UK Winter Storms 2015

From a report describing UK weather in 1998….

The New Year brought no let up in the strong winds and heavy rain. A particular storm system formed in the mid Atlantic on Sat 3rd that deepened very significantly and its low pressure track was set to cross the central part of the UK. Severe weather warning were issues for high winds which the capability of reaching 100 mph.

On Sun 4th as the main body of rain cleared away to the East, anyone caught on the Southern flank of this low pressure was going to witness some strong winds during the day. The wind gusts were typically reaching 90 mph on exposed Southern and Western coasts but even inland away from coastal areas, gusts of wind were reaching 70 mph. It was not quite on the scale of the Great Storm of October 1987 but was the worst one to hit the UK since the Burns Day Storm in January 1990. I can not recall how much damage it did but certainly a few trees were blown down.

The next weather system pushed through on Mon 5th and this brought a short period of heavy rain with some snow on Northern hills but as front cleared away brought a whole new set of weather related issues.

With the atmosphere very unstable, heavy and violent thunderstorms were forming in the English Channel and off the Western coast of the country. With the strong winds that seem to continue to blow across the country during this period, pushed this heavy showers and thunderstorms right through. There were not too many on Tues 6th but were more frequent and widespread on Wed 7th.

That evening, a particularly potent band of heavy showers and thunderstorms formed in the English channel, most notably off the Isle of Wight. These drifted inland a spawned a few water-spouts and tornadoes, one of which did widespread damage on the coast at Selsey Bill in West Sussex. Heavy rain and hailstorms were witnessed along the South coast with some very strong gusts of winds

By the weekend of 9th/10th, the weather settled down a little and crossing Atlantic systems did not have the vigorous intensity of some of its predecessors. An anticyclone moved in from the Azores and settled down over Central Europe maintaining South Westerly winds across the country.

There were several occasions during the remainder of January that temperatures were regularly climbing up to 17 centigrade. In the sunshine, this felt very warm and almost spring like and it was very unusual to experience temperatures as high as this so early on in the year. The issues about Spring starting earlier in the year surfaced and many daffodils started to flower. Many cynics were pointing their fingers that global warming was happening on an unprecedented scale but more realistically, these very warm conditions were due to the effects of the very strong El Nino in the Pacific Ocean that had formed during 1997.

This description of UK weather from January 1998, is the last time we had a large El Niño like the one evolving in the Pacific right now. You can read the report for December 1997 and February 1998 here. Try this for February:

Temperatures climbed well into the teens on Mon 9th and eventually peaked at just under 20 centigrade in many areas on Fri 13th.

To my mind there can be little doubt that the principal cause of our recent storms, rainfall and mild weather  is the El Niño, an event known to cause “aberrant” weather around the globe.

The 1997/8 and 2015/16 El Niños

The upper panel shows the sea surface temperature anomalies (SST) from 30 December 1997. The lower panel 31 December 2015. The El Niño is that cone of warm water stretching westwards from Equatorial S America. The distribution of warm and cool water is broadly similar, surprisingly so in my opinion. The main difference I can see is in the N Pacific that is warmer today. The cool phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation was building back in 1997. Paul Homewood has a Layman’s Guide to El Niño for those who want to know more.

Warmer air holds more water vapour

While the BBC / Met Office weather forecasts have only rarely mentioned the El Niño as an explanation for our winter storms, they are eager to spout that warm air holds more water vapour. The only temperature – time series that captures the temperature of most of the troposphere is the satellite microwave sounding unit that captures temperature from surface up to 350hPA – about 26,600 ft. Surface thermometer temperatures have absolutely no bearing on the upper troposphere’s ability to hold water vapour. Most people who are reading this blog will know that the satellite temperature record shows little to no warming since 1997. Hence claims for warmer air lying behind this winter rainfall appear to be unfounded.

Storm Frank and Scottish flooding

Storm Frank lashed western Scotland and our mountain areas. All of our major rivers are in flood. The River Dee, that empties into the sea in Aberdeen has been particularly bad, overflowing its banks and flooding several towns. Ballater, near the Queen’s castle at Balmoral, was particularly badly hit. I have two friends whose houses have been flooded. My sympathy goes out to them and all others affected by flooding this year. But be wary who you blame. Everyone who owns a house on a flood plain must expect to be flooded some time. The flood plain is there because it floods.

Roger and I wish everyone a prosperous New Year.

The River Dee and historic Cambus O’May suspension bridge battered by debris on 30 December. Damaged but still standing today.

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22 Responses to UK Winter Storms 2015

  1. Mike Ghirelli says:

    ” Surface thermometer temperatures have absolutely no bearing on the upper troposphere’s ability to hold water vapour. Most people who are reading this blog will know that the satellite temperature record shows little to no warming since 1997. Hence claims for warmer air lying behind this winter rainfall appear to be unfounded.”

    Can’t agree with what you say here. It is of course true that surface temperatures have no direct bearing on upper troposphere temperatures and therefore on the capacity for upper troposphere air to carry water vapour. However, the lower troposphere in contact with ocean surfaces can and does vary in temperature, and wil absorb water vapour evaporated from the ocean in very large quantities if the air is warmer. There is no doubt that the air masses moving across the UK and Ireland this autumn and winter have been warmer than in past years – December 2016 in Britain has been recorded as the warmest since records began – and therefore this lower troposphere air has been able to carry substantial amounts of water vapour over the British isles. The condition of warm moist air lying beneath cooler drier air favours atmospheric instability, in which rising air (rising both because of orographic effects and frontal lifting) cools so that condensation occurs, thereby releasing latent heat into the atmosphere. The consequence is that the rising saturated air continues to rise through the cooler drier air to very great heights until the top of the troposphere- the rate of temperature decline with increasingal latitude is called the adiabatic lapse rate – while at the same time dumping great quantities of rainfall, more especially over the western hills and mountains of Scotland, Cumbria and the Pennines, and Wales and Ireland. Whenever conditions occur of moist warm air lying beneath drier cooler air, adiabatic lapse rates in rising air will be lower than the environmental lapse rates of the surrounding air, favouring atmospheric instability and high rates of precipitation. It is therefore perfectly valid for the Met Office to simplify the whole process in a brief one sentence news bite and to “spout” that warm air holds more water vapour” and to relate this to the Cumbria-Pennine-Southern Scotland floods.

    This is not to say that el Nino cannot be related to an intensification of extreme precipitation events around the globe and specifically ober the British isles. An El Nino year sees the release of massive amounts of heat into the atmosphere from the ocean, which has consequences for the general circulation of the atmosphere as a whole and thus for weather regimes around the planet, including for our little corner of the globe – why has this been the warmest autumnn/early winter ever recorded over the adjacent Atlantic ocean?. The question that needs to be asked is whether el Nino events themselves are becoming more intense, perhaps as a result of global warming. The release of masses of heat from the east Pacific into the atmosphere prompts the question of where that heat stored in the ocean came from i n the first place. The evidence is that most of the incoming solar origin heat trapped in the earth system has been stored in the oceans rather than in the atmosphere. Global warming has seen more a rise in ocean temperatures than atmospheric temperatures. It may be that the increased amounts of heat in the oceans may result in increased release of that heat in el Nino events, and that el Nino events are likely in the future to increase in intensity and perhapse frequency, with unpleasant consequences for flood prone regieons of Britain and Ireland. Note that I say MAY.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hi Mike, you seem to be rather well-informed. So can you please point me at the 4D global ocean temperature data that supports this statement:

      The evidence is that most of the incoming solar origin heat trapped in the earth system has been stored in the oceans rather than in the atmosphere.

      The only system I’m aware of that could provide this data is the Argo Buoys. Deployed in the last 15 years, there is quite simply not sufficient time to support your statement. So what evidence is it that you refer to?

      Sea levels do indeed show that oceans are warming, but that trend began pre-industrial.

      • Mike Ghirelli says:

        You ask me for the evidence of various points I propose, and in a response below, suggest that i have not come back to you because no such evidence exists. In fact, I do not come back to you immediately because I do not live in front of my computer, do do other things with my life, and do sometimes go to bed, so no immediate response can be forthcoming. Now, with all respect, you know as well as I do that there is a great deal of data that is used to justify the claims that heat energy from insolation has been mainly stored in the oceans rather than in the atmosphere. It would be tedious snd time consuming to repeat all this mass of data in this blog, with the inevitable disputes between us that would ensue so I shall not do so. The simple point is that this mass of data will be rejected as evidence by yourself as many others do (and I do not question your rigour or integrity on this – I accept this is an honest position), just as it will be regarded as evidence by others like myself (who are equally honest and rigorous), and frankly, I do not think that either of us will be moved from our different positions. I will propose to you these additional points which assuredly you would dispute.

        There has assuredly been a rise in upper ocean temperatures over the past few decades. Before the gathering of data from argo buoys, estimates of ocean temperatures will be based on more imperfect sources such as recorded temperatures from ships’ log books. Graphs of sea level rise over the period from the earlier nineteenth century will show 3 standard deviation range in values much greater than over the period post c1970, but still indicate an increase, and possibly increasing rate of increase, in ocean temperatures.

        There was a rapid and substantial rise in sea level following the end of the last glaciations and the consequent melting of the continental ice sheets that covered much of N America and Asia. After c 8000 years before the present, the sea level has continued to follow a long term trend of more moderate rise, though isostatic adjustment may result an apparent fall in sea level locally in for example Scandinavia and the Baltic etc. The graph below might suggest that the rate of sea level rise has increased since mid nineteenth century, which coincides with the spread of industrialism from the UK through Europe and N America based on burning fossil fuel (coal initially). The rise in sea level may be variously attributed to the thermal expsnsion of the oceans, and/or to additions of glacial meltwater from especially greenland and Antarctica. These in turn could be linked to global warming processes and the increased rates of fossil fuel burning since the start of the Industrial revolution.

        I shall repeat the point that I made earlier in a posting: you will note that for the most part I use verbs such as MAY, COULD BE, MIGHT BE. I acknowldge that the data may be interpreted in different ways and may be or may not be evidence.

    • oldfossil says:

      There are three lapse rates involved.

      One is the environmental lapse rate. That’s the actual measure of temperature vs height at a given place at a given time. It varies quite strongly up to about 3000 metres but then becomes fairly uniform.

      The second is the dry adiabatic lapse rate. This is warm air rising because of a temperature differential and thus a pressure differential vs the environmental lapse rate. The DALR is around 1K per 1000 metres.

      All this changes when the rising air cools to the dew point when it becomes saturated. The saturated adiabatic lapse rate or SALR is about half the DALR. The air cools slower and the temperature/pressure differential is greater. Saturated warm air rises dramatically to heights of 12000 metres and more. That’s what creates cu-nims.

      Mike I support your very common-sensical suggestion that ENSO and GW may be related. Warmer global temperatures could lead to stronger or weaker El Ninos, or have no effect. As far as I can make out even Bob Tisdale doesn’t have an answer here. Here in South Africa we are going through the worst heat wave I can remember in my almost 65 years; although I am a profound climate sceptic I do not rule out a positive feedback.

      • Mike Ghirelli says:

        Thganks Old Fossil. You are quite right, and I should have been more specific in distinguidhing between the dry adiabatic lapse rate and the saturated adiabatic lapse rate, as well as the environmental lapse rate. It is the relationship between the SALR and the ELR that is significant in favouring atmospheric instability and rapid convectional uplift.

    • This is not to say that el Nino cannot be related to an intensification of extreme precipitation events around the globe and specifically ober the British isles.

      In October last year I looked into this question in this post
      http://euanmearns.com/where-el-nino-makes-it-rain-and-where-it-doesnt/

      The post contained this graphic showing percent changes in average annual rainfall in different parts of the world when a strong El Niño was running:
      .

      The station in the UK showing a 1% increase is Manchester.

      I think this answers the question.

  2. climanrecon says:

    Warmer air holding more water vapour is a red herring when it comes to rainfall, but has clearly played a major role in keeping up nighttime temperatures via the greenhouse and condensation effects, as there has been a distinct lack of clear nights.

    Evaporation from sea water depends only on the temperature of the water, and at equilibrium the rainfall/condensation rate must equal the evaporation rate, so the air temperature doesn’t come into the rainfall rate directly, though it does indicate the vital temperature of the water that was the source of the water vapour.

    The tendency to blame everything on “Climate Change” is very dangerous for those living in homes prone to flooding. Every water catchment/drainage area needs its own “systems” approach to the problem, in which “Climate Change” can probably be totally ignored to a very good first approximation.

  3. Joe Public says:

    @ climanrecon:

    “Evaporation from sea water depends only on the temperature of the water, ….”

    Not according to WikiP:

    Concentration of the substance evaporating in the air
    If the air already has a high concentration of the substance evaporating, then the given substance will evaporate more slowly.
    Concentration of other substances in the air
    If the air is already saturated with other substances, it can have a lower capacity for the substance evaporating.[citation needed]
    Flow rate of air
    This is in part related to the concentration points above. If “fresh” air (i.e., air which is neither already saturated with the substance nor with other substances) is moving over the substance all the time, then the concentration of the substance in the air is less likely to go up with time, thus encouraging faster evaporation. This is the result of the boundary layer at the evaporation surface decreasing with flow velocity, decreasing the diffusion distance in the stagnant layer.
    Inter-molecular forces
    The stronger the forces keeping the molecules together in the liquid state, the more energy one must get to escape. This is characterized by the enthalpy of vaporization.
    Pressure
    Evaporation happens faster if there is less exertion on the surface keeping the molecules from launching themselves.
    Surface area
    A substance that has a larger surface area will evaporate faster, as there are more surface molecules per unit of volume that are potentially able to escape.
    Temperature of the substance
    the higher the temperature of the substance the greater the kinetic energy of the molecules at its surface and therefore the faster the rate of their evaporation.

    [My bold]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporation

    “…..and at equilibrium the rainfall/condensation rate must equal the evaporation rate,…..”

    True. But one of the main issues is how far that moisture is transported before it falls as rain. If it is dumped earlier or later in its transport cycle, it may cause extra disruption.

    • climanrecon says:

      Thanks Joe, I used the word “evaporation” to mean only molecules leaving the water, such molecules don’t know or care about what the air is doing. WikiP uses evaporation to mean NET loss of water, i.e. including condensation, the rate of which of course depends on how much water vapour is in the air.

  4. Elvis says:

    The only temperature – time series that captures the temperature of most of the troposphere is the satellite microwave sounding unit that captures temperature from surface up to 350hPA – about 26,600 ft. Surface thermometer temperatures have absolutely no bearing on the upper troposphere’s ability to hold water vapour. Most people who are reading this blog will know that the satellite temperature record shows little to no warming since 1997. Hence claims for warmer air lying behind this winter rainfall appear to be unfounded.

    As Mike pointed out above, all that warm wet air moving over the UK did indeed hold more water than if it had been cooler. That is incontrovertible. But my reading of your text, quoted above, is that you are talking about global temperatures. In other words, that the floods in the UK cannot be down to increased global tropospheric temperatures because by some measure they have not changed.

    Many people reading man “know” that the satellite temperature record shows little to no warming since 1997, but the situation is complicated.

    Measuring the tropospheric temperature using satellite MSUs is not simple. You can look at the calibration curves for different altitudes on wiki and imagine how you might separate the parts of the signal that interests you from the rest (the method used by UAH is, I believe, not public, so you have to imagine it). But a letter to Lamar Smith from Richard Swanson gives some background on the difficulty (it is a long read but worth it).

    Another issue is that of adjustment to the data. Surface temperature adjustments often provoke outrage but the adjustment between UAH 6 and UAH 5.6 was really rather large.

    In addition to satellite data there is also the radiosonde data (mentioned in the paper you linked to and used I think in the calibration of satallite data processing). The RATPAC data was recently analyzed by statistician Grant Foster and found not to show a lack of warming. He also shows that RATPAC and RSS diverged significantly from about 2000.

    This should be enough to make anyone question what they really know about troposheric temperatures.

  5. singletonengineer says:

    Thanks, all, for your thoughtful, careful discussion.

    As one with little background in these matters, it is a pleasure to spend a few minutes contemplating the nature and complexity of something about which I know so little.

    Many other discussion threads on this subject ( eg The Guardian) would simply degenerate into a slanging match from the outset.

    So, somewhat belatedly, thanks to Euan and Roger for their efforts during 2015. I look forward to 2016’s offerings.

  6. burnsider says:

    Perhaps I should change my monicker to singletonchemist! Singletonengineer above sums up my feelings about the Energy Matter blog very nicely. The discussion is always gentlemanly (or should that be ‘personly’) and the content interesting.

    I discern an underlying agenda of course, but science is ‘seeking after truth’ and has always progressed by the exploration of real and apparent inconsistencies when theories are tested against the available data (eg phlogiston theory and the discovery of oxygen in the late 18th century, to use a chemistry example). I am now retired, but I spent a number of years doing R&D and know full well that experiments don’t always work out the way you expect. A number of theories went on the scrapheap over the years, believe me.

    I bumped into a former colleague in the supermarket a few months ago and she reminded me of something that summed things up nicely (and which I had totally forgotten). She had been doing some lab work under my supervision and the results were totally at variance with what was expected. She expressed disappointment with the outcome but I apparently was upbeat and said ‘There is no such thing as bad data – you always learn something’. A cororally of this, I suppose, is that you should never cherry-pick data to prove a point.

    Fortunately, Science usually wins in the end and the truth (or our best current perception of it) floats to the top. Climate science is no exception in this respect.

    Finally, a very Happy New Year to everyone who follows Energy Matters!

    • Euan Mearns says:

      What if the clinching evidence comes in the form of 6 weeks of sub -10˚C weather in N Scotland. Hunterstone gone, Torness tripped, hundreds of turbines iced up and broken, power lines down, frozen water supplies and burst pipes everywhere, sea ice forming around the coast and 10,000 pensioners dead?

      And another thing to ponder in the quest for Science winning through. With top down climate and energy policy from the UN, EU, UK and Scottish governments, my perception is that it is impossible to get funding to explore the arguments that run counter to policy. Supporting only one side has resulted in the current polarised impasse. 97% of those paid to support policy, support policy 😉

      Anyway, have a good one Burnsider, it does take two sides to have a decent debate!

      • burnsider says:

        I saw a TV programme a couple of years ago about mammoths, etc during and after the last ice age. What did for them as the climate warmed on the tundra was more snowfall, making access to the lichens and grasses which sustained them more difficult. During the ice age, the air was much colder and drier (ie held less moisture), but, as the climate warmed, the additional moisture that the air could hold resulted in increased snowfall. Either last winter or the winter before, there was very heavy snowfall in the Scottish hills because of a moist SW airstream causing snowfall rather than the more usual drier northerly version.

        I think the dire scenario that you describe above is ‘weather’ rather than ‘climate’ btw. There will always be extremes of weather, but if the frequency of the extremes changes significantly, this indicates that the underlying statistical distribution of weather events is changing also. 1976 was ‘the hottest summer for 200 years’, but the mid 18th century was in the middle of the Little Ice Age, so extreme heat can obviously occur in the midst of general cold and vice versa and both are just as relevant to the assessment of the overall trend(s)

        • Euan Mearns says:

          There has been about 60 glaciations in the last 3 million years with 60 inter glacials like we are in now. The mammoths survived all this turmoil until the current interglacial when not just mammoths but a large number of Holocene mega faunas went extinct. Did the Irish Elk go extinct because of snow in Siberia covering grass in Ireland or was there another cause?

          • burnsider says:

            The point I was making was more about the rather counterintuitive increase in snowfall as the climate warmed, due to increased atmospheric moisture content. A quick look in Wikipedia suggests that scholarly opinion is somewhat divided regarding arctic megafauna extinction after the last Ice Age. It may have been due to climatic factors, human predation or a combination of the two, apparently

      • Elvis says:

        Euan:

        What if the clinching evidence comes in the form …

        What would that be evidence of?

        burnsider:

        … you should never cherry-pick data to prove a point.

        It is the other way round, surely. You can never prove a point by cherry-picking data. All cherry-picking can do is fool yourself and maybe others.

  7. Euan Mearns says:

    A couple of general points….

    When the BBC or Met Office bangs on about warmer air holding more moisture their intention is to imply that the storms and floods are somehow linked to global warming. When in fact the obvious candidate is the El Nino. Now I’m not going to dispute that the impact of the El Nino may be augmented by global warming – but I’d like to see the evidence for it. Unfortunately Mike Ghirelli hasn’t come back with the evidence, and I’m not surprised because I don’t think any exists.

    Similarly, in banging on about new records being set for temperature and rainfall, the Met Office and BBC are promoting their line on global warming. But tell what does a record December temperature mean with a highly meandering jet stream and temperatures alternating between +20 and +2˚C depending upon the wind direction and which side of the jet stream you’re on?

    And I have to admit to being a bit confused about the warmer air argument since a lot of the precipitation falls as snow in Scotland. The number of permanent snow fields are rising.

  8. gmlindsay says:

    To my mind, your paragraph above says it all (repeated below) – this whole global warming/climate change has developed back asswards – firstly a theory (higher CO2, higher global temperature), then politicisation via the UN/IPCC through to individual governments ultimately achieving religious like stature, followed by an unprecedented level of state sponsored “research” aimed at proving that politicians are/were correct! Now that factual evidence (as shown by satellite measurement) does not comply with the initial theory and consequent politics, there is a wholly unedifying army of state funded, so called climate scientists trying to generate (at state expense) reasons for this disparity – with many wild (and quite ludicrous) claims and assertions. In this environment it is not surprising that state grants to fund counter view research is virtually non existent (how can politicians ever admit that they were wrong?) This whole fiasco is doing science no favours whatsoever and may well have damaged the image of scientists for years to come: Here’s Euan’s statement with which I fully concur. “”””And another thing to ponder in the quest for Science winning through. With top down climate and energy policy from the UN, EU, UK and Scottish governments, my perception is that it is impossible to get funding to explore the arguments that run counter to policy. Supporting only one side has resulted in the current polarised impasse. 97% of those paid to support policy, support policy””

  9. E.J. Mohr says:

    I’m just going to add that there is no data in support of any significant ocean warming. The Argo data initially showed nothing, if memory serves, and then the data was adjusted since certain Argo floats were thought to be under reporting temperatures. You can read more on the latest here:

    http://wp.me/p7y4l-xGM

    As for winter storms I am going to assume that this is El Nino and not AGW since all the last El Nino’s where I sit – in Western Canada – have had stormy weather just like this year.

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