BBC meteorologist TOMASZ SCHAFERNAKER reveals what on earth is going on with our weather
In May, my garden usually starts to blossom. I dust off the patio furniture, sit down and enjoy my collection of subtropical plants, from palm trees to yuccas.
This year, however, I feel just as exhausted as my weakened plants. My BBC Weather colleagues and I often swap stories about how our gardens are doing. Like mine, hers has been smothered by all the severe frosts we’ve had this spring.
Meanwhile, people stop me on the street and ask when spring will finally come. And what did we do to deserve the cold, dreary weather dragging on for so long?
True, this year was wet and cool. Last week thunderstorms caused torrential rain. We had a break over the weekend, but I’m afraid it will at least get cold again in the next five to ten days.
Why? I would say the answer lies in the past. In the 1970s and 1980s, no one would have batted an eyelash like this.
BBC meteorologist Tomasz Schafernaker says no one would have been surprised at our current cold, gloomy weather in the 1970s and 1980s
Since then, however, temperatures have been rising, mainly thanks to climate change – it snows less often and spring has also occasionally brought very warm weather. And we got used to it.
From time to time we experience a return to previous weather patterns and that is exactly what we are experiencing this year.
Some years we get to January and feel like winter hasn’t really started yet. But last December, temperatures across the UK were up to 1.3C below average. In December, the figure fell as low as minus 17 in parts of Scotland.
This continued in January when I fled to beautiful Bali for three weeks. When I returned to London I was amazed that everything was frozen solid.
March only made the injury worse. Not only did we have a lot of snow – the Peak District was cut off – but it was raining relentlessly. In much of England and Wales, levels this month were double the normal. In addition, we had far less sunshine than average – in the south, solar radiation was reduced by half.
We longed for April to turn the tide, but actually it was very mundane. The temperature in the UK was just 0.1 below the climatological average – around 12°C.
And now we are in the middle of May. A time when we had temperatures of up to 28 °C last year. And who can forget the epic spring of 2020 when we took our one lockdown walk a day in spectacular sunshine?
This May it was barely 20 °C, which means that we endured almost half a year without a sustained warm spell.
Tomasz says people often ask if the jet stream — a core of strong winds blowing from west to east about five to seven miles above the Earth’s surface — is to blame
But there is a glimmer of (sun)light on the horizon. The Met Office seasonal forecast indicates an increased likelihood of hot spells in summer. Of course, I can’t absolutely guarantee that – long-term forecasts are based on probabilities.
But in parts of Europe we are already seeing signs of that heat. In southern Spain, temperatures have already reached 39 °C. Gradually this will also extend to parts of Northern Europe.
Be prepared for a shock when we go from cold and gloomy to suddenly very warm.
However, very warm weather does not necessarily mean that it is super sunny. There is a chance of rain and thunderstorms and there are indeed signs that the weather could be a little wetter than usual.
It’s often asked if the jet stream — a core of strong winds blowing from west to east about five to seven miles above the Earth’s surface — is to blame.
It is true that the jet stream has come very close to Britain lately, bringing with it a ‘conveyor belt’ of low pressure weather systems. However, the reason for cold snaps can be more complicated.
We are monitoring weather patterns around the world that may affect what is happening here. Changes in stratospheric wind patterns can result in particularly harsh, cold weather in winter.
He’s hoping for a mild summer, but Tomasz doesn’t think he’s going to put the umbrella away just yet
This, in turn, can be reinforced by other phenomena. For example, weather in the tropics—rainfall patterns in the Indian Ocean and Indonesia—also has a domino effect on our seasonal weather.
The scorching heat of last summer was amazing. While this is unlikely to happen again in the foreseeable future as it was an unusual event, global warming will soon make moderate to high temperatures and low rainfall the norm here.
I don’t think anyone would welcome a return to this drought, but this year Mother Nature is teasing us with brief rays of sunshine amidst the darkness and sunset.
If you ask me about the prognosis, I can’t go wrong with variable. I hope we have a mild summer, but don’t put the umbrella away just yet!
- Tomasz Schafernaker is a meteorologist at BBC Weather.