Archives for November 2009

A spectacular spiral of storms...

Ian Fergusson | 13:47 UK time, Sunday, 29 November 2009

I've just endured a nightmarish drive along the M4 from Bristol to Reading and back again.

It was a journey punctuated by two extremes of weather: passing beneath ink-black skies and torrential downpours for a few miles; then suddenly emerging into calm spells of blue sky and sunshine, only to see the next crop of ominously dark clouds looming-up a few miles further ahead.

Heavy weather on the M4 through Wiltshire (photo: Doug Fergusson)

Another line of dark Cumulonimbus clouds loom on the M4 passing through Wiltshire (Photo: Doug Fergusson)

The return journey to Bristol was quite simply treacherous. Beneath vast walls of towering Cumulonimbus clouds, the M4 through Wiltshire seemed as if gripped by the darkness of night. Long stretches of standing water routinely flicked the steering wheel through my grasp as the risk of aquaplaning became ever prevalent. A nasty-looking accident I passed at the A46 junction for Bath seemed to prove the point: these were truly perilous conditions on the motorway.

As the spectacular rainfall radar image below shows, we've been subjected to a spiral of heavy showers and thunderstorms today, all circulating around a low pressure centre passing northeastwards across the Westcountry. It's the rotating lines of heavy showers - so visible here - that created the on-off nature of wet versus dry weather I passed through along the M4.

Rainfall radar for 1030hrs, Sunday 29 November 2009 (Photo: Met Office imagery)

Met Office rainfall radar at 1030hrs on Sunday, November 29th 2009, clearly shows spectacular clusters of heavy showers spiralling around a centre of low pressure as it crosses Exmoor, moving east-northeast (Image: via Met Office MBS system)

Around the main vortex of this low, the winds are tending to blow readily in different directions and speeds at low levels in the atmosphere.

This wind shear, or shear vorticity, could well create funnel clouds to form in a few spots today. I noticed some impressive-looking lowering of the cloud base in some areas along the M4 corridor, but no obvious funnels. But then a detailed stormspotting effort is hardly easy - nor wise - when trying to avoid aquaplaning into the roadside scenery near Lyneham!

Very, very squally tonight...

Ian Fergusson | 20:33 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Our cats are huddled together. All three of them. And it's weird.

Indeed, I've never seen them like this. They're normally somewhat sociable, but never nestled together quite like this. It's almost as if they've adopted a defensive huddle in anticipation of an unseen threat.

As I write, I can hear ominous crashing and banging outside as the wind howls; perhaps a fence coming down nearby. It's a sound I've grown accustomed to lately: I spent an hour yesterday repairing one in rather makeshift fashion, albeit all-too-aware that any longevity of this patched-up structure against winds gusting over 50 mph is unlikely.

And tonight, I'm expecting the worse.

We have a very active cold front - an ANA-front to give it the correct terminology - crossing eastwards. It will come through our region between about 11pm to 2am, accompanied by some very squally winds; heavy rain and perhaps a small tornado or two. It's a ripe scenario for the latter, as I mentioned on Points West and local radio this morning. 


Met Office rainfall radar at 9pm on Tues, 24 November, 2009. Note the bright, linear echoes across Wales and into the approaches of the Bristol Channel. These line convection elements - moving eastwards - will give very squally winds and could produce a small, short-lived tornado somewhere along their passage.

Even in the absence of any tornado - and I emphasise they are rare, short-lived and very localised -  with winds expected to gust at over 50mph, I fear my makeshift fence repairs will lie in tatters by the time I set off for work in the morning at 03.40hrs.

Others across the West Country and beyond will doubtless experience similar damage tonight and judging by the unusual behaviour of our cats, they evidently believe likewise. Natural intuition, I assume.

So there's another loud crashing sound outside. Great. More fence repairs loom? One of the cats meeaows almost painfully; the wind howls like something out of Wuthering Heights... and I'm trying to get to sleep in 30 minutes...

Calm weather aids BBC Children in Need

Ian Fergusson | 13:00 UK time, Saturday, 21 November 2009

A well-timed window of calm weather arrived yesterday as the BBC Children in Need appeal got underway.

And here across the West Country, things were decidedly hectic for all my BBC colleagues during the evening - as is always the case on this annual event!

Wearing the silver and black bow tie selected by BBC SomersetIn Bridgwater, BBC Somerset hosted a well-attended outside broadcast - as well as procuring a special bow tie for me to don on TV weather through the evening. Generous staff (led by charming Morning Show presenter Emma Britton) and listeners agreed to double their donations to Children in Need if I'd wear the garment on-air. And indeed I did....

Meanwhile, here at BBC Bristol, we opened our doors to hundreds of public visitors, providing guided tours around the historic base on Whiteladies Road - home to the BBC's Natural History Unit; factual programme strands including Antiques Roadshow and DIY-SOS; and our newsroom and studios for regional television (Points West) and BBC Radio Bristol.

We were fortunate to secure the services of popular local actor Anthony Head, who presented (with typical dashing aplomb) our regional Children in Need coverage with Alex Lovell. Anthony has provided willing support and patronage to many charities over the years - including for animal welfare - and his help for Children in Need this year was a major boost in our region.

Popular actor Anthony Head joined the presenting line-up for this year's BBC Children in Need in the WestOnce I'd finished fronting our weather on Points West yesterday evening, I spent the next 3 hours showing visitors of all ages the workings of our TV news studio and the weather sets.

It's always interesting to see how willing volunteers (and believe me, there are many) cope when standing in front of the camera, the countdown clock ticking, presenting to the very same weather graphics I'd used a short time earlier on BBC ONE.

The most common surprises expressed to me are how we never use any autocue to present TV weather and just how tricky it is pointing purposefully at maps, without having to second-guess where an area of low pressure is; or a specific town or other point of interest.

Well, huge thanks to all of you who contributed this year to Children in Need. And thanks also to the weather... for a temporary interlude of calm, dry conditions last night, before the return of often wet, windy but mild conditions through this weekend and indeed through the working week ahead.

I'm returning to presenting our BBC Breakfast TV and local radio weather output on Monday, so will familiarise myself again with the 0300hrs setting on the alarm clock. It's been three weeks since I last awoke at that time, so a shock to the system awaits!

Stormy Saturday...

Ian Fergusson | 15:26 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009


It's certainly been pretty wild this morning across all our districts, with a spell of very windy weather sweeping eastwards, yielding some impressive gust speeds at many observation stations.

The geographic spread of the strongest winds has varied somewhat in the latest forecast modelling by the Met Office, when compared to those shown in my previous update from last night (see below). Nonetheless, the essence of this distinctly stormy weather story remains effectively the same.

As I write, the skies above Bristol are once again dark and threatening, as further showers pass quickly eastwards behind the squally front that crossed us around an hour or so earlier. There's still scope for some damaging gusts of wind for a while longer into the early afternoon and I'm conscious that some trees will have been weakened overnight. Indeed, we've had reports to the BBC of fallen trees in a number of districts, including parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset.  

If you have any damage reports - or indeed photos - please do share your experiences here on the blog. You can also send us pictures for the local BBC websites at

I've pasted below the weather observations recorded across the West and environs at 11 am this morning and at midday.

You'll note some of the wind gusts labelled with a prefix 'G'. And remember, these values are in knots (you can convert them to MPH at this website).

Look down near the Isle of Wight on the 12pm observations - a gust of 83 knots.  That's 96mph!!


synops_141109_1100.jpgUPDATE, FRIDAY 13 NOV., 2345hrs:

windspeed_09Z_141109.jpgCurrently, some of you might think it's a case of "what's all the fuss about?", as we see a (predicted, I stress!) lull in the winds across our region. It's not going to last...

I've attached here the very latest Met Office prediction of wind gusts for 9 am in the morning.

These suggest some damaging gusts are very likely: the figures you see here (e.g., 60) are knots, not mph. In other words, a high likelihood of gusts around 70mph, more than enough fell some trees and cause some structural damage to buildings. We've been seeing some of this already across the SW of England and tomorrow could yield a genuine sting in the tail.


UPDATE, FRIDAY 13 NOV., 1500hrs:

Wild weather continues to loom into this evening and overnight into Saturday. The major concern for us is primarily the strong winds we're expecting to develop, albeit the likelihood of heavy rain is another factor being closely monitored.

By mid-evening tonight, winds will be gusting around 60-70mph in some exposed southern districts and progressively overnight, we'll see a swathe of similarly strong gusts extend northwards to affect a broad swathe of our region.

Tomorrow morning (Saturday), winds will peak - probably around 6-9am - with gusts through the Bristol Channel touching 75mph and widely inland at 60-70mph.

And that's certainly enough to cause real problems: trees and power lines down; perhaps some structural damage; and disruption to all forms of transport.

Unsurprisingly, my planned day off on Saturday is curtailed...

However by afternoon, things will be improving. Still windy, yes, but not as troublesome in terms of gust strengths. A good deal of brighter, blustery weather will prevail for us by late Saturday, with a generally less noteworthy day (weatherwise) to come on Sunday.

However, with further wet and windy weather returning on Monday and likely again mid next week, a risk of local flooding - from a continued accumulation of rainfall - is certainly one to watch....


Stormy weather for late Friday? (with updates)

Ian Fergusson | 17:16 UK time, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

UPDATE, THURSDAY 12 NOV., 14.00hrs:

So, the expected heavy rain is now upon us and it's proving a frantic day here at the weatherdesk in BBC Bristol.

The rest of this afternoon and the early evening will see some treacherous conditions on the roads across the West, with up to 15mm of rain falling and some strong winds for a while.

I'm especially watching the developments within this front, visible in the rainfall radar image below.  See those bright pink and white areas into Somerset, starting to form discrete lines?  It's the incipient phase of a phenomenon called line convection and where these occur, they're likely to provide some very squally conditions, perhaps even dropping a small tornado somewhere.


Met Office rainfall radar image for the Westcountry, 13:45hrs, Thursday 12 November 2009


UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 11 NOV., 16.20hrs:

I just came off the 'phone after another briefing from my Met Office colleagues at BBC Weather Centre (the inimitable Rob McElwee in this case) - and the evolving story remains broadly the same, albeit with some key points worth highlighting:

Firstly, whilst we've been emphasising Friday's inclement weather, let me stress that tomorrow evening (Thursday) will also see some very wet and windy weather spreading eastwards, giving worsening conditions for many districts by the evening rush-hour;

Secondly - after only a brief dry interlude later on Thursday night - there's a chance that heavy rain could be across the Westcountry even by dawn on Friday - ahead of further very wet and windy weather continuing through the rest of the day. 

And Saturday is now included in the extended Met Office weather advisory I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry (above).


ORIGINAL ENTRY, 10.11.09, 17.16HRS

I'm penning this short entry to highlight our growing expectation for the working week to end with some potentially - and I stress potentially - wild weather.

The Met Office's pressure chart for Friday shows a deep area of Low Pressure brewing SW of the British IslesYesterday, the Met Office issued an early advisory for this likelihood, with a focus for the worst weather developing during Friday evening, overnight into Saturday.

We're still some way off seeing the forecast detail firming-up, but the various forecast models we use (and you can see a selection here) paint a broadly similar story: some very wet and very windy weather brewing in the Atlantic by Friday afternoon, with Saturday starting in similar fashion.

More on this as the forecast develops....


More weekend TV weather from today...

Ian Fergusson | 11:41 UK time, Saturday, 7 November 2009

Some impressive Cumulonimbus incus storm clouds were visible to the south across Somerset as I drove into work at 9am today - and more are now developing in and around the Bristol Channel.  It's going to be an active afternoon of weather, for sure.

Today is something of a journey into the unknown, work-wise, as I'm piloting our weather provision for a new Points West bulletin being broadcast every Saturday lunchtime at 12.10pm on BBC ONE. I started work on my weather graphics yesterday, saving a fair bit of time after arriving at BBC Bristol this morning.

In the Points West gallery today - now a much busier scene than previously at Saturday lunchtimes!Just after 10 am, I joined our telephone briefing conference with other BBC weather presenters across the entire UK. It's always interesting to hear what our ever-varied weather has in store for colleagues working as far afield as Belfast to Glasgow; Newcastle to Tunbridge Wells.

A new Saturday lunchtime weather bulletin, bringing a distinctly showery forecast!Met Office forecaster Peter Gibbs, acting as Duty Forecaster at BBC Weather Centre this morning, talked us through the developing weather story. The prospects for us here in the west remain unchanged from my blog yesterday: in short, further heavy, squally showers to come. However, we've yet to see much sign of any showers turning thundery, either last night or indeed so far today. But there's certainly a potential for this.

So, our new 12.10 bulletin rapidly approaches and it's much busier here in the newsroom, gallery and studio than normal at this time on a Saturday.

Will Glennon seen in the hot seat today, for the 12.10 Points West bulletinThere's all manner of editorial decisions to be made by Will Glennon, who will produce and present this first edition. I've prepared a 50-second weather report (and it cannot be a second longer!) and there's a lot of information to squeeze in, especially given various events happening around the region this afternoon and this evening. Plus, of course, Remembrance Sunday tomorrow.

We've got rehearsals soon, so I'm signing off for now!

A tricky local forecast this weekend...

Ian Fergusson | 21:37 UK time, Friday, 6 November 2009

What a decidedly pesky forecast this is proving - especially at a local level.

There's much riding on getting things right, or at least thereabouts.

Take, for example, the Bridgwater Carnival this evening; innumerable fireworks displays being held over three evenings across our region; and the not-too-small matter of an FA Cup 1st Round match being played at Paulton Rovers, as they take on Norwich City.

So no pressure there, then. 

But for this evening at least, so far, so good...

I highlighted today on BBC Points West and local radio what I dubbed a 'window of opportunity' for a while this evening, for holding outdoor events free of inclement weather. Effectively, a spell of dry or largely dry weather prevailing for the first part of the evening, after we'd lost that band of light to moderate rainfall from earlier this afternoon

But I also stressed that some heavy, squally showers would emerge later from the west - especially after 9pm.

Met Office rainfall radar for the evening of Friday, 6 November 2009As it happens, this risk of heavier rainfall has manifested itself almost exactly on-cue as a line of quite conspicuous organisation - and yes, even weather can be 'organised' - showing well on the regional rainfall radar (see above). Further showers will now follow through tonight, perhaps accompanied by a flash or two of lightning, especially for those districts of Somerset bordering the Bristol Channel.

Hail falls from a Cumulonimbus over Bradley Stoke in 2008. Similar scenes for some tomorrow (Saturday)?Tomorrow, we witness a potential footballing upset - and perhaps another noteworthy Delia Smith outburst - unfolding as Paulton Rovers take-on Norwich City. I'm expecting a sunny, dry but distinctly autumnal feel to the weather at kick-off (12.45pm), with the very real chance of squally showers arriving as the match continues, especially towards the end.

We have a brand-new Points West Saturday bulletin starting tomorrow at 12.15pm, so I'll update your weather prospects during that inaugural bulletin... oh yes, just ahead of the Paulton kick-off. 

Pressure...  what pressure?

A wild start to November...

Ian Fergusson | 10:25 UK time, Sunday, 1 November 2009

Threatening skies above Bradley Stoke this morningI'm adding this as a continuation of my last blog tracking today's wild weather across much of the British Isles. A short while ago, I ventured outside here in Bradley Stoke to watch the passage of a vigorous cold front, accompanied by some impressive gusts of wind from this increasingly convective-looking feature. I snapped a shot on the mobile 'phone (right).

The radar image below shows the squally line passing through Bristol and environs as I took the photo. It's now moving swiftly eastwards and I wouldn't be surprised if it takes a few (weak or diseased) trees down en-route; perhaps even dropping a small, short-lived tornado somewhere if the conditions prove 'just right'.

Rainfall radar, West Country, 10 am Sunday 01 November 2009 (via Met Office MBS System)

Met Office rainfall radar and observation feed at 10am, Sunday 1 November 2009. Note (with arrows superimposed above it) the squally cold front passage eastwards, giving some strong wind gusts and potentially tornadic developments for some localities.

The worst of the rain is now moving smartly away from our region, but we expect the winds to get stronger for a while towards midday, gusting 50+mph in exposure for our neck of the woods and widely at 40-50mph.  Some very squally showers will return after dark, more especially towards the late evening.

Farewell Indian Summer; welcome back to Autumn.


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