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Reporting the wintry weather

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Richard Chapman Richard Chapman | 17:10 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Autumn 2009 started on a mild note and many of us may have been thinking that winter might just let us off the hook.

However, with winter officially starting in less than a week's time we are looking at the weather turning wintry too.

Throughout October and November the UK was under the influence of warm air with subtropical origins, this kept temperatures above average and brought notable amounts of rainfall.

In contrast and since the weekend we've seen a shift in the source of our air; from a warm southern ocean to a cold eastern continent.

Thanks to the dominance of high pressure we'll be bringing in air that's travelled from the bitter plains of Russia, delivering a biting wind and temperatures that struggle to get above freezing.

So it's going to be cold, is it going to feel cold?

How we interpret temperatures varies according to a number of factors, chiefly the humidity of the air and strength of the wind. These combine to produce a phenomenon widely termed "wind chill" and provide a scale by which we can measure what the temperature "feels like".

The brisk and dry easterly wind this week will make the temperatures feel quite different. For example an east coast day time maximum of 2C may actually feel like -2C once the wind chill effect has been accounted for.

When these values are significant we'll be doing our best to highlight them in our broadcasts so keep your eyes peeled.

Screeshot of feels like

Meteorologists often talk about broad areas of air with common characteristics.

Air masses as they are collectively known move large regions of air with similar temperatures and humidities about the globe. They receive their attributes according to whether they form over warm or cold land or oceans.

We've been working on a way to illustrate this technical piece of data as a clear and representative graphic. We think this new graphic does a good job of showing why it's going to get colder or warmer because it shows where our air is coming from.

Screenshot of air mass

By showing the movement of the mass of cold air, represented by shades of blue, we can describe one of the mechanisms influencing temperature and get an insight into the incredible forces at work within the atmosphere (we'll be trialling this on Weatherview over the coming weeks).

And it doesn't stop there, the movement of the blue colours also reveals another property of the cold air; its potential to produce snow.

So what about the white stuff? Well some areas are certainly in for a light covering over the next few days but the regional details are particularly important; many western parts of the country are likely to be wondering what all the fuss is about.

To keep abreast of the latest forecast for your region the BBC Weather website provides local video forecasts as well as a detailed five day outlook.

If you're interested in anything a little further away (a white Christmas or wet New Year maybe?) the Monthly Outlook gives our best guess of the next four weeks and how conditions are likely to vary.

We hope the additions to our winter forecasting armoury will give you a better idea of why the weather is varying and also help to keep you better prepared.

Of course, you'll still need to look out for the specific details of rain, wind, frost, fog and temperature, all of which can combine to provide hazardous winter conditions.

Jumpers at the ready.

Richard Chapman is editorial manager of BBC Weather.


  • Comment number 1.

    Will we get a white Christmas? That doesn't happen very often - even in my childhood in the late 1940s-early 1950s, our anticipation of seeing snow on Christams morning was usually cut short by deep disappointment - everything was still green.

    Still, if we do get very cold and wintry weather this early, that would certainly give rise to some questions about climate change and global warming.

    I lived in Canada for over 30 years. I do not miss the Canadian winters one bit. So I am not looking forward to the cold snap one bit - even though I have no problem coping with it.

    Roll on Spring.

  • Comment number 2.

    Snow has arrived in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. I now only wonder how I'll get home on my motorcycle? They are fairly small snow flakes, so I'm not giving up hope!

    Be careful on the roads everyone.

  • Comment number 3.


    Thanks, for your weather forecaster on its reporting implications....

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 4.

    ...and thank you Dennis for another of your world stopping comments, were would these BBC blogs be without your wistful contributions?!

  • Comment number 5.

    Ofcourse, just because its warmer - dosnt mean we`ll get less snow. It could mean the opposite, and we get more of the white stuff.

    If the Atlantic air is warmer and wetter than usual (which seemed to be the case for much of autumn), and the right conditions prevail - a cold high to the east, dragging in cold air - where this meets the warmer air mass - even more snow could be produced by the larger disparity between the air masses.....

  • Comment number 6.

    hello it is snowing here in manningtree and guess what it been lighting and thundering as well as a blisard this seems scary to me.

  • Comment number 7.

    I reckon an East/West split on teh white christmas, eastern counties will have extra happy children me thinks.

    Conedia, would you ask similar questions about climate change if we had a heat wave in June?

  • Comment number 8.

    Good grief! We've had a small amount of snow - and in winter, too. Would you believe it? Clearly, this means everything we thought we knew about global warming must be wrong. Tear up the textbooks and book a cheap flight right now. From now on, we can teach climatologists using material gleaned from the Daily Express.
    Meanwhile, back in the real world....

  • Comment number 9.

    As someone who rather eccentrically (in the eyes of others) takes regular city breaks in Poland and Germany in Jan. Feb, or March, may I express a fondness for the big blue mass of cold air from Russia which hits those countries EVERY year. Those struggling to negotiate our pavements and roads today, might care to visit [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] where they can see webcam live-streams from across Berlin, where traffic appears to be running absolutely normally despite weather conditions similar to ours today!

  • Comment number 10.

    Autumn/Winter "let us off the hook"? How South East orientated some folk are. Britain North and West was bombarded with violent rain storms.

  • Comment number 11.

    #8. At 11:43am on 18 Dec 2009, Andrew Lockley wrote:

    "Meanwhile, back in the real world...."

    ...away from Copenhagen........

    Getting back on-topic... Must admit that the BBC are sending out mixed messages today, on the one hand they are repeating the advice not to travel (if at all possible) but at the same time they have decamped on-mass it would seem from studios across the country, we have seen a reporter from Nottinghamshire reporting about the snow in Northamptonshire whilst a news anchor has been sent from TVC to a field near Gatwick Airport - both of these reports added nothing visually that could not have been added by a regional BBC staff reporting 'down the line' from their own regional radio or TV studios...

  • Comment number 12.

    10. At 11:49am on 18 Dec 2009, uk_abz_scot wrote:

    "Autumn/Winter "let us off the hook"? How South East orientated some folk are. Britain North and West was bombarded with violent rain storms."

    Yes indeed, and I seem to recall 'wall-to-wall' coverage of it's effects only a couple of weeks ago or so when the SE was also suffering for the raverages of the weather...

  • Comment number 13.

    "winter might just let us off the hook."

    I love the cold, as do many people I know. Especially when it snows - a kind of collective feeling goes around the office even if we all know it will be a nightmare to get home.

    Winter might just let us on the hook in my opinion $:)

  • Comment number 14.

    I live in Germany and we know how to cope with snow. Last January we had 12cm of snow which hung around for 2 weeks. Life does not grind to a halt as a result. Schools stay open, public trabsport runs. The gritters are out at 4 in the afternoon. People are responsible for clearing the pathways outside their property. If someone falls outside their house they are liable. Poeple put winter tyres on their cars and snow chains and get on with it. The English get a little bit of snow and everything stops, time we learnt from other countries!!

  • Comment number 15.

    It's becoming a familiar pattern. A few inches of snow and the South-east grinds to a halt. Maybe they will eventually learn to cope, like the rest of Europe or even the more northern parts of the UK.

  • Comment number 16.

    #14. At 6:33pm on 18 Dec 2009, Helen Matsell wrote:

    "I live in Germany and we know how to cope with snow.[..//..]"

    Indeed but Germany get that sort of weather every year, many of the parts of the UK that had these significant levels of snow last night can go several years between such weather - would the people of Germany know how to cope if it suddenly got a heat-wave one normally associates with Bahrain or the rain levels normally associated with Malatsia during the monsoon season?...

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm happy winter is finally here!

  • Comment number 18.

    Recent report about the US Midwest storm


    Why, *why* do your scribes choose to air such a horribly diseased word? It is the epitome of vapid american uglification, and Aunt Beeb should be on her guard against this lurking evil. When Aunty Beeb sees it blow in from across the Atlantic and crawl into the house unbidden, she should take a firm stance and simply stab the vile creature in the eye with her broom handle. And then slam the door in its hideous, misshapen face before it has a chance to wreak destruction on our fine bastion of the English language.


    Another instance of word abuse that irked me on the same issue was the abuse of the word "massive". Massive implies, well, mass. Its misuse to describe something that is essentially air causes great mental anguish. Language lovers and physicists the world over will, I assure you, shower blessings upon you if you desist from this ghastly misappropriation.

    yours faithfully,
    Pawan Jaitly

  • Comment number 19.


    Also, I know how the people across Europe/United Kingdom have felt; In the United States we have been divulged in the snow and the other wintry weather conditions also!

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 20.

    Is 'global warming responsible for the fact (or, at least, BBC fact)that we no longer seem to get ground frosts? I've noticed recently on R4 weather forecasts that we sometimes get "grass frosts". Are these actually warmer and that is why the ground doesn't freeze?
    Or, maybe, another explanation is that we have to conform to some practice elsewhere in the world where frosts are referred to in this way? Maybe the British population has become so stupid that they don't understand what a ground frost actually is? Can someone at BBC weather explain please?

  • Comment number 21.

    We are funny here in the uk about the weather.I remember as a child sat infront of the tv just waiting for the weather to come on and hope with all my might that right over where i lived i would see a nice dark cloud with two snow flakes. If there was i would be over by the window watching and waiting to see if and when ha ha kids.

  • Comment number 22.

    Happy New Year, BBC....

    I was just thinking to myself (a dangerous occupation but I thought I'd take the risk) that perhaps you and the Met Office could use all that "pristine" data you've collected in that "clever" programme you have to show the blade of the hockey stick pointing downwards.....

    Would science then tell our political masters that we need dirty fuel and much, much more of it, with tax credits to anyone who consumes fossil fuel by the barrel?

  • Comment number 23.

    Regarding Global Warming
    Greatest part of the temperature rise in this country is a slow recovery from the Little Ice Age (1650-1700), and mainly by the rise in the winters’ temperatures. Overall rise in the summer temperatures was negligible, or about 0.15 degrees C, hardly measurable. Last 5-6 years shows stabilisation of the winter temps , while during the last 10 years the summer temperatures have actually fallen.
    Any further warming in the winters could be only beneficial to the UK population by reducing heating bills and consequently less carbon consumed for heating.

  • Comment number 24.

    I note the BBC is carrying an item with the headline "How the big freeze fits global warming theory".

    In noting the operative word - fits - I am looking forward to the alternative item with the headline "How the big freeze demonstrates that global warming theory is tosh" appearing on the BBC's website any time soon. Not holding my breath though.

  • Comment number 25.

    All I can say is I'm so happy I left Europe to live in South Africa - sure I miss the occasional white Christmas up in Halifax but I would much rather the sunshine at 9pm in Cape Town over December any day!

    Anna Sempe

  • Comment number 26.

    Seems like no-one's mentioned the weather for a while so I will.
    I'm sitting in Vancouver at the mo watching BBC World and being informed of all the disasters going on in Europe with the extreme weather conditions that are complicating the whole system over there (at home).
    I've just had a look at a BBC weather mans' explanation as to how one should reconsile the present conditions with the actual situation on the ground, so to say, and I'm having a real problem understanding the chaps' explanation of the difference between the "Climate" and the "Weather".
    The phrase "Global Warming" and what I'm being shown on the weather forecast JUST DOESN'T jell. Or does it??
    Are we really sure that the "warming" business isn't just a facade for taking more money out of our pockets?

  • Comment number 27.

    26. At 04:56am on 09 Jan 2010, Michael David Fox wrote:

    ..//..having a real problem understanding the chaps' explanation of the difference between the "Climate" and the "Weather".

    I watched that 'report' too, I think it's called "Moving the Goal Posts", bit like those leaked emails from UofEA did/tried to do...

  • Comment number 28.

    According to my Meteorological Encyclopaedia "climate" is the "typical weather in a place", i.e. for the UK it is "intermediate" or somewhere between warm and cold. We are not as warm as the Mediterranean but not as cold as, say, Scandinavian countries on the same latitude. I'd say we are wettish and warmish.

    The debate is about how warm "warmish" is, and, topically, how wet "wettish" is. However the scientists have "conspired" to suggest that we are getting more like the Mediterranean every day, and so I guess the Greek islands must be knee deep in snow at this time too. Of course our weather is driven across the Atlantic from the USA who have also had a great deal more adverse weather than "normal". So North America and Europe, two prime contenders for "global warming" if there is such a thing are getting weather that goes very much against the grain of the scientific arguments, no matter how hard they try to twist them.

    It'll be interesting to see how "cold" 2010 turns out to be, and just how science will manage to negotiate it out of the "hockey stick". I'm betting on a very poor summer following a milder than average spring. Kind of average for the UK really.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    To me it's clearer and easier to use. I Like it, and I hope BBC provide it for another countrie's weather, because I have lot's friend in another country. weather, climate, and global warming is one of our favourit topic.

  • Comment number 32.

    Well we certainly got slammed this year with record snowfall all along the east coast of the US. Just as the global warming debate begins to gather steam the ice age is upon us! Go figure! Go get em' Al Gore!
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]


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