicating just how busy this year’s Atlantic hurricane season has been, forecasters were forced to use supplementary names from the Greek alphabet, after using up all names on the official National Hurricane Center list for 2020.  This has only ever happened once before in 2005.” 

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has also set a new record for the most consecutive years where the season started early. The season officially starts on 1st June, but this year Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha formed off the east coast of the USA in May, marking the sixth year in a row where the hurricane season started before the official start date. 

Commenting on the record-breaking year, Julian Heming continued: “From early in the season there were higher-than-average sea surface temperatures across much of the region and low vertical wind shear which allows storms to form more readily. 

“The latter condition is partially as a result of the La Niña which has now become established. In addition to the early start to the season, the latter part of the season (October and November) has been exceptionally active, which has helped drive the storm count to record levels.” 

There are currently indications that another storm could develop in the Caribbean Sea, so extending the record storm count. Whilst the season ends officially on 30 November, activity can continue beyond this date – particularly in active seasons. For example, in the previous record setting season of 2005 there were two storms in December.

You can get updates on the latest tropical cyclones by following @metofficestorms

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UK sees fifth wettest October since 1862

One thing for certain is that October 2020 will be remembered for being exceptionally wet for some areas of the UK. The unsettled weather following Storm Alex brought enough rain on 3rd October to make it the wettest day on record for UK-averaged rainfall (31.7 mm, beating the previous wettest day of 29.9 mm on 25th August 1986). Persistent rain between the 2nd and 4th across the whole UK led to many stations breaking records for daily rainfall totals, and many parts of England and eastern Scotland have largely exceeded their average rainfall for October, making October 2020 now rank as the 5th wettest October on record for the UK. 

The month finished as it began as two separate Atlantic low-pressure systems brought further heavy and persistent rain as well as strong south-westerly winds. Yellow warnings covered parts of north-west England, Wales and western parts of Scotland. The remnants of former hurricane Zeta brought strong winds to the UK, and a weather station in Sutherland recorded the strongest gusts in the month of 79mph on the 31st.  

Towards the end of the month a warm conveyor – a band of warm, moist air that gets carried aloft in a frontal weather system and leads to the formation of heavy and persistent rain – brought continual rain on a south-westerly flow to parts of the UK, especially high ground in the west, including Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia National Park and the Lake District. The forecasting of this feature led the Met Office to issue yellow warnings for heavy rain. 

Rainfall  

Tim Legg, a scientist from the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, commented: “Rainfall totals were near average in many western areas of the UK but well above average in some eastern areas including eastern Scotland, north-east England, the south Midlands, London and central southern England. Overall, the south-east of England has experienced the highest volume of rainfall with 188% (174.3 mm) of its monthly average and parts of London, south-east England and Aberdeenshire had double the average rainfall.” 

On a county level Oxfordshire experienced the highest volume of rainfall with 222% (160.5mm) of their monthly average. Closely followed by Greater London with 217% (158.1mm) of their monthly average. This month’s provisional figures show that this October for Greater London is the eighth wettest calendar month (in a series that starts in 1862), the fourth wettest October over the same period, and the wettest October in 20 years. November 1940 still holds the record for the wettest month in Greater London with 171.2mm of rainfall. 

The October rainfall in Moray, north-east Scotland, was greater than any October since records began in 1862. The area received 205% (200.6mm) of its average October rainfall, following low-pressure systems which were influenced by the decaying elements of Ex-Hurricanes Zeta and Epsilon. A weather station in Kinloss, Moray recorded 165.4mm of rain in the month, 232% of its average rainfall.  

Other regions that exceeded double their monthly average rainfall are Bedfordshire 204% (132.7mm), Berkshire 215% (168.1mm), Buckinghamshire 214% (159mm), Essex 211% (134mm), Hertfordshire 217% (159.2mm), Hampshire 205% (203.6mm), and Kincardineshire 211% (237.5mm).  

Durris, Kincardineshire received 112.4mm of rainfall in just one day on 3rd October (its wettest day on record), beating the previous record of 90.3mm on 21st October 2009. 

 Rainfall 
Provisional October figures Actual rainfall % of the October average    
UK 179.3mm 142 
England 140.6mm 154 
Wales 208.4mm 123 
Scotland 238.1mm 136 
Northern Ireland 165.7mm 139 

Temperature 

There has been an absence of warm days this month, with daytime temperatures mostly a little below average. There was a period of warmer moist tropical maritime air around the 20th and 21st, with a maximum temperature of 19 Celsius being recorded on the 20th at Kew Gardens in Greater London. Overall, temperatures have been mostly near or slightly below average, with daytime temperatures particularly suppressed relative to the seasonal average.  

The lowest minimum temperature recorded was –3.3 Celsius at Tyndrum, Perthshire in Scotland on the 15th and the highest temperature recorded was 19.1 Celsius at Writtle, Essex on the 8th.    

 Maximum temperature  Minimum temperature  
Provisional October Actual °C Difference from Oct average °C Actual °C Difference from Oct average °C 
figures     
UK 12.4 -0.4 6.4 0.2 
England 13.4 -0.5 7.2 0.3 
Wales 12.5 -0.6 6.9 0.2 
Scotland 10.7 -0.2 5.1 0.1 
Northern Ireland 12.4 -0.3 6.2 0.1 

Tim Legg said, “Gardeners would have expected to see at least one air frost in southern England in October, but the only recorded frosts this October were confined to northern regions.” 

Sunshine 

October for the UK as a whole was rather dull, seeing less than three-quarters of its average sunshine hours (72%). For the South of England in particular only 62% of the average sunshine was recorded. Northern Ireland has seen the most sunshine with 101% of its average for the month, with County Armagh receiving 108% (99.7 hours).  

Tim Legg in the Met Office National Climate Information Centre says, “Sunshine was well below average generally, most especially in East Anglia, but near average in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. For the UK as a whole this was the fifth wettest and also the fifth dullest October in the historical series, since 1862 and 1919 respectively”.  

 Sunshine Hours 
Provisional October figures Actual sunshine in hours % of the September average    
UK 66.0 72 
England 67.4 65 
Wales 62.9 68 
Scotland 60.2 80 
Northern Ireland 88.5 101 

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For the latest guidance to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic please visit the UK Government’s coronavirus advice page. Those living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can access country-specific advice. 

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State of the African Climate update and the importance of climate services

Every year the World Metrological Organization (WMO) publishes a range of reports examining the latest evidence on different meteorological and climatological factors. This year, a group of international specialists has produced a report specifically focusing on the State of the Climate in Africa, providing a snapshot of climate trends, observed high-impact events and associated risks and impacts in key sensitive sectors.

The Met Office was part of this group with scientists providing information on observed temperatures and detail on projections of what we could see in Africa in the future.   

John Kennedy, who works on climate monitoring at the Met Office, was involved in the development of the report:

Africa is a hugely diverse continent, with vastly different landscapes ranging from rainforests to savannahs and deserts. As we are seeing in other parts of the world, temperatures in Africa have been rising in recent decades. 2019 was most likely the third warmest year on record for the continent, behind 2010 and 2016. As a continent, Africa was between 0.56°C and 0.63°C above its long-term average (1981-2010) temperature in 2019. Some individual countries including South Africa and Namibia saw 2019 temperatures locally exceeding 2°C above average.

As well as rising heat, Africa was affected by numerous extreme weather events in 2019, including Tropical Cyclone Idai, which was among the most de­structive tropical cyclones ever recorded in the southern hemisphere with over 1,200 associated deaths in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Most areas of Africa, covering a wide range of climate zones, saw above average temperatures in 2019, but rainfall patterns were much more variable. In 2019, in Southern Africa severe drought affected many areas which had already suffered a prolonged drought from 2014 to 2016. Meanwhile, in the Greater Horn of Africa, conditions shifted from very dry in 2018 and the start of 2019 to floods and landslides associated with heavy rainfall in late 2019. Flooding also affected the Sahel and surrounding areas from May to October 2019.

WMO State of the Climate in Africa: Percentage of normal precipitation for October 2019 with respect to the 1951–2010 reference period, showing high precipitation across tropical Africa and low precipitation across the extra-tropics. Source: GPCC, Deutscher Wetterdienst, Germany.
WMO State of the Climate in Africa: Percentage of normal precipitation for October 2019 with respect to the 1951–2010 reference period, showing high precipitation across tropical Africa and low precipitation across the extra-tropics. Source: GPCC, Deutscher Wetterdienst, Germany.

While extreme events often depend on the chaotic whims of the weather, considered over longer periods – months, years, decades – we can discern patterns that allow us to understand and, in some cases, to predict them. While individual events can be forecast reliably only days in advance, long-term drivers can shift the odds of such events happening in a predictable way. The strong positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole was one such driver associated with the extreme rainfall in Eastern Africa late in 2019. As we look back over the past decades, the warming signal from increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasingly clear.

As climate change continues to influence our weather and climate extremes, to make sure we can make accurate projections for what sort of extremes we might see in the future it is vital to start any kind of research with an accurate foundation understanding of the area. To help with this, last year an international collaboration of scientists led by the Met Office developed the first convective-permitting regional climate model, known as CP4-Africa. This model enables scientists to look at much finer detail the kinds of rainfall extremes Africa could experience as our climate warms.

Lead author of the first paper on future climate change from the CP4-Africa simulations, Dr Elizabeth Kendon of the Met Office, explains that, “Very high resolution climate projections provide a glimpse into future weather and climate extremes over Africa. CP4-A suggests that over the Sahel and east Africa extreme heavy rainfall events that occur about once every 30 years now, may occur once every 3-4 years by the end of the century if emissions continue to rise throughout the 21st century under a high emissions scenario.

“Dry spells during the wet season exceeding 10 days in length are almost twice as frequent in the future compared to the present-day over parts of central and western Africa: a signal which is not seen in a coarser resolution 25km model.”

WMO State of the African Climate: Multi-model average forecasts of near surface temperature and precipitation for the five-year period 2020–2024. Colours show anomalies relative to the period 1981–2010 for the average of several international forecasts contributing to the WMO Lead Centre for ADCP (https://hadleyserver. metoffice.gov.uk/ wmolc/). Forecasts are initialised with observations and start on or after 1 November 2019. Source: Met Office, United Kingdom

It is well understood that Africa’s population and landscapes are vulnerable to extreme weather events. It is therefore important that we use our understanding to help those vulnerable communities prepare and adapt for future challenges as our climate changes.

Helen Bye is the Met Office’s Head of International Development and Principal Adviser to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO):

As detailed in the WMO 2019 State of the Climate in Africa report, Africa is vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change. Continuing to conduct climate research and improving climate modelling for the continent is vital to ensure the best possible understanding of the challenges ahead, in order to mitigate against and adapt to the impacts of climate change. This report also made reference to the need to strengthen multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS) and build capacity in the provision of climate services in Africa, and the WMO 2020 State of Climate Services report echoed this. According to the latest report, over the last 50 years 35% of deaths related to weather, climate and water extremes occurred in Africa and yet the continent has one of the weakest capacities in MHEWS.

At the Met Office we work with our global partnerships to help build capacity in weather and climate services, including in Africa. Those partnerships involve many and varied organisations, from the WMO, national and regional meteorological services, to non-governmental organisations, United Nations bodies and community initiatives. Critically our international development work takes a people-led approach, ensuring that the capacity building process is built around the needs of the users of weather and climate information.

The Risk-Informed Early Action Partnership, of which the Met Office is a founding member, contributed to the WMO 2020 State of Climate Services report and is an example of the global collaboration needed to bring about significant change. The partnership aims to make 1 billion people safer from weather and climate-related disasters by expanding early action financing and improving climate information and early warning systems and the capacity to act on the risks they identify.

One example of the benefits of MHEWS highlighted in the WMO 2020 State of Climate Services report (page 35) is on the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) HIGHWAY project, funded by the FCDO. Led by the WMO with partners including the Met Office, this project worked with the national meteorological services of countries bordering Lake Victoria to develop a regional Early Warning System (EWS). 3000 to 5000 deaths occur in the Lake Victoria Basin every year due to navigation accidents caused by strong winds and high waves also tragically resulting in loss of livelihood for their dependents. Data from the project suggests that there has been an approximately 30% reduction in deaths since the introduction of the EWS. You can learn more in this BBC World Service podcast (8:45-15:05).

The local challenges faced on Lake Victoria led to the development of this EWS, and the people-led approach I mentioned along with an understanding of the risk factors is key to improving or developing new weather and climate services in Africa. Different African countries and regions face different weather and climate challenges, so the weather and climate community and partners need to continue to translate robust science into relevant and timely services which enable people to take action to stay safe and thrive.

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