Day 332 Severe weather watch: deep depressions

    Distance travelled ~ 853'365'600 km

    UK and World weather report:

    The UK's recent quiet weather took a dramatic turn last week as fog gave way to gales and heavy rain. The foggy start to the week, with visibility down to below 50m in places in the south and east on Monday and Tuesday.

    Despite a colder night on Tuesday, with a minimum of - 2.3 °C and widespread ground frost across England and Wales, temperatures remained a little above normal throughout the week, with a high of 15.9 °C at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire on Saturday.

    On Thursday, a rapidly deepening area of low pressure moved past the north west of the UK, bringing severe gales over the far north west as well as persistent and increasingly heavy rain that continued into Friday and over the weekend.

    storm force winds thurso, scotland

    Storm force winds hit Scotland over the weekend. Image captured by Debbie Bozkurt Sunday 27 November

    Cassley in Sutherland recorded 66.6mm of rain in 12 hours, gales affected northern Scotland, peaking with a gust of 90mph at Fair Isle on Sunday morning. The storms left about 400 homes without power in Orkney, caused landslides, and A cargo ship sunk after reportedly being rolled over by a wave and breaking in two in the Irish Sea.

    Elsewhere in the world, heavy rain is continuing to cause problems. In the Philippines, six people were killed in flash floods after continuous rains in the area caused local rivers to overflow. In Australia, floods have left thousands cut off in the town of Wee Waa in New South Wales. The town will only be accessible by boat and helicopter for at least a week.

    Meanwhile, Mexico is suffering its worst drought in 70 years. Due to the lack of rainfall the government has forced been to supply water to nearly 2.5 million people across eight states.

    The week ahead


    • A very unsettled week for the whole country, with several deep depressions moving in off the Atlantic.

    uk infrared satellite image


    Latest infrared satellite image of British Isles

    uk forecast rainfall


    • Periods of heavy rain, especially in the west of Scotland, could cause some flooding problems. Also windy at times, with a continued risk of gales. There is risk of snow over the higher ground of northern Britain at times.


    Across the North America:

    • A deep depression is moving eastward across Canada, bringing strong winds and snow to many areas.

    satellite image canada

    GOES-EAST/WEST infrared satellite image 14:45 UTC. Data courtesy of NOAA.

    By Tuesday, it is expected to lie over the Hudson Bay, with particularly windy conditions on its southern flank possibly affecting coastal Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.

    • Another depression, moving northwards towards the Great Lakes from the Gulf of Mexico over the next few days, will also bring heavy rain to places in between as it passes.

    Across Africa:

    • Cooler than average conditions extending from Saudi Arabia across Sudan, Chad and perhaps even reaching northern Nigeria. Conversely, warmer than average across much of Madagascar.

    Across Asia:

    • A spell of wet weather is expected for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the northern Gulf on Monday and Tuesday. Rainfall totals of 40-60 mm are likely, with flash flooding a possibility. This is the first significant rainfall since the spring in this area. It is also unseasonably cold, both in this region and more widely across the Middle East.

    • Some rather windy conditions likely for Oman, especially coastal regions and particularly later in the week, in association with a deep depression. This is also likely to impact on coastal parts of Karnataka, Kerala and Goa in India for the next day or two.

    Across Australasia:

    • Some large temperature variations across southern Australia this week, with south western parts going from cool to warm and south eastern areas swinging from warm to cool.

    • Heavy rainfall is set to continue in Australia and Asia due to a La Nina pattern in the Pacific Ocean.

    Day 325: This week's extreme weather watch

    Distance travelled ~ 835'409'600 km

    It was another mild week across the UK, with maximum temperature reaching the mid teens every day and a high of 16.2 °C recorded at Gravesend on Thursday.

    Provisional figures show that November so far has been very mild across the UK. The UK average temperature for 1-15 November was 9.4 °C, 3.5 °C higher than the long term average.

    We would normally expect the first half of November to be warmer than the second as we transition towards winter (which, meteorologically speaking, starts in December). However, even bearing this in mind, the temperatures seen in the first half of this month have been much warmer than normal.

    Some areas did see lower temperatures overnight, leading to air and ground frost in parts, particularly in the north west. A minimum temperature of -3.6 C was recorded at Drumnadrochit, on Loch Ness, on Wednesday.

    The weekend saw extensive fog form in eastern areas. On Saturday this was very slow to clear parts of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and the East Midlands. While on Sunday areas from the Vale of York through the East Midlands to southern England saw dense patches of fog with visibility of around 50 metres in places. Fog thinned or lifted into low cloud in many places, however for parts of the Vale of York, Lincolnshire, East Anglia and the London area, it stuck around all day causing some flights to be cancelled at Heathrow Airport.

    It's been a relatively quiet week of weather for the rest of the world. In Bolivia, a rare tornado damaged parts of the city of Cochabamba on Wednesday.

    Thunderstorms moving through the region produced the tornado which reportedly damaged dozens of buildings.

    There's been heavy rain in Taiwan, with some parts of the country seeing over 400mm of rain this week.

    Heavy snowfalls affected parts of the Upper Midwest in the USA where a foot of snow fell on parts of South Dakota. A thick fog in Germany may have been a factor in a 52 vehicle pile up on the Autobahn near Muenster. Three people were killed in the crash and another 35 were injured.

    The week ahead

    The UK:

    • A gradual transition to temperatures closer to average by the end of the week, when windy conditions will dominate with heavy rain at times in the northwest of the UK.

    Across Europe:

    • Temperatures in Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean continue to be cold for the time of year, with hill snow expected at times.

    Across the Americas:


    tropical storm kenneth


    Tropical storm Kenneth is currently 500 Miles SSW of Manzanillo, Mexico, but is expected to move in a westward direction, away from land. This is the latest in the season that a tropical storm has formed in the eastern north Pacific basin since Hurricane Winnie formed on 4 December 1983.

    • The unusually cold conditions are set to continue across Alaska and NW Canada over the next few days, spreading into northern areas of the USA such as North Dakota and Minnesota. Temperatures are 10 Celsius colder than average, remaining well below zero in many places throughout the day. By Tuesday temperatures should rise to nearer normal as low pressure pushes in from the south.

    Across Australasia:

    • New Zealand's South Island may see 250 mm of rain during the early part of the week in parts of Westland and Buller.

    It's been a very strange year for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season

    Distance travelled ~ 771'143'200 km

    (Here Dr. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology, explores 2011's Atlantic Hurricane season. His previous post for 23 Degrees provided us with a detailed roundup of Maria, Nate and Katia's developments.)

    The Atlantic hurricane season of 2011 is nearing its end, with Tropical Storm Rina, near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, likely to be one of last storms of the season. Atlantic hurricane activity peaks near September 10, and drops dramatically during the last half of October. It's been a very strange year for hurricanes in the Atlantic. There have been a near-record number of named storms--seventeen--making 2011 the 7th busiest year for tropical storms since record keeping began in 1851. However, only six of those storms--35%--have intensified to hurricane strength. In a typical year, 55 - 60% of all tropical storms make it to hurricane strength. A rare combination of near-record warm ocean temperatures but unusually dry, stable air over the Atlantic is no doubt partially responsible for this very unusual occurrence. Another unusual feature of this hurricane season is that relatively few storms hit the U.S. During the 15-year active hurricane period from 1995 - 2009, 33% of all named storms in the Atlantic hit the U.S., and 30% of all Atlantic hurricanes hit the U.S. at hurricane strength. Based on 1995 - 2009 levels of activity, the U.S. should been hit by six named storms, four of those being hurricanes, and two being intense hurricanes. So far, 2011 has seen less than half that level of landfall activity. Two tropical storms and one hurricane have hit the U.S. this year: Tropical Storm Don, which hit Texas with 50 mph winds, Tropical Storm Lee, which hit Louisiana with 60 mph winds, and Hurricane Irene, which hit North Carolina with 80 mph winds. This is the second consecutive year that the U.S. has benefited from favorable steering currents that have steered most of the storms out to sea. During 2010, only one tropical storm hit the U.S., despite a season with the 3rd highest number of named storms, nineteen. If 2011 finishes without a major Category 3 or stronger hurricane hitting the U.S.--which is likely--it will mark the first six-year period without a major hurricane strike on the U.S. since record keeping began in 1851. The last major hurricane to hit the U.S. was Category 3 Hurricane Wilma of October 2005.


    tracks of atlantic storms 2011

    Figure 1. Tracks and intensities of the seventeen named Atlantic storms of 2011

    The strongest hurricane of 2011 was Hurricane Ophelia, which peaked as a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds and a central pressure of 940 mb on October 2 just northeast of Bermuda. Ophelia hit Southeast Newfoundland as a tropical storm with 70 mph winds on October 3, but caused little damage. The longest-lived storm was Hurricane Philippe, which lasted 15 days from September 24 to October 8. The most damaging was Hurricane Irene, which caused at least $7 billion in damage from North Carolina to New England. Irene was also the deadliest storm of 2011, with 55 deaths in the Caribbean and U.S. being blamed on the storm.

    hurricane irene as seen by nasa

    Figure 2. Hurricane Irene as seen by NASA's Aqua satellite at 18:15 UTC on August 24, 2011. At the time, Irene was a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds over the Turks and Caicos Islands.


    two new channels carved by hurricane irene

    Image credit Western Carolina University

    Figure 3. Hurricane Irene's storm surge and winds carved two new channels through Pea Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks. This cut, near the town of Rodanthe, is the smaller of the two cuts, and severed Highway 12 connecting the Outer Banks to the mainland.

    What do you think of this year's season?



    UK and World weather report: Jova strong cat 3 hurricane moving east

    Distance travelled ~ 727'298'400 km

    After a period of record-breaking settled weather last week, most of the UK saw a return to normal autumn conditions by Tuesday. A band of cloud spread across most of England and Wales, and showers continued in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    Wednesday and Thursday saw strong northwesterly winds for many, reaching gale force on higher ground in the north. On Thursday a yellow warning was in place for gusts of up to 65mph for parts of the North West and Northern Ireland, with winds in excess of 40mph recorded widely. The strongest gust at low levels was 66mph at Machrihanish in Scotland.

    Temperatures fell compared to last week but were still above average in many areas for October, with a high of 22.1 °C in Bridlington on Wednesday. Although on Friday it was a chilly start for many, with temperatures falling into single figures and a low of -1.5 °C at Cairngorm in Scotland.

    Elsewhere in the world, Winnipeg in America has also been experiencing warm autumn weather, with temperatures 18 °C above what is seasonally normal. It reached 31 C on Thursday, the hottest October day in Winnipeg since records began.

    Several days of heavy rain in central Algeria have caused the deaths of eight people and widespread damage to roads and bridges. There has also been heavy rain in Haikou, China, where 17,000 people were evacuated after days of torrential rain raised the level of the Nandu river higher than the warning line.

    One man has been killed and 12 injured in a massive pile-up after a dust-storm rolled across an interstate in Arizona. The collision on Interstate 10 near Picacho - midway between Phoenix and Tucson - involved 16 vehicles.

    In Australia, almost 11,000 homes are without power after severe thunderstorms battered Queensland. However, damage from flooding has been minimal, with only 22 calls made to the State Emergency Service for leaking roofs.

    Severe weather watch: The week ahead

    Across Europe:

    • Unsettled conditions are expected to continue to affect some northern parts of Europe through the start of the week.

    • Warm and quiet conditions are expected to return to many areas from midweek as high pressure builds once again across Europe.

    • The former Hurricane Philippe is set to head well north across the Atlantic, bringing gales and heavy rain to Iceland and East Greenland. In so doing, Philippe will give the UK a wide berth and will have no direct weather impact here.

    Over the Americas:

    • In the eastern Pacific Hurricane Jova and Tropical Storm Irwin are both moving towards Mexico. Jova is a Saffir-Simpson Category 3 Hurricane moving East (winds ~120 mph) and is expected to make landfall somewhere near Manzanillo on Tuesday.

    satelite image jova

    Irwin is forecast to approach the west coast of Mexico on Thursday or Friday. Maximum sustained winds 35knots; 40mph moving east at 7mph.

    satellite image irwin

    Across Asia:

    • There are unsettled conditions to the east of the Philippines at the moment and this may develop into a typhoon this week.

    Behind the scenes: sharks and stalactites

    Distance travelled ~ 709'020'800 km

    helen czerski in belize

    Getting geared up for the dive

    Sharks and stalactites may be close to each other in the dictionary, but you would think that reality keeps them a safe distance apart. For a start, sharks aren't known for inhabiting caves, and every stalactite I've ever seen has been in a cave. Secondly, stalactites can't grow underwater and sharks can't breathe if they're taken out of water. That sounds like a clinching argument if ever I heard one, but the thing I love about science is that our world is more complicated and interesting than that. Not only did I see lots of sharks swim past lots of stalactites this week, but this weird combination tells us something fundamental about our planet. And it's not that a flock of flying sharks has started spelunking because they suddenly fancied bats for dinner.

    Belize is just next to Guatemala and south of Mexico, tucked into the back of the Caribbean sea. Its coastline is littered with islands and coral reefs, but what brought Jacques Cousteau here in 1970 is circular deep blue hole in the reef. We arrived in Belize last Monday laden with SCUBA gear, all ready to explore that hole.


    Going into the hole was pretty eerie. There is sand and coral right up to the edge, and then the vertical wall just drops away into the darkness. We left all the brightness and light and colourful fish behind, and sank slowly. After going down a little way, all I could see was the rock wall stretching into the gloom. I found looking away from the wall a bit disconcerting because it felt as though anything could swim out of the black, even though I knew perfectly well how unlikely that was. We kept going down further and further, and I stared at the wall, straining to see what on earth brings people here. A reef shark swam past just two metres underneath me. And then the gloom readjusted itself just in front of me and I was looking at a stalactite that was nearly a metre wide at the top where I was, and was probably 5 metres long, pointing downwards into the depths. It was monstrous. There was an overhang, like an upside-down shelf a few metres deep, and looking along it I could see other stalactites hanging down, all of a similar size. We swam along the overhang, and the sharks cruised past us a few metres further out from the wall.

    Dives that deep have to be short, and we had work to do, so it was only that night that the scale and the incongruity of what I'd seen sank in.

    filming beneath the sea

    The size of the stalactites helps you understand the size of the story they're telling. Both are gigantic, almost too big to fit into a human brain. The reason that the stalactites are down there at all is that during ice ages, sea level gets much much lower. 15,000 years ago, the last time those stalactites were growing, they were on a cliff in dry air because sea level was 120 metres lower than it is today. That's the sort of fact that you can read and understand logically, and it's something that I had known for years, but it's hard to digest properly. Read it again: 120 metres lower. That is an awful lot of ocean that wasn't there. Floating in the darkness with 40 metres of water above me, next to a rock wall that kept going downwards as far as I could see, I came closer than I ever have to really understanding the enormity of the changes that ice ages bring to Earth. Oh yeah, and there were sharks too.

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