Wed, 1 March 2023 at 10:15 am GMT
The Met Office has warned the UK could see snow and frost in the coming weeks, with the outlook suggesting that March is more likely to be colder than average.
Despite the country seeing some fairly mild weather in February, with temperatures reaching as high as 16C in Suffolk earlier this week, a significant weather event could bring a flurry of snow from early to mid-March, with forecasters predicting “increased chances of impacts from cold weather, such as snow, frost and fog” for parts of the the UK.
Indeed, bookmakers have cut the odds on this March being one of the coldest on record, amid fears the combination of cold winds and snow could cause travel chaos in the UK.
The Met Office said the “most likely scenario” is for colder and settled weather, with wintry showers expected across much of the UK and snow in the higher ground in the north.
Temperatures are “likely to be below average” in the first half of March, the forecaster added.
Mark Sidaway, a deputy chief meteorologist with the Met Office, said: “The extended outlook shows the possibility for a series of areas of low pressure to come across the Atlantic, and these bring the potential for some more widespread snowfall as they encounter the cold air, although the location and timing of these is very uncertain for now.
Between 3-12 March, the Met Office suggested that in some areas of the country there was “a small possibility of more organised rain or snow spreading southwards”.
This is down to a phenomenon known as “sudden stratospheric warming”.
Here, Yahoo News explains how it works.
What is sudden stratospheric warming?
Sudden stratospheric warming (SSW), refers to a rapid warming – up to about 50C in just a couple of days – high up in the Earth’s stratosphere.
This is so high up that we don’t feel the ‘warming’ ourselves, but it can cause a knock-on effect a few weeks later, affecting the weather we experience lower down in the troposphe
Sometimes – although not every year – this causes winds in the polar vortex to weaken, or even reverse to flow from east to west.
Cold air then descends rapidly in the polar vortex, causing temperatures in the stratosphere to soar by as much as 50C in the space of a few days.
Cooler air from the higher level disperses and sinks down to the troposphere, which can cause the jet stream to change shape and “snake” across the North Atlantic and northern Europe, including Britain.
A sudden stratospheric warming event was linked to the Beast from the East that swept the UK in 2018.
What is the Beast from the East?
The Beast from the East, a wintry storm that ran from around 22 February to 5 March 2018, saw weeks of heavy snow and wind pelting the UK and elsewhere in Europe.
It resulted in a total of 17 deaths in the UK, with 22 inches of snowfall in some areas and £1.2bn in damage.
Since then, the term has been used in the media to describe subsequent spells of heavy snow.
Although the blizzard was caused by a SSW event, the Met Office says there is a “low probability of having widely disruptive winter weather” like that of March 2018.
Is there a sudden stratospheric warming taking place now?
A major SSW took place some 50km above the North Pole earlier this month, causing the stratospheric polar vortex to reverse.
This weather event is currently still taking place, although as mentioned, there is usually a delay before people start to feel it on the Earth’s surface.
The cold snap is expected to arrive within the next two weeks, according to the Met Office, with “much colder” weather expected in the middle of March.
Its long-range forecast covering 9-23 March says: “Spells of rain or snow, are more likely than earlier in the month, with a low chance that some wintry episodes could be disruptive, though northwestern areas most likely to see the driest conditions.
“Winds could often be from a northerly or easterly direction, and temperatures are more likely to be below-average than above-average overall, but later in the month, colder air will be fighting against a strengthening sun.”