A most peculiar year

  • Sunrise over Tynemouth on 5th December 2011. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

    A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly among berries as snow hit the Borders on the same day. Nevertheless, December has been milder than average. Photo: David Cheskin/PA Wire

    Last January, wintriness was soon replaced by milder, wet and windy weather, here illustrated by flooded fields near Strathyre, Stirling, on 17th January after the River Teith burst its banks due to heavy rain and melting snow.

    The warm spring lured people to the beach at Weston-Super-Mare on 10th April. It was the warmest April on record. Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

    The warmth continued into May, and this picture of low levels at Fewston Reservoir near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, shows how dry it had become in some areas. Photo: John Giles/PA Wire

    But summer turned cool and unsettled: a quiet day at the beach in Whitby, North Yorkshire, on 8th August. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire.

    Sunset over Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, north London, on 27th November: much milder than one year before: in fact, the second mildest November ever recorded in the UK. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

  • A most peculiar year
    30.12.2011 09:39


    It was an odd year for weather in 2011.

    After 2010 had the second coldest December nationally in a record dating back to 1659, January 2011 steadily grew milder. The frigid start to the month meant that the month as a whole was just below average but there were fewer frosts than usual and less snow. Most of last winter’s snow fell in that remarkably cold and wintry few weeks before Christmas 2010.

    February’s temperatures were above average with a distinct dearth of wintriness, and temperatures continued to climb to give many places a remarkably warm spring. April was the warmest on record, and, skipping past summer for a moment, autumn also delivered some unseasonably warm weather. November was the second warmest in 353 years while October and December were the mildest for five years.

    Aberdeen recorded the second warmest Christmas Day on record for the UK, rising to 15.1 deg C. On BoxingDayFyvieCastle, also in Aberdeenshire, hit 15.5 deg C.

    This is all typical of an unsettled and Atlantic-driven weather pattern, completely unlike November and December 2010 when a weak jet stream allowed high pressure to build to the north with lower pressure to the south. This year the situation is the complete opposite, with low pressure to the north, stubborn high pressure to the south, and a vigorous jet stream blasting across high above the Atlantic and the British Isles.

    As a result we have seen some deep low pressure systems crossing or passing near the British Isles, bringing storminess at times, especially to Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England. Oftentimes in autumn and winter relative mildness goes hand in hand with strong winds, as long as they tend to come from the southwest and west more often than the northwest, when we have been getting our occasional colder incursions.

    The highest temperature in 2011 was 33.1 deg C, recorded at Swanscombe in Kent on 27 June, but this was one of just a few hot days in a rather cool summer that was book-ended by the warm spring and autumn. Aside from January the only other months that had below-average temperatures were June, July and August.

    Scotland and north-west England had a wet year with above-average rainfall totals but the country was starkly divided. Central, eastern and southern England were remarkably dry, and in parts of the Midlands the drought has tightened.

    A cool and unsettled summer climaxed with a stormy couple of days in early September as the remnants of Hurricane Katia crossed the Atlantic and hit the British Isles

    The fluctuating weather has brought some oddities in the natural world. An abundance of holly, mistletoe and other berries such as sloe and hawthorn this autumn and early winter, far from being a predictor of cold and snow, has been a reaction to the warm spring when the trees could produce more blossoms.

    Wildflowers burst forth again in November, and now in December there are reports of daffodils budding or even blooming, while growers in southwest England are already harvesting brassicas that they would usually expect to see mature in spring.

    What might this mean for 2012? Unfortunately it’s as hard to divine as ever. We are only one month through winter, and we must not run away with the idea that it is over before we’ve reached halfway. It would be most surprising if there were not at least a couple more wintry outbreaks.

    Are we going to see a more summery summer? Even harder to tell. It would be surprising to have another with all three months cooler than average but “surprising” has been the mot juste for the last twelve months.

    By: Stephen Davenport