meteorology

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Records have been tumbling this year at the University of Reading’s weather station. Just days after the coldest March day since records began, a new record hottest recorded temperature was set for an April day. With the sun beating down on the UK over the Early May Bank Holiday weekend, the question was whether it could break yet more records. Stephen Burt from the Department of Meteorology explains.

Bank holiday weather is normally a cause for national despair, but not this last weekend I’m sure you’ll agree.

Monday was the warmest Early May Bank Holiday on record – and also the sunniest

Monday’s maximum of 27.6 °C (from the automatic weather station) made hotter than any previous Early May Bank Holiday day since the national holiday was introduced in 1978 – the previous highest temperature for the bank holiday weekend being 25.9 °C, set on the Saturday, 6 May, in 1990. It was also the warmest day in the month of May since 2005.

Additionally, unbroken sunshine on all three days this year – Saturday 14.2 hours, Sunday and Monday 14.1 each (total 42.4 hours) – recorded by the electronic sunshine sensor, made this by far our sunniest early Early May Bank Holiday ever.

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Last week’s untypically cold weather was coupled with warmer than usual temperatures in the Arctic – perfectly illustrating that the atmosphere is one continuum and that disturbances in one region of the world can have a dramatic impact in another, says Peter Inness, Lecturer in Meteorology, in a new post for The Conversation.

Simon Harrod  licensed under CC-BY-2.0

During the past week, bitterly cold weather has engulfed the UK and most of Northern Europe. At the same time, temperatures in the high Arctic have been 10 to 20°C above normal – although still generally below freezing.

The co-occurence of these two opposite extremes is no random coincidence. A quick climate rewind reveals how an unusual disturbance in the tropics more than a month ago sent out shock-waves thousands of kilometres in all directions, causing extreme weather events – not only in Europe and the Arctic, but in the southern hemisphere too.

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By Stephen Burt, Department of Meteorology

Snow on the ground in Reading’s Atmospheric Observatory site

Weather records began at Reading University College (as it was then) back in 1901, but in all the years since we’ve never had a March day as cold as yesterday, Thursday 1 March 2018.

At noon yesterday, the temperature stood at just -3.5 °C, and with a strong north-easterly wind the windchill value made it feel more like -10 to -12 °C – approaching frostbite thresholds. Snow fell and drifted throughout the day, although fortunately Reading didn’t see as much snow as in other parts of the country, and the temperature rose very slowly throughout the day and into the night as less cold air associated with storm ‘Emma’ began to push in from the south.

The temperature finally reached a balmy (or it is barmy? This is the first month of Spring, after all!) -0.9 °C at 2am, according to our automatic weather station within the campus’s Atmospheric Observatory. In over a century of weather records, this was only the third March day to remain below freezing throughout, and easily surpassed the previous coldest March day – 6 March 1942, when the day’s highest temperature was only -0.6 °C.

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By Dr Helen Dacre and Dr Andrew Prata, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Mount Agung is erupting in Bali

The volcanic ash being spewed out by Mount Agung in Bali has brought back memories of the 2010 eruption in Iceland, which caused chaos for holidaymakers in Europe. Airlines operating flights to and from Bali and its neighbouring Indonesian islands have again been hit this week, however research is being carried out to reduce the impact of eruptions in the future.

Mount Agung had been showing signs of increased seismic activity since mid-September, but last Tuesday it moved into a new phase and began releasing steam and volcanic ash into the atmosphere. Denpasar International Airport in Bali has reported ash at ground level accumulating on aircraft and satellite images show glimpses of an ash-rich plume, but it is often obscured by meteorological clouds.

Due to the damaging effect of volcanic ash on jet engines – molten ash blocks engine cooling holes causing engines to overheat and shutdown – air travel is restricted in ash contaminated airspace. A prolonged eruption, such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland that grounded flights across Europe, will lead to inevitable economic damage to Bali and the surrounding area due to lost tourism and productivity.

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By Dr Claire Ryder, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Some of the headlines about Monday’s orange sky

Monday’s red sun and the yellowy-orange sky produced an eerie atmosphere, and some beautiful photos, but what was the cause?

We’re used to seeing red skies at sunset, or even at dawn if we’re up early enough, but a red sun throughout the day is an extremely unusual event over the UK. A few unusual events combined this week to give us a blood-red sun for much of the day.

Firstly, we were under the effect of southerly air flow, associated with ex-hurricane Ophelia. While the centre of the storm was out to the west, central and southern England had relatively cloud-free skies allowing the sun to be seen.

Secondly, this southerly airflow brought both Saharan dust, whipped up by strong winds over desert surfaces, and smoke particles from wildfires over Portugal and Spain, lofted to high altitudes and transported our way. The combination of these two types of particles in the atmosphere then led to the red sun and orange skies.

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By Professor Paul D. Williams and Luke N. Storer, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

The study makes turbulence projections for multiple global regions

Our new study calculating that climate change will strengthen aviation turbulence has caused a stir on social media. Most of the online comments about the article have been positive – albeit expressing a little anxiety at the prospect of experiencing double the amount of severe turbulence later this century.

The new paper, as well as our previous study on this topic in Nature Climate Change, was peer-reviewed by international experts in aviation turbulence and found to be scientifically correct. However, as is commonplace in the public discussion about climate science today – at a time when opinions seem to count more than evidence and facts – a small number of non-expert commentators have misunderstood the scientific details and attempted to discredit the findings.

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By Dr Rob Thompson, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Whitley Wood Lane, South Reading, during heavy rain on 18 July 2017

Last night Reading experienced an immense thunderstorm, like something I’d previously only experienced in the tropics.

Driving conditions were horrendous, with incredibly reduced visibility and water simply unable to clear the roads quickly enough – I had the misfortune to be out in it.

To me, the rain was the impressive thing, but then my research is on rain, so I’m very aware of it. But to others the real experience was the lightning. There was a lot of lightning, both sheet and fork lightning. More than 100,000 strikes over the UK, you can see the strikes on the map below.

But, as I’ve said, the really impressive thing for me was the rain rate, and how sustained it was. Very high rainfall rates are not that uncommon, but lasting more than a few minutes is very unusual.

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By Stephen Burt, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

There is much febrile comment in the media concerning the current heatwave. A common statement is ‘this is the greatest heatwave since the hot summer of 1976’.

Always a shame to spoil a good story with the truth, but that’s simply not true, and by a long way.

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Three University of Reading scientists in the Department of Meteorology have been honoured with awards and prizes from the Royal Meteorological Society.

The awards, which will be presented on 17th May, celebrate excellence in meteorology are well regarded among weather and climate scientists across the world.

The prizewinners from Reading are

  • The Buchan Prize has been won by Professor Suzanne Gray
  • The Climate Science Communications Award goes to Dr Ed Hawkins
  • The Quarterly Journal Prize will be awarded to Prof Anthony Illingworth

Professor Dame Julia Slingo, and Professor Stephen Belcher – the former and current Chief Scientist of the Met Office respectively, both of whom previously worked full time at the Department of Meteorology,  are also honoured in the awards.

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By Dr Andrew Charlton-Perez, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Former BBC weather forecaster Bill Giles’ criticism of weather forecasts raises questions about how weather is communicated generally.

Mr Giles has hit out at forecasters for regularly warning the public about the potential consequences of imminent severe weather, arguing they are ‘behaving like nannies’ and could cause the public to become ‘immune’ to the advice.

Rain in Reading – watch out for that puddle!

He added the practice of naming storms had become too frequent, and that forecasters should only advise people about potential dangers for ‘exceptionally severe weather’, which occurs once every few years.

But how much weather information is the right amount for the public? How much do they understand? Could an appreciation of the uncertainty of forecasts actually improve our faith in them?

Research at the University of Reading has shown that not only is the average person able to process more complex weather forecast information, they are likely to make better decisions as a result of the additional information.

Scientists at Reading have therefore begun looking at whether the way weather predictions are presented to the general public can be improved.

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