Why were there no named winter storms this year?

A large wave crashing on the shore in Newhaven

A large wave crashing on the shore in Newhaven

By February, the Met Office would normally have around three storms in the UK – just like Arwen, Barra and Callum. But so far this fall and winter, there hasn’t been a single one.

Weather patterns were calmer across the Atlantic and towards north-west Europe. But why?

There are a number of factors at play – and the forces behind this year’s lack of storms were also key in December’s cold snap.

In previous years, the first named storm occurred in early December. And by the end of January, three storms would normally have formed, causing impacts on the UK.

Storms can put lives at risk and cause damage worth millions of pounds due to strong winds, heavy rain and even significant snowfall.

The busiest autumn/winter season was 2015-16, when eight named storms hit the UK by early February.

Number of named storms each year since 2015-16.  .  .

Number of named storms each year since 2015-16. . .

During February 2022, three storms were named within a week. Dudley, Eunice and Franklin affected hundreds of thousands of homes.

The insurance payouts resulting from the three storms were close to £500 million, according to the Association of British Insurers.

Storm Eunice was one of the worst storms to hit the UK in 30 years, with rare red warnings issued across south Wales and southern England.

Eunice was also responsible for the new English wind gust record of 122mph at The Needles on the Isle of Wight.

Windstorms in the UK are usually the result of small depressions in an active jet stream (a tract of strong winds about 30-40,000 feet up in our atmosphere) over the Atlantic centered on north-west Europe.

In certain circumstances, atmospheric conditions can create an explosive cyclogenesis – or weather bomb – just to the west of the UK, which could bring the most damaging winds.

The Met Office and Ireland’s Met Éireann started naming storms in 2015, with the idea of ​​being able to communicate the dangers and warnings associated with them.

The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) joined the initiative in 2019 and also adds names to the list.

Why so quiet this season?

Last year, our autumn – which, meteorologically speaking, runs from September to November – was the third warmest on record.

Although rainfall increased after a very dry spring and summer, it was only slightly above average.

At the beginning of winter, December was the first month in 18 when the average temperature went below average.

A snowy riverside scene

Colder weather brought snow in December 2022

December’s cold fall was partly due to what is known as a “blocking weather pattern”. At the time, this pattern was over Western Europe, preventing weather systems from reaching the UK.

The UK’s lack of named storms this season is likely due to the location of the polar jet stream, a ribbon of strong winds high in the atmosphere that creates and drives weather systems across the Atlantic to north-west Europe.

Other parts of Europe had more storms than usual. There were eight in the group named south-west Europe, including France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium.

Part of the reason for the cold snap in the UK may be that a naturally occurring climate pattern known as La Nina – meaning large-scale cooling in the Pacific Ocean – is in its third year running. This is called “triple dipping”.

In this phase, UK winters tend to be colder and milder at the start and then transition to milder, wetter and windier weather towards the end of the season.

Experts believe that rising global temperatures mean that La Nina and El Nino events – the opposite of La Nina – will become more common by 2030.

What about the rest of the winter?

The current forecast suggests that high pressure will keep things relatively settled for most of the UK for the first week of February.

Any wet and windy weather will be confined to northern areas of the UK.

The weather forecast for more than a week ahead is usually uncertain but, until mid-February, there are signs that it could become wetter and windier in general.

How does climate change affect windstorms?

According to the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the link between climate change and extratropical cyclones – the storms that usually affect north-west Europe – is currently unclear.

They indicate that the frequency of European windstorms has decreased over the past few decades.

However, it is widely accepted that when storms do hit us, climate change is likely to make them more extreme and bring more rain and potentially greater impact.

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