Jump to content

My Winter Ode- 2005/2006


Recommended Posts

santa.gif Firstly a little background music and viewing- santa.gif

Let it Snow-( Thanks TomD of TWO)

An Ode to Winter- 2005/2006

Well its taken A while but what ive tried to put together is a fairly simplistic look at the factors that goven our Winter in the United Kingdom, Firstly an appreciation of the major players in control of our wintertime in terms of Pressure systems-including the factors that effect the strengths and length of occurence of these features-

Ive then devoted a whole section specifically for 'snow' and what to look for when looking into the specific make up of delivering Snow-

Finally forecasting techniques is covered -

I hope you enjoy regards


The Winter Features.....

Icelandic Low & Azores high

Bartlett High

Siberian high

Scandi High

Greenland high

Icelandic Low & Azores high

Before ANY winter becomes either Cold or Signficantly Cold there is a Large Hurdle to over come- and this hurdle has seemingly grown in stature over the last 18 years-

The positioning of the Azores high over the last 2 decades has gradually drifted Northwards towards the Pole, Reasons for this can be attributed to the +VE NAO phase, A stronger Ferrell Cell,Warmer location SST's, A Northerly tracking jet stream and 'possibly' a Northerly Sink zone for the NAD-

The problem with its northwards penetration is that its influences over the UK are never to far away-

Even in Colder conditions where a trough has kicked East across the Country the warmer maritime Air is often flooding back in OR the AH is ridging back eastwards to kill any convection by neutralizing the Divergence Aloft-

To compound this Problem, the Icelandic Low has almost become Omnipresent, -What Happens is with plenty of Gas in the PFJ pushing the atlantic storms along North-Eastwards towards iceland where they 'generally' Slow down and Stall as they come up against the buffers from the Greenland & artic High pressure zones-

This often allows secondary low pressure waves to develop on the Southern flank of the main low pressure swing eastwards across the UK,

The net result has often been a succession of Mild westerlies with rain, followed by the 'odd' Showery day in a north-westerly flow-

This is then often replaced again by another atlantic surge-

The pattern can replicate over and over again-

Take 09th Jan THIS year for starters the icelandic Low and Azores high working together like a well oiled machine-

4th Jan 2005

Then below the 17th of january-

17th Jan 2005

Spot the Difference-!!!

This pattern lasted from Dec 29th to the 21st of Jan- 23 Days- Thats wiped out 3 weeks of Winter!!

The problem with this 'rut' is that the Polar front and consequent boundry between Very Cold air is ALWAYS held well North of the Uk-

On the Link the cold air is firmly held along the 60 Degree North line which is far out of reach for the UK-...............

4th Jan 2005

The Bartlett High

Following 'hot' on the heels in our current Winter calender is the good old 'Bartlett' High- ( named I think after the famous Forecaster Paul Bartlett)

Those in the trade have named this the 'Slug' as it just sits there moving away only very slowly-

With this being a Winter topic I dont want to prolong the agony of thinking about those endless days of Mild, Moist Southerlies being pumped around the BH-

For Valentine Snowlovers this chart is TOTALLY forgettable....

14th Feb 1998

Siberian & Scandi high-

The mere mention of these 2 beasts often brings shivers to the spine-

However these beasts if 'totally' in control of our weather can provide intense cold spells, but NOT necessarily buckets of Snow- ( with the exception of the far SE and Eastern coastal regions-

Its hard to have a preference- given the fact were in the Uk and we cant be choosers-however pressed i would plump for the Scandi High any time-

The reason is I think we often do better out of the Scandi- with a better likleyhood of sustaining Easterlies- The ridging Siberian will always want to 'retreat' back towards its home in Siberia 'usually allowing the UK to end up in the at best in the CUL or worst Southerly winds and the atlantic begins to push back in-

The Scandi high has no core ridge pulling it back either way and often ridges westwards to greet the Greenland high- we must NOT confuse the 2- so illustrated below we have both starting with the

Siberian High- ( these babies just build and build...)

So then we have day 1 and an ordinary chart-

Jan20th 1972

Day 2 & 3 sees the Siberian High Lurking to the North-east and just beginning to develop- (Notice the CUL on day 3 over Central Europe-)

21st Jan 1972


Day 4 & 5 Pressure reaches 1040mb and the pressure just stalls for a day or 2-

<a href='http://www.wetterzentrale.de/archive/ra/1972/Rrea00119720123.gif' target='_blank'>23rd jan 1972

24th Jan 1972

Day 6 Starting to organise now-

25th Jan 1972

Day 7- You would think that the cold hasnt penetrated that far west across to us- HOWEVER the SE is already under -5C 850 HPA air!!!

26th Jan 1972

Day 8- here comes the trigger- you ALWAYS need Lp close by to advect the cold air-

27th Jan 1972

Day 9- Here she comes westwards...

28th Jan 1972

Day 10/11- Shes here- a 1050 Mb Siberian high on holiday firing the Cold air over the Uk-

29th Jan 1972

30th Jan 1972

Whilst this is a classic example follow the scenario through on the archives and we end up to FAR west to be really effected...

Archives here...

Moving on we show how the

Scandi high can develop-

Firstly a fairly normal looking chart- However pressure is on the rise over Scandi-

27th Jan 1956

The Second day and the atlantic is beginning to stall out to the west- look at the strong Southerly wind pushing up towards iceland

28th Jan 1956

The Third day sees a Core 1040 Mb High centred over Scandi- the Cold air is piling up on its Eastern flank- its just waiting to be advected westwards

29th Jan 1956

Day 4 & 5 its coming..... :D

30th Jan 1956

31st Jan 1956

Day 6 A full blown Easterly-

01st Feb 1956

The Greenland high

How can I put this- If i had a shopping list for producing snowfall this would be in CAPITALS at the top-!!!

The daddy, The boss,- The Single Most importartant factor in determining a decent Artic outbreak across the UK-

ALL SUSTAINED cold periods across the UK have involved a strong Core pressure across Greenland 'Steering' the Northern Arm of the jet stream up the western side-

An almost rarity in recent years- perhaps a forgotton entity- They are so rare ive trawled the archives looking for that 'Classic' Greenland high that ridges South, Holds then doesnt retreat or topple but goes onto repetativley force cold Northerlies & Easterlies over the Uk-

Ive found it- ( the reason that this is pertinent to our current Winters is the starting day is almost a 'modern' winter-)

So Day 1- Low pressure in the atlantic, Azores High in play and the polar front holding across Iceland- However the key here is the track of the second low pressure coming off the Eastern seaboard- Often people comment on the procession of low pressure systems running across the Atlantic in quick succession-Our Cold spell is on the cards already as the jet Stream is Bifercated across the South-western coast of Greenland-

7th Feb 1955

Day 2- That Low pressure is being forced south and the core pressure over Greenland drops to 1040 mb-

8th feb 1955

Day 3- And were under starters orders- Cold just starting to stream into Scotland-

9th Feb 1955

Day 4- Look at that lovely long fetch of Cold air all the way from the Fram straight/Svalbard-

10th Feb 1955

We then enter into a succession of Northerly & Easterly dominated days-

( PLUS LOOK HOW -VE the AO is on the chart below)

Day 5 Northerly-

11th Feb 1955

Day 6 North-Easterly

12 feb 1955

Day 7 North-Easterly

13 Feb 1955

Day 8 Northerly ( You may think this is the beginning of the end...)

14th Feb 1955

Day 9 North-Easterly

15th feb 1955

Day 10 Northerly- This chart shows a renewed burst around the GH- more is commented apon this scenario in the Freezing month section-

16th Feb 1955

Day 11-Northerly- Back to a great square one again-

17th Feb 1955

Day 13- Easterly

19th feb 1955

The cold weather lasted untill the 27th of feb thats 2 and a half weeks of cold from one strong greenland high ( backed up by a neg AO) the true Daddy-

Whats it All about-

DAM lines/Thickness- Whats that all about-?

The Jet stream-

The polar front and Zonal/Meridional flows

850 temps-


Dewpoints SALR/DALR

Evaporational cooling


A Freezing Month-

DAM lines/Thickness- Whats that all about-?

DAM/Thickness is Measured in dekametres- it is the measure of how warm or cold a layer of the atmosphere is ( in the Lowest part of the troposphere circa 5Km)

Higher vales indicate warmer air, lower values indicate colder air-

The most common layers wherein thickness values are analysed and forecast are as follows-

The 5 slices of the troposphere that meteorologists monitor most frequently (excluding the surface) are- 850 mb, 700 mb, 500 mb, and 300 mb (or 200 mb). Why are these slices monitored and not others more frequently? Why not have a 600 mb and a 400 mb chart? Each of the primary 5 levels have a reason they are studied over other slices of the troposphere.

The 850 mb level represents the top of the planetary boundary layer (for low elevation regions). This is near the boundary between where the troposphere is ageostrophic due to friction and the free atmosphere (where friction is small). For low elevation regions the 850 mb level is the best level to assess pure thermal advection.

The 500 mb level is important because it is very near the level of non-divergence. This allows for an efficient analysis of vorticity. Actually the level of non-divergence averages closer to the 550 mb level, but 500 mb is a more "round" number as compared to 550 mb so it was used. The 500 millibar level also represents the level where about one half of the atmosphere's mass is below it and half is above it.

A level is needed to depict the jet stream. The polar jet stream has a vertical thickness of at least 200 millibars with the core of the jet averaging at about 250 millibars. Either the 200 or 300 mb chart can be used to assess the jet stream / jet streaks. In winter, the 300 mb chart works best and in the summer the 200 mb chart works best for analyzing the core of the jet. The jet stream is at a higher pressure level (closer to the surface) in the winter because colder air is more dense and hugs closer to the earth's surface.

Because 'most model watchers are insistent on viewing the 500 HPA charts ( 500 Mb) then we do loose some of the accuracy when trying to forecast snow- this is because the 500 millibar layer is very deep - some 18000 feet above ground level and not as accurate as the 850Mb charts at determining how PPN will reach the ground-

However as we constantly insist on using the 500's then there is an approximate guide-

The link provided is the one to use when just looking at thickness-

Go to the section that says 'Mittl. Wolken'

Indicated on the 500 HPA charts are isopleths at 18 dam intervals

The ones you will commonly see in winter are-

The 492 DAM line which is Purple

The 510 DAM Line which is dark blue

The 528 DAM Line which is Light blue ( Sorry about the colour)

The 546 Dam line which is Green

The 564 line which is yellow (ish)

We Often hear as the 528 Line being the Snow line - However thats probably a misrepresention of the truth-

The 528 DAM line coming south usually represents the bulk air mass change to a Polar type-

Values of around 522 DAM on the 500's give about a 50/50 chance of snow- with 519 DAM usually the guaranteed value for snow- ( APPROX)

With using such small variations in numbers to predict snow then the problem is hard using the 500's- However the METO chart on the GFS NEVER gives an 850 equivalent- so to calcualte surface thickness we have to use the equation-

500 height-((SLP-1000)*0. :(

So for instance using the chart for 12 th Jan 1987- for EAST ANGLIA

12 jan 1987 The Holy Grail popesmiley.pngpopesmiley.png

the calculation would be-

520- (( 1030-1000)X0. :D = 520- 24 = 496 DAM

Actual records & values that day un-officially got to 491 DAM-

This Calculation is good when the isobars are tightly packed or 'Baroclinic zone'- you MUST ensure you get the correct SLP closest to your region and follow the colour charts correctly to get the correct DAM amount....

At least now you will be able to get thickness for your area from the UKMO charts....

The Jet stream-

The jet stream is generally defined to be a current of fast-flowing air at high altitudes, somewhere between 8-15 km (25,000 to 48,000 ft or about the 400-200 mb pressure level) above the Earth's surface. Jet stream wind speeds blow, by definition, in excess of 94 km/h (57 mph) and can reach nearly 500 km/h (300 mph). The jets are quite variable in their properties but a typical jet stream is hundreds to thousands of kilometres (miles) in length, about 160 to 500 km (100-300 miles) wide and about a kilometre deep (5/8 mile). (Though the polar jet streams form along the polar front in the Prevailing Westerlies belt that circles the planet, they do not always circumnavigate the globe as a continual stream.) The jet winds usually have a west to east direction, though they may loop with large north-south deflections.

The northern polar jet stream (also called the polar jet, or the mid-latitude jet stream, or just the jet stream) is the one having the most influence on weather across much of the United States,Canada- and across the Atlantic Basin.The polar jet stream can usually be found somewhere in the latitude belt from 40-60 degrees at an altitude from 7600 metres to 10,600 m (25,000-35,000 ft).

The highest wind velocity is found in the jet stream core where speeds can be as high as 460 km/h (290 mph) in the winter. The jet stream core region averages 160 km/h (100 mph) in winter and 80 km/h (50 mph) in summer. Those segments within the jet stream where winds attain their highest speeds are commonly known as jet streaks.

The polar jet stream position marks the location of the strongest temperature contrasts between polar and subtropical latitudes on the Earth surface. Therefore, the strongest polar jet stream velocities usually occur during the winter months. During the summer months, when the equator-pole surface temperature differences are less dramatic, the jet winds blow slower and are usually found at higher latitudes.

The polar jet stream is formed in the region of greatest contrast between polar and subtropical air known as the polar front where the cold, dry polar air meets the warm, moist air from the subtropical regions. From a climatological viewpoint, the position of the polar front forms a more or less even band around the globe, slipping north and south with the seasonal changes.

In the vicinity of the polar front, the air pressure drops more rapidly with increasing altitude in the denser cold air than in the less dense warm air. This temperature effect on air density results in air pressure at any given altitude being higher on the warm (equatorward) side of the polar front than on the cold (poleward) side. When cold air and warm air masses sit side by side, the higher the altitude, the greater the pressure difference between the cold and warm air. Thus, across the polar front, the horizontal pressure differential (or gradient) causes air to flow from the warm side of the front towards the cold side.

Once the air begins to flow, it is deflected by the Earth's rotation (called the Coriolis effect) and prevented from flowing directly from high to low pressure. Air flowing from higher pressure towards lower pressure is deflected to the right in the Northern Hemisphere (or to the left in the Southern Hemisphere). The resulting flow produces a westerly wind current generally flowing towards the east, parallel to and above the polar front. Very strong temperature and pressure gradients in the polar frontal zone can intensify these wind speeds to over 94 km/h, thus forming a jet stream.

The polar front and Zonal/Meridional flows

Defined it simply means-

'The boundary between warm air from the subtropics and cold air from polar regions'

From a climatological viewpoint, the position of the polar front forms a more-or-less even band around the globe at mid-latitudes in both hemispheres. The average polar-front position slips north and south with the seasons in response to the annual hemispheric heating cycle-

As seen by this image the polar front 'generally' runs to the North of the British Aisles over the Winter period, with Low Pressure systems running along the Northern Side of the Jet stream- hence the location of the common Low pressure- The icelandic Low

Seasonal location of the polar front

Of particular interest to meteorologists and weather forecasters is the ever-changing pattern of long-waves that form around the polar front. These long-waves, very visible on polar projection maps, undulate around the hemisphere with three to six cycles-

At times, that global belt fits tight, having three or four, small-amplitude undulations (little north-south latitude variation) around the hemisphere. At other times, it has as many as six large-amplitude loops (great north-south variation). How those wave loops sit over the hemisphere, or portion thereof, determines what temperature regimes are experienced on the surface below.

When a long section of the polar front, as seen on weather maps, is smooth like the surface of a calm sea, the upper-level winds, including associated jet streams, run generally parallel to the latitude lines, This is know as a zonal flow. Under zonal-flow, north-south undulations of the frontal boundary are small, and the surface temperatures across the country, as seen in the isotherm (lines of equal temperature) pattern on the weather map, layer in zonal (east-west) bands with warm air to the south and cold air to the north.

when a zonal flow pattern cuts off the exchange of heat between the polar region and the tropics, great thermal contrasts develop across the polar front. And this becomes the zonal pattern's downfall. Eventually, some chink, some small perturbation, develops in the zonal pattern, and a short wave, with initially small north-south extent, arises upon the polar front. If the short wave amplifies (grows in size), it can distort the flow into a new pattern that crosses the latitude lines, a pattern termed meridional. In meridional flow, cold air rushes southward while warm air streams northward.

As the polar-front meridional pattern rises into Rossby waves of deep north-south extent there becomes massive Warm and Cold advection processes Northwards & Southwards.... Once the pattern becomes locked we are subjected to either Masses of Warm moist air adevection and were are in the 'upper-level ridge' (Image A)or Strong Cold air advection in the upper-level trough- (Image B )

Image A

Image B

Image B (2) showing advection process

To try to illustrate the location of the polar front in terms of the UK its easy to pick 3 images from the models- Firstly the 500mb charts which illustrate upper level disturbances, secondly the theta charts which are great at showing the division of the polar front and contrasting Air masses and 3 the location of the Jet stream which can show in what direction or flow the polar front is going to move in- (As described above as zonal or Meridional).

So then below we have a 'typical' UK set up- A baroclinic low pressure system just to the east of Iceland-

looking at the 500mb chart - on the South-Eastern side there will be a warm sector ( The warm air mass in the Warm sector) and the surrounding Northern and North Western side the colder polar air)

This is further illustrated by the theta chart- with the Theta E temp of between 2 & 6 Showing the jet stream & Polar Front location- Notice the Britsh Aisles on the Southern Sice in the Warm Sector-

Finally looking at the Jet stream there is a pretty continuous stream coming across the Atlantic showing that any colder air pushing into towards the uk will be short lived- ( This would only become Meridional if the jet stream gets cut off-)

500 mb 500 mb chart showing upper lever low-

Theta chart showing the division of the air masses-

PF jet stream

The typical conditions experienced here will be Mild rainy one day, then cooler showery the next-

850's Temps-

The 850 Millibar charts are often used as a 'quick' reference guide to the threat of snow falling, and whether it will make it to ground/sea level.

The 850 charts represent the 'lowest' levels in the atmosphere- it approximates the temps at around 1.5Km, this is why this depth is better served to calculate Snow risk than the 500 HPA charts-

As a generalisation and The 'approximate' lapse rate to use in the Winter to get DAYTIME Maxima from the 850' charts is

1.5C per 100mb this lapse rate will DECREASE with a Colder dryer air mass- such as an Easterly- Perhaps as low as 1.3C Per 100 mb and INCREASE with a moist saturated air mass perhaps as high 1.7C per 100mb- ( Again these are my own figures)

The benchmark figure used by Most People is observing the presence of the -10C isotherm at 850HPA-

Based on My average lapse rate you would require an 850 temp of -13C to achieve a daytime Maxima of Freezing-

However it is of course Never that simple & with differing Air Masses/Varying Dewpoints then Snow 'Falling' can be seen falling in air from as Warm as -4/-5C and rain from air as cold as -10C!!!

The key is the type of Air Masses ( these effecting the Dewpoints) involved in the Lower layers and to an extent the intensity of the PPN-

This is explained in further detail below- but as a rule of Thumb to observe snow you can use the approximation table below-

850 Temp Range-

-8C 850C and below (Approx 519 DAM and below) - Generally a Safe bet for snow- Convective Snow would be dry- and of the powdery consistency-

Frontal snow on both accounts ( cold & Warm) should still fall as snow unless PPN is very light and a warm front is advancing

-8 to -6 850C ( Approx 520 DAM to 528 DAM)- A very marginal Set up for Snow- especially at Sea level- Elevation is an added bonus here-

Best Set ups here for snow- Convective Snow events from deep shower clouds- these will ensure the 'Snow level' Makes it to the ground-

Sleet and rain generally be observed if the PPN is light and from an approaching warm front-

Snow would be wet and ideal for snowballs!!

-5 to -3 850C ( Approx 529 to 535 DAM)- The only time snow is observed here ( Apart from high elevations ) is an Easterly undercut under a warmer Airmass- i 'Think' Snow has been observed falling into 540 DAM air before....!!!!!

NB: The 528 Line appears just on the Northern side of the -5c 850 HPA isopleth on the Wetterzentrale 'Mittl. Wolken'charts which is why I have attributed it a value of approx -6C 850 HPA

One of the coldest 850 temps observed across the UK - Sub -20C 850 HPA here >>>


Ensemble by its meaning

'A unit or group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect'

In terms of the bringing that into the forecasting models the representations seen on for example the GFS is only one tenth of the model output for that run- and i think if its still the case one fortyeth on the ECMWF forecast-

For the GFS Each model run ( For example the 00z,06z,12z & 18Z) has 10 member runs- What you see on the modelling screen is the operational run- there are 9 others that are missing.

To view these other 9 members you need to follow the link and click on the run your referring to and pick your area-

This is the link-

Weather-online ensembles

On the weather Online site the Operational run is RED ( On the GFS site its blue)

The other lines are the 9 members and the graph is measuring the fluctuations of temperature from day to day at 850 HPA -

The 9 members are diferent from the Operational run because they all have the same starting point but have different perterbations steering every run towards milder, Colder, Wetter, & Dryer conditions-

In the case of the example the Operational run tops out at 10C on the second of Feb- and using the lapse rates found in the section befor you should be able to calculate your maxima predicted recordings-

What to look at on the Ensembles-

You are looking at the Graph of the GFS from T-0 to T384- so halfway across the Graph to the right is effectively Fantasy iselnd and can often be discarded-

The left half of the Graph especially the first quarter is the early parts of the run- you are looking for consistencty and a uniform run of lines without deviation at LEAST out to 4 days ahead- ( T96)

After this point things begin to change rapidly-especially if the models expect a weather transition around that time-

This is where you see massive differences acros the models- The operational run is said to be the 'Truth' run- so based on the information given its should turn out the most accurate- sadly that doesnt always happen-

Whats an outlier??

We hear the expression outlier thrown about quite often- it simply refers to the fact that the model ( usually the operational run) is very much out of sink with the general trend of the other models-

again in the case of the example- it could be termed a warm outlier in the medium term as there is a significant spike around the second-

As ever in that situation and past T180 more runs are needed-

What my friend GP does is measure the spread of ensembles for North - America to see the consistency there- if this is low often as we are down stream the innacuracies will alter with every run-

When is fantasy iselnd NOT fantasy Island-

Taking the models past T 180 is a risky business and should really still be taken with a pinch of salt- the situations where FI becomes believable is where there is little transition to go through in the short term- IE less scope for things to go wrong-

Looking into FI if a trend is spotted you still need to follow it days on end to see how it develops as it always chopping & changing-

Things that change have a drastic effect further down the line ( as many members found to their cost last winter when there was consistency in the models for around 7 days pointing to an Easterly- when it actually arrived though it was a rather damp squid-

Solution- Wait till T96-.....



How often do our 'older' friends refer back to back the saying

"Its to Cold for Snow"- Hum NOT strictly true but the saying does hold some credibility-

Simply put 'Dewpoint is a measure of air moisture content.' the warmer the air is the more moisture is will/can hold- & Vice Versa-

In Winter ( For forecasting Frost/Snow) we are concerned with the relashonship between the Actual temperature observed and the recorded dewpoint-

Firstly Frost-

As an example-

Suppose one afternoon you have a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a dewpoint of 28 degrees. Assuming that mostly clear skies and light winds are expected overnight, you could safely bet that the overnight low temperature would dip below 32 degrees and at least scattered frost would form in your region. If, on the other hand, you have temperature of 50 degrees and a dewpoint of 47 degrees, the air would have a lot of difficulty cooling to near freezing since condensation would begin at 47 degrees. As a result, no frost or below freezing temperatures would be expected. If the temperature is 50 degrees with a dewpoint of 35 degrees, you have a tough call in this situation as other factors such as wind speed and cloud cover become even more important.

Just using Dewpoints for forecasting snow is a risky business as lapse rates ( Explained below) come into play- but there are some common examples for 'General' Snowfall across the UK -

Warmer Atlantic Air displacing Colder Artic air-

Probably the most common winter feature Is a warm front approaching from the west with Precipitation falling into a Colder Air mass that has established across the UK before hand-

We/forecasters usually find when we have difficulties forecasting whether rain or snow will fall because the Dewpoint will rapidly rise as the impending front arrives-

As warm fronts generally have light PPN and move slowly the advance of the generally saturated air often raises the dewpoint to just over freezing point level and almost on top of the surface temp- this will result in drizzle falling as there is an ever increasing deep melt layer in the lower boundry layers of the atmosphere-

This happens SO often across the UK with Snow crazy fans often being let down at the last minute-

2 things to draw on in these events- Elevation and PPN intensity always hold the key.....

DALR changing to SALR

Colder Air undercutting A warmer air mass- directly under a front-

In this instance we have a total reversal in set ups and MORE often than not rain turns to Snow-

The key here is the reduction of the depth of the Melt layer of the boundry layers nearer to the surface- this is propergated by continual cooling of the lower layers by both the Colder air mass arriving and evaporational cooling-

As the air dries out so the lapse rates in the atmosphere become better

suited to the snow level rapidly falling- ( SALR Changing to DALR)

Enviromental lapse rates-

Lapse rates ( DALR & SALR) of temperature are CRITICAL in the forecasting of snow-

The boundry layer of the lower atmosphere is where all the action takes place and how steep the lapse rates are is often the deciding factor on whether Snow or Rain will reach the ground-

So what do we have - well Vertical motion is needed to "create" moisture for clouds and precipitation. Moisture is "created" or condensed into clouds/precipitation via adiabatic cooling. Adiabatic cooling is otherwise known as the "lapse rate". Temperature decreases with increasing elevation because the atmospheric pressure decreases as elevation increases-

DALR-Dry Adiabatic Lapse Rate: The temperature of a dry atmosphere decreases at the rate of about 10 degrees C for every 1000m of elevation increase.

SALR- Saturated Adiabatic Lapse Rate: The temperature of a moist atmosphere decreases at the rate of about 6 degrees C for every 1000m of elevation increase.

In terms of forecasting whether Precipitation will be rain or Snow then a good way is to Start with the 850 MB temperature and have an Approximation of lapse rates for the particular Air Mass/Weather system approaching

The warmer Air masses and often Warm Fronts will be associated with SALR ( and higher dewpoints)-

This usually means unexciting adiabatic lapse rates below the cloud base, and weaker convection, so the snow forming in those clouds is smaller in size (and therefore easier to melt on its way down) and warmer than it would be in a cold cumuloform cloud.

Warm fronts are NOT a good always a good way to produce snow- as they often saturate the air ahead of any PPN band, and because precipitation is often light in nature you end up with light drizzle rather than Snow-

The Colder air masses with Cold fronts & Convective Clouds are associated with DALR ( and lower dewpoints)

This means the air is 'dryer' and allows a steeper temperature lapse rate through the lower layers of the atmosphere- Precipitation is often heavier in this situation with Stronger Covection and Vertically heaped clouds-

Depending on the 850 temperatures Snow is often easier to forecast as its less likely to melt in a warmer layer of atmosphere in the boundry layer-

The 850 temps can be as high as -3/-4C and surface temps at plus 5C, but still Snow reaches the ground without melting- even if PPN starts out as rain the potential for it to turn to snow through evaporational cooling ( Explained below) is there as the ZDl level ( Zero degree level) is pulled closer to the ground in heavier showers.....

Another way to consider the Lapse rates in the boundry layers is they are an indication of the Melting strength-

When lapse rates are small, the melting layer tends to be weak, and a deeper melting layer will be required to melt the snow. When lapse rates are large, the melting layer is strong, and snow will melt within a shallower melting layer

All in All forecasting Snow using dewpoints, DALR/SALR rates and type of Cloud/PPN intensity SHOULD be good enough to estimate whether you will see snow or Rain- Further tinkering with estimating lapse rates per 100mb ( height/elevation) can give you estimated Snow levels in marginal situations...

I think last year in the depth of winter- to get SURFACE Daytime maxima from the 850's- I was using a lapse rate of

Approx 1.3C per 100mb

So for example- if an 850 temp was -7C the surface obs for sea level would be around 4C-....

You could then also calculate ( assuming there was no inversion) the height the ZDL would be and the Snow settling level-

In this instance Taking an average environmental lapse rate is about 6.5 C/km

or 0.65C per 100m then the Snow level here would be 600m or approx 2000 feet.....

Evaporational cooling / dynamic cooling

We often hear the terms 'Evaporational cooling' bantered about the site especially in those borderline situations- so what does it actually mean??


Two factors that commonly change the temperature of atmospheric layers in winter are evaporative cooling and dynamic cooling. These phenomena chill the atmosphere downward in a way to allow snow to get closer and closer to the surface, until finally, it gets close enough that it doesn't have time to melt through a narrow band of above-freezing air at the ground. In time, that narrow strip of air is often chilled below freezing, too.

The arctic air masses that move in during the winter are often extremely dry. If precipitation begins falling through that air from a warmer layer aloft, the precipitation evaporates before hitting the ground. This is called virga, and it's why you often see radar echoes over us for hours before anything actually falls to the ground.

But it takes heat to evaporate moisture, and with every snowflake or raindrop that is evaporated, a tiny amount of heat is removed from the atmosphere. Given enough time and enough precipitation, the cooling can be quite large, several degrees. As the atmosphere moistens, the precipitation falls closer and closer to the surface before evaporating, and thus, the cooling gets closer and closer. Eventually, evaporative cooling can affect the entire atmosphere between cloud and ground, and these few degrees can make a critical difference between rain and snow.

Dynamic cooling follows a different principle. Cold air is heavier than warm air, so it tends to sink. Warmer air, however, rises, and blocks the cold air from sinking.

If the precipitation is heavy enough, it acts to pull down the cold air more forcefully, bringing it through the warmer layers to the surface. If this happens with temperatures not much above the freezing mark, it can cause a sudden change from rain to snow in a short time.

Dynamic cooling can also occur if a surface low-pressure area is able to pull cold air down from the upper levels of the atmosphere.

As we get late in the winter season and into spring, dynamic and evaporative cooling become more important in wintry precipitation outbreaks. Large-scale cold outbreaks become less frequent, but the atmosphere remains cold from several months of lowered sun angle and winter cold fronts.


A 'toppler'- many a forecasters phrase referring to how a wintry pattern is expected to develop or in this case- deteriorate.

Topplers in winters terms are destined 99% of the time for failure and often fail in many ways-

First of all highlighted here is one of the GFS historic faults- in as much as it often 'overcooks' the Northerly off the back of a deep low cutting East off the North east coast and the Core atlantic ridge being sucked North towards Greenland-

The premise is a 'deep' Low will have an 'Established' High pressure close by because of the intense advection process-

On some occasions as a Low pressure crosses out into the North Sea so the atlantic high ridges Northwards almost reaching the southern parts of Greenland- the key here is that the jet stream is still running through the GIN corridoor, but for 1 or 2 days with the absence of a secondary Low pressure a 'nose' or ridge can remain intact-

In that short space of time depending on how steep the gradient is and how great the cold air advcetion is the UK can be smothered by a cold pool of air straight out of the artic-

This set up is often the one that delivers a good dose of convective Snow to Northern and Western areas as thats the 'general flow of the wind-

But very occasionally with enough CAA and a slightly more Southerly tracking low even the South/South east can become a victim-

The instance that most springs to mind Another 'classic' toppler scenario which spanned 6 days start to finish with a twist in the tail-

The lead up was an all to typical picure for modern times- the azores high in place and the jet stream to the North, However as this Low passes the jet stream will temporarily become very amplified-

Jan 27th 2003 Fax chart

The second day (28th) sees that intense 1055 mb atlantic high begin to retrogress Northwards as the Jet stream flow changes to Meridional and Cold air sweeps first into Iceland-

Jan 28th 2003 Fax Chart

The next day sees the first ( OF 3) proper cold day with the -5C 850 HPA covering the country and -7/-8C creeping into Scotland-

Jan 29th 2003 850's

This would have seen deep convection cells Pushing South across the country with a 'Good' Covering in northern Scotland from blizzard conditions-

The 'twist' in the tail on the final day- (and one that is VERY rare as day 3 often sees the return of the atlantic-) sees a trough develop in the flow- travelling down the Eastern side of the UK-

For this Ive used the Met-Office Bracknell original FAX chart for that day-

It clearly shows 2 inportant things-

1) the trough developing in the North-east and-

2) the Block being broken and effectively the beginning of the end of the cold spell over Iceland....

Fax chart Thurs 29th Jan 00z

That trough travelled south and was the 2 inch snow event hat brought the M11 in cambridge to a standstill causing 15 hour traffic jams-

The Ket to 'ANY' Snow/trough reaching Southern and Eastern areas in these st ups is for the Low pressure that has tracked to the east of us to be on a more Southerly Lattitude that the Atlantic high- If this is the case then the Windflow will be that ever so slightly North-easterly- as was the case in the M11 Fiasco

By the 31st the atlantic air is already surging into western areas- with the last few wintry showers clearing the South-east-

Jan 31st 2003 Fax Chart

And by the next day- the change is complete-

Feb 01st 2003 Fax chart

A freezing month-

Just as the title says a freezing month is where the average temperature for the month is below freezing-

Since 1900 there have only been SEVEN of these recorded- So as you can imagine they are rare-

I have been through all these months and whats obvious is the Greenland High pressure being CONSISTENT throughout each-

What is surprising though to me is how key an oscillation between Low and High pressure over Scandi is Key to prolonging the Cold spells-

You would have thought that extended cold spells would have the Scandi/Siberian high staying the dominent force all the way through- Not so-

The best set-ups have always been when the Greenland high Holds strong forcing the Jet stream through the Pole and then surging back south breaking the Block between Greenland & Norway-

This often Means for Us we remain in a pattern of Easterlies, veering Northerly then once again swinging back Easterly as troughs dive South into Europe-

The other Caveat is the Greenland high ridges far enough south to hold the STJ south of the UK-

An example of this is infamous Jan 1963 where the CET was -2.1C

A few examples of what I mean is below-

The Month opens with a bitter Easterly already-

Jan 01 1963

See the Greenland high is strong, The PFJ is sround and through the artic and the STC is nicely along the channel-

As we move onto the 5 th- very little change- although the STJ has moved North a couple of Hundred miles, although the Cold is embedded across the uk which means more Snowfall- This may be an end to the cold as the STJ is moving north-

Jan 05th 1963

Jan 05th 1963 850's

The 850's may not look that cold but the thickness levels are good enough to support snow-

After this the Greenland ridges south again just keeping the gentle North-easterly going-

10th Jan 1963

Jan 13th 1963 ( Look at the trough moving south through Norway)

Moving onto the next day that trough is travelling south south-east and advecting Very cold air South west through Norway again-

Jan 14th 1963

Jan 14th 1963 850's

See that cold pooling building up again- its only going one way....

And onto the seventeenth- a BITTER easterly again, back to square one-

Jan 17th 1963

Jan 17th 1963 850's

Now you would think that this would be the end- but..........

Whats got to be observed from this chart isnt whats going on over the BI- as it appears that the high 'MAY' slip away SE and introduce milder winds-

18 th Jan 1963

Look closely at Greenland - The GH staying firm at 1050mb sending the PFJ around the Artic, this is a time bomb waiting for another southerly burst-

2 days later we are again back to square one-

Jan 20th 1963

although not as cold the thickness levels support yet more snow-

Jan 20th 1963 850's

After a brief settled spell moving us onto the 24th to the Close of the month we see another complete repitition of the cycle again-

Jan 24th 1963

Jan 26th 1963

Jan 28th 1963

Jan 30th 1963

Jan 31st 1963

Jan 31st 1963 850's

In summary- this type of pattern evolves and repeats over around 7 days- and there was 4 repititions over the month-

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 58
  • Created
  • Last Reply
  • Location: Sheffield South Yorkshire 160M Powering the Sheffield Shield
  • Weather Preferences: Any Extreme
  • Location: Sheffield South Yorkshire 160M Powering the Sheffield Shield

    Me thinks this should be pinned as theres a lot of good info in there.

    Thanks Steve.

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Liphook
  • Location: Liphook


    Seriously Steve that has to be one of the best posts on Net-weathe rmate,what a cracking piece of work there.Gonna take a hour to read the whole lot of that,definatly should be pinned.I too hope to post a Winter forecast around Mid-November,as i suspect others will,this to add to WF and GP's ideas,looks like we are now entering the proper build-up to winter.

    Having done a similar thing with hurricanes,i can understand how hard it can be,and your covering a much broder subject.

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: South Derbyshire nr. Burton on Trent, Midlands, UK: alt 262 feet
  • Weather Preferences: Extreme winter cold,heavy bowing snow,freezing fog.Summer 2012
  • Location: South Derbyshire nr. Burton on Trent, Midlands, UK: alt 262 feet

    Well Steve, you have surpassed yourself this time, video as well, :D which includes a lamp post lol, :( what an brilliant contribution to the forum, I have only read a little so far, something to read with a pint or two later on.




    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Well Steve, you have surpassed yourself this time, video as well, :D   which includes a lamp post lol, :(   what an brilliant contribution to the forum, I have only read a little so far, something to read with a pint or two later on.





    Cheers mate- love the video clip- soundtrack & all-

    Many thanks


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Gloucestershire
  • Location: Gloucestershire

    I would say for people who want to learn such as myself that has to be the best post I have ever seen. It must have taken a huge amount of time and should certainly be pinned for all us beginners to cross reference against throughout the long cold winter to follow!

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I would say for people who want to learn such as myself that has to be the best post I have ever seen. It must have taken a huge amount of time and should certainly be pinned for all us beginners to cross reference against throughout the long cold winter to follow!


    Thanks Yido-

    The main aim of the post was to give some assistance to the newer members of the board- there will be plenty this year...


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Dublin, ireland
  • Weather Preferences: Snow , thunderstorms and wind
  • Location: Dublin, ireland

    Hi Steve,

    What a brilliant piece of work.!!!!!!!!

    Indeed a work of art.

    I am goint to print this out.

    I prefer read "books" in hard copy rather than soft copy.

    Loved the video. My favourite winter song "Let it snow"

    When we have digested this I have no doubt a lot of debate will follow.



    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Worcestershire
  • Weather Preferences: Forecaster Centaurea Weather
  • Location: Worcestershire

    A herculian effort Steve, one I'm sure members experienced and new will find of benefit. Perhaps we should start selling T-shirts with pictures of the Greenland Ice Sheet on them ? Just how much will that influence our winter ?


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    A herculian effort Steve, one I'm sure members experienced and new will find of benefit. Perhaps we should start selling T-shirts with pictures of the Greenland Ice Sheet on them ? Just how much will that influence our winter ?



    When i go up the Gym- the front could say ' I havent got a 6 pack-Ive got a greenland ice pack- ... :(


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Crossgates, Leeds. 76m ASL
  • Weather Preferences: Temperatures ≤25ºC ≥10ºC.
  • Location: Crossgates, Leeds. 76m ASL

    Wow, what a great post!

    Just finished reading it. Very edicational and informative to us novices. pity the video crashed my rather outdated pc :(

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.
  • Weather Preferences: Snowy, wintry weather
  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.


    Absolutely brilliant, a veritable tome there mate.

    An important reference guide for us all.

    Love the intro. too.



    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.
  • Weather Preferences: Snowy, wintry weather
  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.


    Forgot to thank TWS & WBSH for their work in this section too.

    Well done.



    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Brighton, E. Sussex (20m ASL)
  • Location: Brighton, E. Sussex (20m ASL)

    Thanks Steve, that will be very useful, particularly stuff like dewpoints (which I didn't know a thing about), marginal 850Hpa temperatures, and how to convert 850Hpa temperatures into possible surface temperatures.

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.
  • Weather Preferences: Snowy, wintry weather
  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.

    Hi Steve,

    What really took my eye in your "ode" was the section on Feb`55 ( my birth year)

    and the potent northerly of that month that lasted for many days. As you state, we have not seen a northerly as potent as that since.

    It reminded of the time that my interest in meteorology really kicked in, the winter of 1968/69. Its not cited as a severe winter but produced quite a few northerly outbreaks with reasonable snowfall, although not as long lasting as Feb.`55. I`d like to take you through a few of the charts now. Notice how strong the Greenland high remains through most of the winter and the persistence of high pressure over Russia as well, the two working in tandem ensuring that cold air was never far away from our shores.The main northerly outbreaks came just after Xmas `68 and in Feb.


    Boxing day `68. Pressure had risen sharply over Greenland around mid-Dec and cold air finally streamed south on this day.





    A very wintery theme to post xmas week with prolonged snow showers to N & E.

    and more general snowfall to S & E at the end of the week. The weather then relented at the start of the new year.

    Although the weather was less wintery through most of Jan. I would like to show you a few of the synoptic charts of that month to illustrate the persistence of high pressure over Greenland, and for that matter to our N.E., during that month.




    Jan.15th, a beaut. of a chart, full of potential, would of had us ramping to our hearts content but actually came to nothing.




    During the first few days of Feb.`69 pressure fell over Greenland but this was only a temporary blip, it rose strongly again soon after and bitter air swept south again

    on the 7th.


    On the 8th heavy prolonged snow showers, accompanied by gale force winds, caused chaos across the country as troughs ran down in the northerly flow enhancing the snowfall.

    A few reports from newspaper clippings I have from those days: Drifts cut off villages of Ditton & West Malling (Kent), 100 m.p.h winds recorded at Kirkwall (Orkney) and worst blizzard since 1955. Other badly hit areas were Guisborough( foot of N.York moors) and Great Driffield ( East riding of Yorks.), two areas that always get a pasting in these set ups. There is a photograph of St.Pauls cathedral with snow swirling around it in the light from lamp-posts which no doubt some of you have seen in a few weather books. Below is the synoptic chart of that event.

    ( Note the many kinks in the isobars, would have loved to have seen radar returns & satellite shots of that day).


    After a brief respite another surge of bitter air swept south.




    As low pressure transferred south down the N.sea and settled to the south of us, winds turned more towards the east, prolonging the cold spell and snowfall.







    A few days later the weather became less wintery but its a great example of instead of a northerly being a 2 day toppler, in the past , they quite often developed into an easterly, with the right synoptics, as Ian Brown & Steve M. often point out. Also the importance of the Greenland high and how it interacts with high pressure over Russia to bring us our most wintery of weather types.

    Anyway the winter of 1968/69 was the first time I really started to take an interest in meteorology and paved the way for my SACRA membership. Wonderful times they were, BBC forecasters such as Bert Foord (it is spelt like that!), a sort of young Richard Briers look-alike, and Graham Parker ( your friendly bank manager type) brought this fascinating winter to life on our screens, and fired the imagination of a 13 year old boy. I kept very crude records and even tried to draw the synoptic charts I had seen on the t.v. forecasts. On one chart I have 2 areas of low pressure in the N.sea, one north and the other south. No slack area of pressure in between them, oh no not for me!!, I`ve got them with their isobars running into each other in a criss-crossing pattern. Aaghh!! I thought it was brilliant at the time but I cringe every time I see it now. We didn`t have video recorders and pause buttons in those days you know.

    Anyway that`s enough from me. Thanks for the memories.



    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: South Derbyshire nr. Burton on Trent, Midlands, UK: alt 262 feet
  • Weather Preferences: Extreme winter cold,heavy bowing snow,freezing fog.Summer 2012
  • Location: South Derbyshire nr. Burton on Trent, Midlands, UK: alt 262 feet

    Thanks Tom,

    throughly enjoyed reading through your post, and looking through those charts, I remember 1968 / 69 very well, as that was my first year at work after leaving school, i was working out doors in those days, and can remember the bitter cold very well indeed. :(



    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Upper Tweeddale, Scottish Borders 240m ASL
  • Location: Upper Tweeddale, Scottish Borders 240m ASL

    Interesting post Tom - thanks for sharing!

    And of course a big thanks to young Mr Murr.

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.
  • Weather Preferences: Snowy, wintry weather
  • Location: Lee, London. SE12, 41 mts. 134.5 ft asl.

    Hi Paul & shuggee,

    Thanks, the 60`s were a great decade for snow lovers weren`t they.

    I remember the late 60`s well and it was commonplace to get 4 or 5 good snow events even in S.E.London/N.W.Kent, every winter. Nowadays we`re lucky if we get one!!!



    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Hi Paul & shuggee,

    Thanks, the 60`s were a great decade for snow lovers weren`t they.

    I remember the late 60`s well and it was commonplace to get 4 or 5 good snow events even in S.E.London/N.W.Kent, every winter. Nowadays we`re lucky if we get one!!!




    Thanks for the Kind words gents ( & of course lady)

    Im sure they were known as the shivering sixties???


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites


    This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

    This topic is now closed to further replies.
    • Create New...