'Polar vortex 'could bring coldest winter for years to UK

"Disturbed" stratospheric Arctic winds are predicted


Winter weather Jan 10th 2016

Get ready to wrap up warm - the chances of a freezing start to winter are the highest they've been for five years, experts have warned.

Changes in Arctic conditions and "unusual" tropical rainfall patterns mean the likelihood of temperatures plunging from November is up to 30%, according to the Met Office.

The chances of early cold snaps are the highest since the winter of 2010/2011, which saw the coldest December for 100 years, the agency said.

But despite the bone-chilling forecast, it is still too early to predict whether Britons should prepare for snowy, wet or dry conditions for the next three months.

Professor Adam Scaife, head of long-range prediction at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said it was still "statistically...more likely that the UK will experience a normal start to winter".

But he added: "The risk of a cold start to winter has increased to 30% this year.

"Several factors, including tropical rainfall, are known to drive UK and European winter conditions: following a strong El Nino last year, the tropics are now influenced by a weak La Nina and unusual rainfall conditions in the Indian Ocean.

"Historical weather observations and our latest computer model simulations agree that these factors are increasing the risk of a cold start to winter for the UK, but this is unlikely to persist through winter as a whole."

Credits: LNP


The key factors leading to colder temperatures include "disturbed" stratospheric Arctic winds known as the polar vortex, which affects the jet stream, and a La Nina, the opposite of an El Nino, bringing lower temperatures in the tropics.

But the Met Office pointed out there was still a 70% chance of milder temperatures, in the wake of a balmy Halloween that saw the mercury hit 18C.

Following a reversal in expected atmospheric patterns in February this year, the prevailing westward winds could increase the chances of warm and wet conditions.

Forecasters reached the long-range prediction after feeding their analysis of those factors into a computer model, with the result higher than the expected 20% probability suggested by a 30-year rolling average up to 2010.

Professor Scaife said: "Statistically, however, it is still more likely that the UK will experience a normal start to winter, but there is an increased risk of cold snaps between now and Christmas, although this doesn't necessarily mean we will get large amounts of snow."

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Credits: LNP


Meanwhile, a study published in October suggested warming in the Arctic is influencing the jet stream, a high-altitude corridor of fast-moving air.

It is thought this could have caused severe cold snaps such as the record snowfall in New York during the winter of 2014/15, and unusually cold winters in the UK in 2009/10 and 2010/11.

The winter of 2010 saw the UK's coldest December in records stretching back 100 years.

Studies have shown that when the jet stream follows a "wavy" irregular path there are more cold weather fronts plunging south from the Arctic into mid-latitudes, bringing freezing conditions that persist for weeks at a time.

Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place on Earth

Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place on Earth