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.