Why Britain could face an exceptionally cold winter

Long-term forecasting is fraught with difficulty, but some scientists believe the warm Arctic autumn may portend a severe winter in northern Europe

This year winter arrived early in the UK, with temperatures plunging well below freezing before November was even out. So is an extra cold winter on the cards?

Forecasting months ahead is fraught with difficulty, but some scientists believe that the warm autumn in the Arctic may portend a cold winter for North America and northern Europe.

As summer came to a close, Arctic sea-ice melted to its second lowest extent on record, allowing ocean waters to release more heat to the atmosphere. By November temperatures in the Arctic had rocketed to a staggering 20 degrees higher than average.

Much of that heat has raised temperatures in the stratosphere, and this is likely to weaken the Arctic polar vortex – the large low pressure region over the north pole.

Research by climate scientists Judah Cohen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Jennifer Francis from Rutgers University, indicate that a weakened polar vortex leads to a weakened jet stream – the fast, high-level westerly winds that bring storms to the UK. And when the jet stream weakens it becomes more wavy, and prone to getting stuck in position, bringing long periods of similar weather.

Already we’ve started off with unusually cold temperatures and heavy snowfall over Eurasia, and weirdly warm temperatures over north America. Previously Cohen has shown that heavy Siberian snowfall in October is often linked to colder than normal winters in Europe and the northeastern US.

This year there is the exceptional 2016 El Nino to add to the mix, but Cohen is tentatively forecasting something similar to the severe winter of 2009/10.


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The ifs and buts of long-term weather forecasting
Weatherwatch: Predicting the weather more than 30 days ahead is fraught with difficulty. But that doesn’t stop meteorologists trying

Paul Brown

31, Oct, 2016 @9:30 PM

Article image
Why the Arctic waters are reluctant to freeze
Weatherwatch An exceptionally rapid melt this summer has led to unusually high water temperatures in the Arctic Sea, slowing the progress of fresh ice formation

Kate Ravilious

14, Nov, 2016 @9:30 PM

Article image
World weatherwatch: Nor'easter whips against US as cyclones slam South Pacific
Havoc as heavy snow affects US east coast, cyclones brush New Zealand and Arctic sea ice melts

Ashley Nelis (MetDesk)

14, Mar, 2018 @9:30 PM

Article image
Caught in the crosshairs by the cool blob
Kate Ravilious on how the UK’s storms can be tracked to El Niño, a wavy jet stream and a cold Atlantic patch linked to melting Greenland ice

Kate Ravilious

30, Dec, 2015 @9:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: ‘spicier’ Arctic Ocean is causing alarm
Experts say warmer, saltier water caused by rising temperatures may have profound impact on sea ice

David Hambling

10, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Sediments hold a record of ancient winds
Weatherwatch Scientists have uncovered a 17,000-year history of shifting winds sitting at the bottom of a New Zealand lake bed

Kate Ravilious

25, May, 2017 @8:30 PM

Article image
Ships' fumes a trigger for more lightning strikes
Weatherwatch Exhaust emissions blamed for changing storm clouds and generating lightning nearly twice as often directly above busy shipping lanes than in ocean areas nearby

Kate Ravilious

19, Sep, 2017 @8:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: La Niña strikes out on its forceful voyage round the globe
Unusually cold patches of the Pacific ocean are again on the move, threatening to disrupt weather patterns worldwide

Jeremy Plester

16, Nov, 2017 @9:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: Ophelia's arrival hints at a new vulnerability for Europe
An off-the-charts hurricane that tracked to Ireland points to climate change pushing ‘tropical oceans’ northward and putting the continent in the firing line

Paul Brown

19, Oct, 2017 @8:30 PM

Article image
Arctic ice forecasters help subs come up for air
Weatherwatch As the ice melts, the race is on to exploit Arctic resources. And that means more claustrophobic submarine operations

David Hambling

02, Feb, 2017 @9:30 PM