Are We on Track for the Coldest Winter on Record (Again)?

25 November 2014, 10:45

What is the attraction of predicting a cold winter every year? If you look back in time you’ll notice there is a pattern that always seems to crop up around Halloween-time in the UK. Maybe it happens in other countries in this part of the world too, but it certainly happens here. You can practically be assured of seeing news stories predicting the UK is going to be hit by the coldest period of weather in years. Sometimes they’ll even say the coldest one in a century or more, if they’re feeling extra-dramatic.

And once again we’ve had something very similar this year. Even before the mild weather around Halloween finally disappeared, we started hearing from long-range weather forecasters. They were gleefully predicting the temperatures would drop significantly and the magic word – ‘snow’ – also made an appearance. One newspaper even mentioned that some forecasters were predicting weather chaos for as long as five months.

Of course we had all this last year as well and few of us experienced anything other than a few frosty mornings. There is a tendency in the newspapers to announce temperatures dropping to minus however-many-Celsius. However they do this without mentioning that such temperatures are normally restricted to the Scottish Highlands, where temperatures like these aren’t unusual at night at this time of the year.

So what should we expect for this year and can we really be accurate about the weather for more than a few days in advance?

In truth long-range weather forecasting has always been something of a lottery. That’s why most people don’t pay much attention to it. Instead they focus on what the weather forecast is like for the next day or so. Most of us can remember even severe winters where heavy snow was forecast overnight… only to wake up the next morning to absolutely nothing. You just never know what will happen. So to predict five months of heavy snow, cold weather and misery is rather unlikely to say the least. The temperatures may drop lower as we go through winter, but that’s not unusual in itself. It is practically impossible to predict heavy snow more than a day or two in advance with any real certainty. Anything more is guesswork and is likely to prove incorrect.

So in answer to the title, we might face a bad winter this year. On the other hand we may not. It all remains to be seen. And perhaps that is the way we should approach every winter. We do have a passion for talking about the weather in the UK but when it comes to snow there is a distinct possibility that it will be more a washout than a whiteout.