Archives for August 2010

Belgium Grand Prix 2010 - Early Weather Forecast Prospects

Ian Fergusson | 19:57 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010

Spa-Francorchamps, 27-29 August 2010 (Round 13)

(Updated Tuesday, 10:30hrs)

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It's only a quick blog this time, folks, as I'm away from tomorrow (Tuesday) for a fortnight and will resume a full F1 forecast blog just ahead of the next one in Monza, albeit probably online only by Thursday ahead of that race weekend...sorry for any inconvenience!

Well, it's the first time I've missed a live F1 event in some 13 years, so I'll be keeping well away from all newsmedia as I return to my underwater paradise to photograph yet more fish species on Red Sea reefs. I'll catch-up on all the (recorded) Spa weekend action immediately when I return!

Broadscale Weather Prospects

It's always a risk publishing any sort of forecast this early and with no chance to modify it later, but hey, here goes!! But please do bear in mind this was written on Monday, so much is likely to change between now and the cars taking to the track on Friday morning. If I can offer any useful update from Egypt.... I will try!

It's been a rather divergent forecast evolution across the model runs until the last 12hrs, since when some semblance of consensus has emerged between the main operational centres concerning the Fri-Sun period and probable outcome at Spa.

We always hear (albeit often used incorrectly and vaguely) about the 'microclimate' at this track but the reality is that local conditions are inevitably dictated by the mesoscale situation, with nuances in this part of the Ardennes then dictated through varied orographic influences. In other words, pretty much the same story and forecast headache encountered in any heavily-wooded uplands across the globe.

This weekend will be no different.

It's a wet and breezy spell looming into Thursday (Spa has a 35 chance of seeing rain over 20mm, via a vigorous Atlantic low, transiting eastwards, which will bring inclement weather to the UK during Wednesday). Therafter, high pressure will attempt to ridge eastwards into Belgium for Friday, but showery conditions will still dominate across much of northern France and into Benelux.

Although it could remain mostly dry, I wouldn't count on it!  Showery outbreaks of (mostly light) rain are very likely, not least forced through orographic influences. Worth noting that the UKMO's MOGREPS-15 mapping of rainfall probability exceeding 0.5mm offers the chance of rain across Spa as 60+% during Friday. So, I'd be surprised if the day stays entirely dry throughout.

Depending on which model you choose, it could be distinctly cool too - important to stress this factor; for example, ambient temperature via the UKMO Global Model is only 15C. Brrrr!!!

I'm expecting Saturday to be a fairly decent affair; some sunny spells; the anticyclonic ridging ever more influential but so mostly dry weather probable, but with a chance of a light shower forced-up again by the higher ground especially. So again, no guarantee of entirely dry conditions into FP3 and qualifying, but a pretty good chance for this outcome.

I haven't seen the ECMWF-EPS 00z output this morning (I'm about to leave!), but the latest from them (12z OP) shows the probability of rainfall at Spa on Saturday exceeding 1mm (in the 24hr period) as greater than 35% but less than 65%, so a reduced risk when compared to Friday. 

The localised detail will clearly remain the key issue as we approach Friday onwards. Sorry I won't be around to add this crucial nowcast stuff for you all, but I hope the rainfall radar, latest observations and other links I've listed above will provide some help!

Sunday is a tricky one, and the latest output I'd seen from ECMWF and UKMO are largely now in line with other operational centres, notably GFS and Canada's GM.

All the centres agree on a firm mid-Atlantic block established by the high cell, with a depression set to skirt-down across the North Sea and swing frontal rain into parts of NW Europe, although any extension of this threat southwards into Belgium will be tricky to call at this juncture. It could well bring a few light showers and patchy outbreaks of rain into Spa-Francorchamps as the race is underway, but crucially....

....EC, UKMO and GFS have the low development and attendant precipitation further to the north and east, into Holland, Denmark and N Germany, whilst mostly dry, ridged conditions prevail into Spa for Sunday with variable cloud cover. 

As things stand, I'm more tempted by dry or mostly dry conditions on race day... but there's plenty of time for things to change (and you will all see the final result in real-time; I'll have to record it and watch later!)

Heavy rain expected Sunday night into Monday...

Ian Fergusson | 19:54 UK time, Saturday, 21 August 2010


SUN. 19:30BST: So, here we go. The rain approaches....

The broad theme remains unchanged, bar some key differences since my last update. The rainfall totals are only slightly diminished - 70mm versus 80 for certain areas - but it's still a fair number of districts seeing 30-40mm between around 10pm tonight through to 3am tomorrow. Some parts of the SW will see these sorts of totals in only 3 hours - and that's likely to be bothersome.

My major concerns for very heavy rain are parts of Somerset (e.g., Crewkerne, Chard, Wincanton, up towards Frome) and much of Wiltshire. Localised flooding seems possible in the 'flashy' river catchments for these areas.

Bristol, Bath, N. Somerset and S. Glos. also likely to see the heaviest (short-term) rain totals experienced so far this year.

As for the winds, the sting jet potential is now expected further east, off the coast of the Netherlands especially and with highest English winds probably further south on the Norfolk coast, rather than through the Wash as previously expected. Either way, some nasty weather approaches; the M4 corridor will NOT be a good place to drive around midnight, for sure.

SUN. 08:45BST: The Met Office has now issued an Early Warning for tonight's event, with 80+mm of rain (and widely up to 30mm) expected to fall during just 3 hours in some areas within a swathe extending from the SW across parts of southern-central England. The latest high-resolution (MetO-UKpp) modelling for the period between 10pm to 1am BST has a strong signal for some very heavy rain, notably through districts of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, N. Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. A further concern comes a little later, as the rapidly-deepening low crosses East Anglia, where the forecast modelling suggests a sting-jet development could bring strong wind gusts (over 50kts) to coastal areas of Lincolnshire and N. Norfolk by around mid-morning on Monday.



What happens when you cross an upper trough moving eastwards, with some inherently warm, moist air easing-up from the south?


Rain. Lots.

Later on Sunday evening, all eyes (at least from the weather-watching community) will be trained on developments from the southwest.

We'll be watching the very soggy - and possibly troublesome - consequences resulting from a plume of high (16-18C) wet bulb potential temperature (WBPT) airmass spreading at low level out of the Bay of Biscay, while an upper trough from the west interacts with it, as an area of low pressure crosses southern England.

The likely result rather varies, depending which numerical weather prediction (NWP) model you place utmost faith in.

In an Anglo-French agreement upon some highly complex mathematics, the UK Met Office's NAE - and the French equivalent model, called Arpege - concur on a very wet solution, spinning-up a deepening area of low pressure that crosses southern districts of England overnight Sunday-Monday. It could generate 50-60mm of rain in places and winds gusting over 50 knots. The NAE offers the wettest area (50mm rain) around Bristol and adjacent South Gloucestershire.

Oh yes - and it's still summer. Honest.

Conversely, the Met Office's Global Model sits broadly aligned with two other 'pre-eminent' forecast models - namely ECMWF (it's my favourite) and the US-GFS - in offering a somewhat less deep or 'flatter' low, but nonethless bringing some eye-catching rainfall totals through the same overnight period.

Either way, if you adopt a consensual approach - as the Met Office experts in Exeter have done - it looks like some pretty nasty weather will affect much of SW / S / S-Central England and Wales into the early hours of Monday. The GFS, for example, still delivers some 30mm of rain in 6hrs during Monday morning... and it's a less extreme solution.

With some 30 to 40% of the individual runs (members) of ECMWF's ensemble also agreeing with the rapidly deepening modelling generated from NAE and Arpege, it's no wonder the Met Office has issued a timely advisory for the potential of severe weather.

So lucky me then, as I plan a crafty, brolly-armed strategy for running to my car at around 03:25hrs on Monday morning, wearing a suit, ahead of working our BBC Breakfast shift from 0400hrs.

I'll keep you advised here of the forecast developments... 





Lynmouth & Exmoor Floods Remembered....

Ian Fergusson | 20:51 UK time, Monday, 16 August 2010

Earlier this morning, on BBC Points West and BBC Somerset, I mentioned how today (and more specifically, last night) marks the anniversary of the devastating flash floods that took 34 lives in Lynmouth, North Devon, and surrounding districts across Exmoor.

The disaster came after an exceptionally wet start across the region during August 1952, culminating in a severe and prolonged thunderstorm raging above Exmoor throughout the late afternoon, evening and early night. The cumulative rainfall was truly exceptional; it all ran immediately off the already saturated moorland and cascaded with massive force and destruction through the wooded, steep valley catchments of the East and West Lyn. In Barbrook, Watersmeet and ultimately where the rivers joined at Lynmouth, death came suddenly in pitch darkness, periodically illuminated by the frequent lightning.

The resultant terror, combining tales of human tragedy and astonishing bravery, are well told elsewhere, so really require no duplication on this blog.

A few weeks ago, I was very privileged to interview one of the last survivors of that awful night, Ken Oxenholme. His original story was recorded this very day by the BBC exactly 58 years ago.

If you want to hear his thoughts of the event now, 58 years later (and I certainly did), watch Wild Weather of the West, on BBC ONE, 7.30pm, Monday September 20th. 

2010 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta: Weather Forecast

Ian Fergusson | 13:32 UK time, Monday, 9 August 2010

Ashton Court, Bristol: Thursday 12 - Sunday 15 August 2010

This forecast will be regularly updated. This update: Sun. 15 Aug., 10:30BST

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Changes of Emphasis since last update:  Overcast, breezy morning on Sunday will be replaced by much sunnier weather PM; feeling warm, staying dry and winds moderating. Good chance for the evening mass ascent.


Nowcast Updates

(These have proved popular with my Formula One blog forecast audience, so here goes!)

SUN 1020BST: Well, the forecast for cloudy skies early this morning proved correct, as a veil of fairly thick stratus spread southwest all the way from the North Sea overnight. This, combined with a rather brisk (10kt) northeasterly wiind, prevented the early mass ascent but I'm much more hopeful for later today. Post-midday, the stratus sheet should fragment and dissipate - it's already doing so anywhere east of Wiltshire and we'll gradually see this thinning process ease across Bristol, too. So, the afternoon will turn sunnier and warmer, with a maximum temperature of 23C. Should be good conditions for the Red Arrows after 4pm! Also, the surface winds should moderate later. High-resolution modelling shows that by 6pm, Ashton Court will have only 5kts surface wind (see Met Office model output for 6pm local time, below) shifting to due north rather than the earlier NE and with a possible westerly component  through sea breeze influences. I am thus advising the Fiesta directors to assume that the evening mass ascent stands a good chance of being a 'go'.

windfields-sunday-6pmlocal.jpgSAT 2200BST: I've spent much of the day forecasting on-site at the Fiesta with Flight Director Don Cameron and Fiesta Director Clive Bailey. The showers duly appeared as expected, but nonetheless the crowds enjoyed a range of displays including Royal Navy Lynx helicopters and a very talented powerglider pilot! The Night Glow should be underway now as hoped; the last of today's dying thundery showers are tracking westwards up north of Ashton Court, with skies largely clearing now. Tomorrow's prognosis is far better, with the main weather issue for the planned early ascent being twofold: wind vector taking balloons towards Bristol Airport, plus perhaps early low cloud and mist which should readily lean towards dispersing. The rest of Sunday gets better by the hour: by mid-afternoon, sunny spells, dry and warm as temperatures reach 23C. So, it looks promising, despite the wind still vectoring balloons towards the airport... but I'm very, very hopeful we will see some flights take place.

SAT 1035BST: Unfortunately (albeit fortunately for me), this morning's spell of fairly heavy rain appeared very much as expected, associated with an occlusion and westward extension of shear vorticity aloft, which had the effect of increasing the rainfall intensity. It's all now eased southwards into Somerset, with dry but cloudy conditions following across Ashton Court. The combined poor weather prevented any mass ascent, obviously, but we should see spells of brighter weather into the afternoon. However, the next weather-related issue comes in the form of towering shower clouds after midday. The atmospheric profiles today suggest these could readily form cumulonimbus and turn thundery widely across southern England, if we see temperatures of 17C+. Cloud tops of these cells could extend up past 30,000ft, with a convergence zone aligned north-south gradually moving westwards to lie close to Bristol by early afternoon. I expect this threat of heavy showers to have passed by this evening's Night Glow, which should be dry with clear spells. Tomorrow continues to look a much, much better day in every respect. Well, I'm heading off to the Fiesta today to help with on-site forecasts and nowcasts - might see some of you there!!

FRI 1735BST: Ashton Court has thankfully dodged most of the rash of showers that have developed widely across the West Country today, but that luck might come to an end within about the next 30-40mins or so. An area of showers is now running down into SE Wales and is likely to cross the Severn and track into the Bristol area. Some moderately heavy rain is possible in places from this feature. Meanwhile, the forecast signal for a spell of wet, overcast weather early Saturday morning remains firm, which is not good news for any planned early mass ascent...

FRI 0950BST: Apparently 81 balloons managed to lift-off this morning, with Fiesta Director Clive Bailey telling me how his own flight eventually landed south of Chew Valley, encountering winds aloft around 15 to 20kts, but only 3kts at the surface on landing. So, the Met Office modelling of local windfield direction and strength has been very accurate this morning. You can see highlights of his flight - with reporter Will Glennon - on Points West this evening.

balloon-mass-ascent-fri-dav.jpgFRI 0710BST: Latest conditions are an increasing 8 knot wind, visibility over 10km; scattered clouds at 4100ft and temperature 12C.

FRI 0700BST: A number of balloons up and away; some already touching-down in Hengrove. The wind turning brisker now both aloft and at the surface.

FRI 0636BST: They're up! The first balloon is away... more to follow. Fantastic.

FRI 0626BST: A light, small-scale shower currently easing south right now past Bath is the first hint of growing instability aloft. With the breeze also picking-up steadily from now on, the balloons need to get up and away imminently, or the chance, I fear, will be lost for today... 

FRI 0600BST: Looking promising! Clive Bailey says first balloon should be aloft in the next 30 mins. More to follow en-mass shortly after. Latest conditions at Lulsgate: Wind 270deg(W) at 3 kts; cloud ceiling and visibility ok; temperature 11C. Forecast all going to plan... so far!!

FRI 0500BST: A bit more cloud is now easing southwards, but with surface winds still effectively light at 7kts over at Bristol (Lulsgate) Airport, conditions still remain flyable for this fairly brief window of opportunity. I've discussed the forecast with Clive Bailey (Fiesta Director) an hour ago and he's certainly aiming for a 'go'. If they do get up, the balloons will head eastwards initially towards Bedminster; those ascending higher will then swing more to the SSE in the 15 kts gradient flow, off towards the likes of Pensford and Whitchurch.

FRI 0400BST: Conditions looking promising for this morning's planned Mass Ascent. Recent conditions have been light (5 kts) wind from the WNW; a little patchy cloud at about 4000ft and wholly dry. I'm very hopeful they'll lift-off as expected... incidentally, yesterday evening's Night Glow went ahead as hoped, despite being a bit breezy.

THUR 1800BST: Positive news this evening, as per the forecast expectations outlined below. The special shape balloon will be displayed tethered, but some other balloons are set to fly. The Night Glow later still looks good for this evening, as predicted. Enjoy!


Forecast Summary:

Balloon-ian_fergusson_2010.jpgThe broadscale weather for this year's Fiesta is looking reasonable at times but also very changeable: sometimes rather breezy and with an occasional chance of some possibly disruptive showers, especially later on Friday and Saturday.

After an inclement start to the week, we'll gradually see an area of low pressure shift eastwards and then southwards through the North Sea, while at the same time, high pressure establishes out to the west of the British Isles.

It won't prove a very clear-cut transition, however. An upper vortex dominates across the North Sea, eager to 'block' the high development from the west; the strong jetstream winds way up aloft will bow-down southwards overhead Ireland Friday-Saturday; and one consequence of this somewhat messy 'squeeze' will be moderately breezy conditions at times during the Fiesta. The broadly northerly flow across England will also, at times, swing some showery outbreaks southwards within shortwave features, albeit Ashton Court should sit at the western extreme of this potential, with largely dry weather dominating.

The precise positioning and westward expansion of the low pressure centre out east remains subject to some flux in recent forecast models. This is a very critical aspect, as the local nuances of hour-by-hour cloud cover, windspeed and occasional chance of showers will prove the trickier elements of my forecast blog. Friday afternoon and much of Saturday carry the greatest threat of showers, some possibly turning rather heavy across parts of the West Country.

One certainty is that throughout the Fiesta, winds will be largely from the NW/NNW/N (on Sunday, NNE) across Bristol and environs.

Flights - when they're possible - will thus head out towards the ESE / SSE / SE /S of Ashton Court, i.e., away from Bristol city centre; broadly across towards Bedminster / Bishopsworth / Dundry (sometimes a bit more eastwards) and into parts of North Somerset and B&NES. 

Conditions are expected to see variable - and sometimes rather widespread - cloud cover coupled with bright / sunny spells; temperatures about average for the time of year and winds largely light to moderate, at least down at ground level in Ashton Court itself.

The precise windspeeds / vectors at ground level and aloft - plus a high chance of the prevailing flow routing balloons towards Bristol International Airport airspace - are two of the weather issues I can forsee being problematic at times for organisers and pilots.

It's not a unique situation forecast-wise, by any means.

Fiesta Flight Director, Clive BaileyClive Bailey is the Fiesta's Director and a hugely experienced pilot (as well as being great fun to be up aloft with, as I can recently attest!). He's overseeing the event weather forecasts for pilots and - in respect of the possible incursions towards Bristol Airport - tells me:

"We can possibly go over the top (of Lulsgate) at 3,000 feet... the best thing is being surrounded by people that want it to happen." 

The airport, incidentally, has always been a very willing participant in assisting the Fiesta, whatever the conditions.

"They are great, and will do everything possible to get us away," says Clive.

The latest Met Office modelling of windfields up aloft at 600m for Thursday / Friday / overnight into Saturday suggests a pretty steady 15+ kts or so (17 mph+) and sometimes 20+ kts, so yes, it'll be brisk at times and perhaps too much for some of the flights. But hopefully, we'll see decent flyable (and tetherable!) windows of opportunity, too. For example, the low-level winds on early Friday morning look ok for the planned mass ascent at that time. The local nitty-gritty of wind forecasts will become clearer only much nearer to the time of each ascent: so fingers-crossed!

The cloudbase, although at times extensive as we see a fairly routine process of convective infill (and especially during afternoons), should be high enough to not prove a continuous concern; equally, visibility should be OK.


The third problem for pilots and organisers comes in the shape of some potentially very beefy shower clouds. 

On Thursday, it's very likely to remain dry: any showers should be fairly light, small-scale, restricted to the early-mid afternoon period and probably affecting districts further to the north and east.

But the very latest (Thurs PM) forecast modelling from the UK Met Office continues to throw-up a pronounced possibility of a few showers during Friday afternoon, with Saturday also rather shower-prone at times, essentially throughout the whole day.

By Sunday, I'm expecting the threat of showers to have largely passed. Bar perhaps one or two isolated light showers, it should turn into a fine, dry, fairly warm but (at times) somewhat breezy day.

Here's the current thinking on day-to-day prospects...obviously, I'll be providing greater detail as each day nears:


Thursday: Partly cloudy; some sunny intervals. Prolonged dry spells expected with just a low chance of scattered light showers during the afternoon, these mostly out in districts to the east / NE of Ashton Court. Dry by the evening and with lighter winds. Max. temp. 20C. Wind moderate WNW; likely to be breezier through the middle of the day.  NB: Gates open 12:00pm

Flying: 18:00hrs, Special Shapes Ascent. Conditions essentially good, but the chance of flying will be completely dictated by local wind parameters (turning moderate-fresh at times, which could be problematic) and possibly a scattered shower or two at that stage (very low probability). Flight direction, if we get the launch, will be to the ESE / E of Ashton Court and somewhat modified by sea breeze influences, towards Bedminster / Whitechurch and environs.

balloons-nightglow.jpgThursday Evening: Night Glow, 21:30hrs. Should proceed as planned. Remaining settled and dry for the event; winds falling a good deal lighter and the east-facing slope at the Fiesta offering further shelter from the forecast wind direction.


Friday: Starts dry, with some fairly clear skies at this stage and winds fairly light from the W/WNW. Looks good for the early Mass Ascent. But as the day progesses, convective developments will ease south towards midday, bringing a risk of scattered showers, some moderately heavy but risk of thunderstorms considered very low (these will occur in eastern parts of the country). A few brighter spells too but generally rather cloudy PM.  Later overnight, some further showery outbreaks of rain will pass through at into Saturday. Max. temp 19C and a moderate to fresh breeze from the NNW / N.

Flying: 06:00hrs and 18:00hrs, Mass Ascents. Early ascent should be OK with a good chance of lifting-off, subject to exact wind speed / direction. However, the evening planned ascent could be curtailed by a combination of local convective development and winds.


Saturday: Likely to be a rather grey and damp start, with extensive cloud cover; then developing into a day of fairly prolonged dry intervals, variable (probably rather extensive) cloud cover at times with some sunny intervals; and a fair number of showers across local districts, especially PM, some turning heavy in places. A real lottery in terms of the hit-or-miss wet weather probability. Winds moderate; fresher aloft; with gradient wind direction mostly from NNE to N.  Max. temp 20C.

Flying: 06:00hrs and 18:00hrs, Mass Ascents.  Early ascent currently looks very unlikely. Evening one might also prove difficult based on current forecast expectations; it will be subject to exact wind speed and direction and any local shower cloud development.

Saturday Evening: Night Glow, 21:30hrs. Still a low-ish shower potential but hopefully most will have faded to offer improving conditions: i.e., dry or mostly so; winds expected to be light-moderate at this stage. Assuming most (if not all) shower threat has passed; ground not too sodden and winds fall lighter, should proceed as planned assuming tethered control of balloons is not problematic.


Sunday: Early cloud tending to disperse to offer a settled, largely dry and generally much sunnier day; the wind expected to be more from the NNE, moderately breezy at times. Fairly low probability of showers; around 30% and they'll be light and well-scattered. It will feel pleasantly warm in the sunshine; Max. temp 21C.

Flying: 06:00hrs and 18:00hrs, Mass Ascents. Subject to exact wind speed and direction (i.e., to avoid possible conflict with Bristol International Airport and excursions drifting beyond the Somerset coast!). Flight direction will be essentially to the south / SSW of Ashton Court, into North Somerset.

Red Arrows: 16:30hrs: The spectacular finale to this year's Fiesta should be unhindered by the weather; should be a full or largely full display from the RAF's maestro aerobatic team, as planned. 


More updates will follow...


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