“This has come as a complete surprise.”

The Met Office have issued their quarterly contingency outlook, advice which is designed for long term planners such as councils rather than the general public, with an outlook for above average rainfall for November to January. That in itself is bad news for those with waterlogged gardens and trees standing in increasingly weak soggy soil. Anyway, that’s theirs, this is mine.

There is a theory out there that early snowfall accumulation in Siberia signals a cold winter for the rest of us. Unfortunately, about 14.1 million square kilometres of snow covered Siberia at the end of October. According to the boffins at Rutgers University Snow Lab that’s the second most since 1967. Ominously, the snow has fallen at the fastest rate since 1998. Moreover, this year’s Atlantic sea ice maximum was 1.54m square km’s above the 1981-2010 average; that’s 4 standard deviations off the mean. That’s a lot of cold air.

Another snow guru, a Mr Judah Cohen who is the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, who developed the theory linking Siberian snow with winter weather said, “A rapid advance of Eurasian snow cover during the month of October favours that the upcoming winter will be cold across the Northern Hemisphere...... this past October the signal was quite robust.”

So what exactly happens?

Cold air builds over the expanse of snow, strengthening the pressure system known as a Siberian high. The high weakens the winds that circle the North Pole, allowing the cold air to leak into the lower latitudes. The term Polar Vortex actually refers to those winds, not the frigid weather. When the winds are extremely strong, they can lock down all the Arctic cold in the po­lar regions, allowing most of the North­ern Hemisphere to have a warm winter and spring. When they are weak, the cold plunges south. In 2012, they were very strong and spring arrived six weeks ear­ly. They have shown no sign of being very strong this year. That’s a bad thing.

 

Something else out there to watch is the North Atlantic Oscillation, which often acts in tandem the Arctic one. The oscillation is a shift of high and low pressure systems over the ocean that can influence storm tracks and the location of the jet stream, and affect the weather over the eastern U.S. and western Europe. Just for fun and giggles our Mr Cohen has started a blog to track these changes.

In the here and now, the different systems, (Arctic and Atlantic), are likely to bring cold weather to the Eastern US and warm weather to Europe. Problem for us is that Eurasian snow covering may turn the Atlantic oscillation from it’s current positive to a negative state. That’s when we start complaining about the roads not being gritted and cue relevant government minister on News at Ten to say, “This has come as a complete surprise.”

Just to add some spice and intrigue to the mix, and not to be left out, the Pacific is likely to toss in an El Nino event this winter, (well, a 60-65% probability). Whilst no certainty it would have implications for regional planting and harvests. As a very rough rule of thumb, California and Southern Brazil could expect much needed rainfall while Australian farmers would face drought conditions.  El Nino impacts the tropics much more than the northern hemisphere which have the weakest geographical correlation but again, as a rule of thumb is usually leads to colder and wetter conditions in Europe. Certain conditions still need to be met for an El Nino event to be declared and the event usually has a shelf life of about seven months.

 

The wild card for us is the eruption in Iceland. The eruption is vast but has stayed off the front pages because it hasn’t been particularly explosive. The eruption though has haemorrhaged lava and gas emitting some 20,000-60,000 tons of SO2 a day compared to the whole of Europe that emits 14,000 tons a day.  Historically, large eruptions, and this is the largest in centuries, add to cooling and acid rain as far south as the UK. If this puppy became more kinetic, the impact on us would immediately intensify.

So what?

It may transpire that nothing much happens except an unusually wet and muddy winter. Indeed, we have Big Rain this week with more flood warnings being issued by the hour. That pretty much was the view of my cab driver yesterday. The conditions exist though, and are growing, for a pretty chilly outlook. Snow Zero is likely to come in January.  At the minimum, expect more volatility in temperatures and wind. For us in the UK whatever happens we can guarantee that central government and local councils will be blissfully unaware of the consequences of perpetual inaction until its too late which is pretty much why Mrs Flashbang has been dispatched to the Cash & Carry. That is, prior preparation, (emergency fuel, light, food), may stand you in good stead, especially in rural areas.

Am I being a drama Queen?

Perhaps.  The European Energy Markets Observatory though recently warned that the risk of blackouts in Europe is growing as thermal generating capacity has been hosed in favour of renewables, (23.5%) which, we’ve seen before, don’t work well, if at all, in extremes. The Icelandic volcanic activity won’t help here either given the acidic moisture in the air can damage the exposed elements of wind generators. Part of the issue here is that the generating industry’s capacity to meet surges in demand is degraded with a greater dependence on renewables. Problems with Russia won’t help one wee bit, (think we all see this one coming), and a number of nuclear reactors in Europe, (3 in Belgium), have recently been shut down because of safety or engineering concerns. Indeed, the National Grid has already told us that their winter capacity will be at a 7 year low with spare capacity at 4% compared to 17% three years ago, (we’ve shut 15 plants since then).

The energy secretary, A Mr Davey, told us last month that "there will be no blackouts. Period." Well, Mr Ed Davey obviously believes he has the powers of the Almighty. His civil servants don't though. They quickly moderated the comments by telling Channel 4 news that what he meant was the "UK was not going to run out of energy this winter." Mr Davey will now endure a sleepless winter because blackouts are likely to = "minister fired for being a stupid person." Obviously, you get to make your own choice here, believe the minister or listen to Crumble; your call.


One last point to ponder because we mostly like to cover all the bases. May I direct your attention to the letter to the Telegraph above from a Mrs Margaret Higgs. (I spotted ladybirds last weekend in the corner of my bedroom by the window. How spooky is that Margaret?).

 

In summary, the bad news has arrived for the mid west of the US already, (today in fact). We’re most likely in the clear in respect of heavy snow until after Christmas but at Crumble Towers, I’m taking no chances.In the meantime expect rain, and lots of it.