Storms in a teacup, or is wild weather here to stay?
First Desmond and Eva dumped record amounts of rainfall on the UK, causing flooding misery across the country.
Then Frank added to the deluge before Gertrude and Henry brought 90mph winds, flurries of snow and travel disruption.
If you’re struggling to keep up with the seemingly never-ending succession of storms battering the country then don’t worry, you’re in good company.
“I lose track of them,” said BBC Look North weather presenter Paul Hudson, who has found himself firing off countless emails to worried pensioners reassuring them that the 150mph winds reported by some media outlets are unlikely to materialise.
“But basically what we’re seeing isn’t really out of the ordinary in getting these types of storms, particularly in December and January.”
What has changed, however, is that these storms now have names. Last year, the Met Office launched a project to name severe winter storms, in the same way that they are in America.
To be given a name, a storm must be forecast to require yellow, amber or red warnings with the potential to cause either medium or high impact. A yellow warning comes into place when you should ‘be aware’ of potential severe weather in the coming days. Amber means ‘be prepared’ and red means ‘take action’.
The idea was that giving each severe winter storm a name makes it easier to warn the public of its impending approach. Working their way through the alphabet, we started last November with Abigail and are now up to Henry. Imogen, Jake and Katie are scheduled to follow.
But if that seems a lot of storms then it should be noted that back in the very bad winter of 2013/14 we had 14 of them, supporting the view that, though severe, this is not too unusual. So are the names to blame for the heightened attention this time round?
“There is a danger that they get over-egged and overhyped by giving them names,” said Hudson. “It makes it feel as though it’s happening more often than it ever has, but that’s not true. Although in terms of raising public awareness and getting people prepared for what’s coming, it works.
“What we have seen are some incredible statistics for rainfall and temperature. Normally when records are broken you would expect it to be by a degree or a millimetre but in December some areas saw rainfall of 200mm above average. In 2010, we had the second coldest December in the 350 years since records began. December 2015 was the warmest.”
The recent spate of storms are mostly down to warmer temperatures in the North Atlantic, as well as milder temperatures here. The El Nino weather phenomenon – associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific – is also a factor.
“It’s definitely associated with global warming but primarily it’s down to chance,” said Piers Forster, professor of Physical Climate Change at the University of Leeds, of the succession of storms that have struck the UK. “We certainly expect these wet and warm winters to become typical in 10 to 15 years’ time, bringing these storms with them, but that’s not going to be the case every year. These severe weather systems could continue throughout February but then they could just as easily not. It’s impossible to predict with any great degree of certainty.”
What we can say with some certainty is that we’re likely to receive visits from storms Lawrence and Mary before spring, while Nigel could also put in an appearance. And that when we’re able to exhaust the alphabet in a single winter, it’s probably time to start worrying.