The Met Office has just announced that December 2010 was the coldest December since 1890 based on the Central England Temperature (CET) dataset which started in 1659, the longest such set of figures in the world. The month was also the coldest individual calendar month since February 1986, with temperatures dropping as low as -21.1C in Altnaharra in Sutherland, Scotland. There were 10 nights in December 2010 when the temperature fell below -18C somewhere in the UK. Northern Ireland also saw its lowest ever recorded temperature -18C at Castlederg, County Tyrone on 20th December.
Update from the BBC Met blog: Met Office provisional figures show that December 2010 with a mean CET temperature of -0.7C was the second coldest since records began in 1659, beaten only by December 1890 which had a mean of -0.8C.
2010 was also the coldest year since 1986.
According to the Met Office blog
“Remarkably, at a time when global warming remains a very high profile issue around the world, the 2010 UK CET figure is around the levels recorded from the years 1659 to 1758 – and well below the median figure for the whole series which runs from 1659 to 2009. For the UK at least, the climate in the last few years far from warming, has been very definitely cooling. This could be yet more anecdotal evidence that the prolonged solar minima which started around 2007 continues to influence the UK’s climate.
Above photo of Armathwaite in the Lake District by Rich Fraser on Flickr.
Remarkable photo of ice floes in Morecambe Bay last week. By Rain Lady on Metcheck. It reminds me of a post last year on Estuary ice in Wales.
Hampstead Heath, December 2010 by Marcus Fallon
It’s the third hard winter in a row, following two decades of relatively mild weather. Should the government invest in new technology to reduce the impact of severe winters? How many snow ploughs should the country have?
Philip Eden, Vice President of the Royal Meteorological Society, explains that cold winters in Britain are caused by a weak jet stream and often come in batches. If the jet stream meanders southwards, Spain gets the Atlantic depressions instead, leaving the UK exposed to winds from the north, which bring the snow and low temperatures. Long term records show that clusters of cold winters occur with relative frequency: looking back at the last 50 years, 1962-65, 1968-70, 1978-82, 1985-87, and, to a lesser extent, 1995-97.
His verdict: no need to panic and stock up on the snow ploughs just yet.
The prolonged cold spell affecting the UK since the end of November reached a new low on the night of December 18, when the market town of Pershore in Worcestershire, on the banks of the River Avon, was at -19.5 degrees.
The photograph of Hampstead Heath was taken on December 18 by Marcus Fallon.
The lowest ever temperature was recorded in Northern Ireland this week, dropping to -18C at Castlederg, County Tyrone on 20th December 2010. The previous record for the country was -17.5 °C on 1 January 1979 in Magherally (County Down).
See also: Record lowest temperatures in the UK
Cranes forage in the frosty fog of Somerset in the second Big Freeze of 2010. They have been freed in a secret location as part of the Great Crane Project, which aims to have these remarkable birds breeding in the UK again. Photo from the Guardian’s Week in Wildlife gallery.
Just thinking of their Siberian haunts brings a shiver, and when Bewick swans arrive early in Britain it’s considered a sign of a cold winter to come. This year over 300 landed in the Slimbridge Wetlands Reserve on October 18, two weeks earlier than in 2009. Rather worrying considering the Cold Snap of January 2100.
A large crop of holly berries is another traditional omen of bitter weather. Though this autumn’s rich fruit and nut harvest can be explained by the year’s stable and sunny spring, perfect for flowering and pollination.
Purple herons are sporadic visitors to the UK, but they’ve gone one step further this year. Exciting news from the RSPB reserve in Dungeness, Kent, is that a pair have built a nest and are apparently sitting on eggs. A 24-hour guard has been established to promote chances of a successful breeding, which would be a historic first for Britain. This southern European heron is expanding its range northward, probably due to climate change, and is expected to become a regular breeder in Britain in the near future, following in the footsteps of its relative, the Little egret.
Hopefully, the presence of this spectacular bird will help the RSPB fight against plans to build an international airport at nearby Lydd.
The Laki Fissure
The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption has ruined travel plans but does not rank as particularly disastrous, except financially for the air companies. A volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1783 – the Laki Fissure eruption – was catastrophic for the Icelanders (25% of the population died in the ensuing famine) and had serious consequences in Britain.
The amount of volcanic ash in the atmosphere over the UK gave rise to the “sand-summer”, as the 1783 summer became known. The amount of sulphur dioxide released by the eruption was colossal – 120 million tons:
approximately equivalent to three times the total annual European industrial output in 2006, and also equivalent to a Mount Pinatubo-1991 eruption every three days – Wikipedia
The resulting smog – the Laki Haze – was deadly, killing as it spread over western Europe. It reached Great Britain by late June of 1783, and thousands died from sulphur dioxide poisoning, outdoor workers being particularly vulnerable.
The effect on the weather was no less dramatic. As the haze heated up, a serious of heavy thunderstorms were unleashed, hailstones causing livestock losses. Gilbert White described that summer in The Natural History of Selborne: Continue reading How a volcanic eruption in Iceland affected Britain
As expected, small birds struggled to survive the big freeze: long tailed tits, who had prospered over a succession of mild winters, dropped by 27% compared to last year, when they made the top ten for the first time. The biggest decline was in goldcrest sightings – down by 75%. Losses would have been worse without the tremendous response to calls for keeping bird tables well stocked.
Another effect of the hard winter was a movement of countryside birds into gardens in their search for food. Sightings of redwings increased by 185%, fieldfares by 73% and song thrushes by 51%. Yellowhammers and bullfinches were also more frequent garden visitors. Continue reading Results of 2010 RSPB Garden Birdwatch
The long, hard winter means that nature is just dying to get up and and do its thing: spring this year could well be the most spectacular we’ve seen for a long time. We’re all going to enjoy it too!
Up in the plane and ash trees, all London’s wildlife appeared hard at spring yesterday. Tail feathers were shaking along the Regent’s canal, the first buds were bursting on brambles and honeysuckle and carpets of crocuses were delighting crowds in the grand royal parks.
More from the Guardian
The famous image taken by Nasa’s Terra satellite on January 7th 2010 captured the impressive extent of Britain’s big freeze. Charlie Brooker’s description is also memorable, beginning like this:
Oh, how it snowed. It snowed like a bitch. It snowed so hard you could be forgiven for thinking God had decided planet Earth was naught but an embarrassing celestial typo and was desperately trying to Tipp-Ex it out of existence.
For the first time in many years, the freezing conditions have been perfect for ice skating, allowing the inhabitants of the Cambridgeshire Fens to revel in a centuries-old tradition. The Guardian
The Fens of East Anglia, with their meres and washes, networks of drainage ditches, slow-flowing rivers and easily flooded meadows, form an ideal skating terrain. Skates were introduced into Britain from Holland or France in the seventeenth century. It is not known when the first skating matches were held, but by the early nineteenth century they had become a feature of cold winters in the Fens. The golden age of fen skating was the second half of the nineteenth century, when thousands of people turned out to watch the top skaters. Wikipedia
One of the Guardian’s editorials today is entitled In praise of… feeding birds in winter:
Feeding birds this month offers a rare chance to see redpolls, yellowhammers and tree sparrows among the robins, finches and tits that more often make up backyard populations. It will also keep them alive. Read