11 Mar 2013

The snowstorm that missed southern England by 100 miles

Having been forecasting and broadcasting the weather for a decade, I’ve seen lots of weather during my tenure – ranging from the last year’s floods to the very snowy month of December 2010.

I’ve now reached a point where I can look at a weather chart and rank it against a catalogue of past weather events in my head. Most of them slot in nicely somewhere on the list, but on occasion, there is the odd one that sends a shiver down my spine.

At the end of last week, there were consistent signs from the weather computer models that some very cold air for this time of year – close to or if not the coldest of the winter – was going to blast its way across us early this week.

That was the bit that us weather folk were sure about. However, the bit that we weren’t very sure about was the element that would have the greatest impact – snow.

Late last week, there were hints that an area of low pressure would move eastwards through the English Channel, interacting with the blast of very cold air and producing snow.

Whilst the confidence for this low pressure to form was reasonable, the problem lay with how developed it would be and which path it would take. Each successive run of the weather computer models produced a different outcome.

The range of outcomes in terms of track and intensity was huge – ranging from little snow to a full on snowstorm and affecting an area anywhere from southern England to northern France.

During the weekend, the potential potency of the low pressure moving eastwards somewhere between southern England and northern France became clearer. In the worst affected areas, the snowstorm would deliver a widespread 15-30cm of snow, with some places seeing 40-50cm.

It wasn’t only the snow that was likely to be severe – the wind strength was too. A steady east to north easterly gale with gusts of 50-60mph would give blizzard conditions and cause major drifting of any snow on the ground.

Thankfully, during Saturday afternoon, confidence grew that it wouldn’t be southern England bearing the brunt of this snowstorm, but northern France (mainly Normandy) and the Channel Islands – where by the end of Tuesday, some places will be knee-deep in snow.

On this occasion, southern England has been spared, albeit only by 100 miles, with just the outer periphery of the storm brushing southern coastal counties, where 2-5cm, locally 5-10cm could fall during the next 24 hours.

For the rest of the UK, snow will come in the form of heavy showers streaming in off the North Sea, with eastern areas worst affected. Again, these areas could see 2-5cm, locally 5-10cm.

Another feature of the weather today is the wind. With temperatures not getting above 0C combined with gusts of wind of 35-50mph, it is going to feel bitterly cold with major wind chill.

In addition, for the next couple of nights, severe frosts will be widespread, with temperatures down to around -5C in towns and cities, but as low as -10C in the countryside.

Following a wintry start to the week, there are signs that it will turn less cold on Thursday as a westerly wind brings milder air in from the Atlantic. But for now, winter is firmly in charge.

Don’t forget, you can get the latest forecast on the Channel 4 Weather website and I’ll be posting regular updates on Twitter – @liamdutton

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