Who remembers December snow?

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  • Back in December 2010 saw snow covered fields. Image: library picture

    Visible satellite image from Christmas Day 2012. Image: NASA

    Visible satellite image from Christmas Day 2013. Image: NASA

    Visible satellite image from Christmas Day 2014. Image: NASA

    Visible satellite image from Saturday 5th December 2015, the day of the heavy rainfall in Cumbria. Image NASA

    Rain Today rainfall radar image from 1200 Saturday 5th December 2015. Image: MeteoGroup

  • Who remembers December snow?
    10.12.2015 16:54

    As you would expect from a team of weather forecasters, the talk in the MeteoGroup office in London often turns to reminiscing about weather in the past. This week, the discussion turned to the cold and snowy December of 2010. This has prompted me to have a look back at the facts and figures for the last five Decembers, to see whether December this year is following a trend or a bit of an anomaly.


    December 2010
    Five years ago, the headline was that it was the coldest December for 120 years, and the coldest month of any month since February 1986. There were several days when snow fell widely and heavily, causing disruption to road, rail and air transport. The snow was worst in eastern Scotland, north-eastern England, the north Midlands and the Home Counties on the 1st/2nd; central Scotland on the 6th; Northern Ireland and Wales on the 17th, and south-east England and the south Midlands on the 18th. St Mary’s (Isles of Scilly) on the 28th recorded the highest daytime maximum temperature of the month, at 11.5C. The lowest overnight minimum was -21.1C at Altnahara (Sutherland), recorded on the 1st. In total, ten nights out of the month had temperatures that dropped below -18C somewhere in the UK, with the lying snow undoubtably helping keep the air cold. The lowest daytime maximum was -15.8C on the 22nd, also at Altnahara. It was a sunnier month than normal, and also drier. Guernsey Airport had the wettest month, with a total of 117mm for the month. By contrast, and perhaps very surprisingly considering the recent weather, Shap in Cumbria had only 7mm of rain in the whole month (more than this was recorded per hour on average last Saturday).

    December 2011
    A year later, December 2011 was the warmest December in five years, and had the strongest westerly winds since December 1974. There were several gales, in the north of the UK, which brought structural damage, most notable of these was the Christmas Day gale in Orkney and Shetland, with a gust of 97mph recorded at Foula (Shetland). As would be expected with a mild and westerly month, it was also a wet month, with above average rainfall, and extended spells of orographically-enhanced rainfall over western hills of Scotland, the Lake District and Snowdonia. The wettest place for the month was Cluanie Inn (Wester Ross), where there was 595mm, whilst to the east of the Pennines, in the shadow from a lot of the rain, Loftus (Cleveland) recorded 31mm in the month. Boxing Day saw the highest daytime maximum temperature, with 15.5C recorded at Fyvie Castle (Aberdeenshire), with the lowest overnight minimum recorded at Loch Glasgarnoch (Wester Ross) on the 18th, where it dropped to -9.4C.

    December 2012
    The wet December theme continued in December 2012, which was the wettest December since 1978, leading to widespread and repeated flooding through the second half of the month. The rain was particularly heavy and prolonged from 19th until the end of the month, with flooding in south-west England. Capel Curig (Caernarfon) had the highest rainfall total for the month, with 444mm, whilst Kinloss (Morayshire) had the driest month at 52mm. The highest daily rainfall total was 89mm on the 20th at Tyndrum (Stirlingshire), and the period 18th to 26th saw 172mm fall in the nine days at Cardinham (Cornwall). The first half of the month was cold but sunny, resulting in above average sunshine for the month. The highest daytime maximum temperature was 14.1C at Exeter (Devon) on 22nd, with the lowest overnight minimum recorded at Braemar (Aberdeenshire) on the 6th, when -12.9C was measured.

    December 2013
    The mild theme returned in December 2013, as did serious flooding, especially in southern England from the 23rd onwards. It was the mildest December since 2006. The highest daytime maximum temperature was 17.0C, recorded on 11th at Llanfairfechan (Caernarfon), whilst the lowest overnight minimum was -6.0C at Dalwhinnie (Inverness-shire), recorded on 6th. The highest monthly rainfall total was 642mm at Tyndrum (Stirlingshire), whilst both Cranwell and Scampton (Lincolnshire) only managed a monthly total of 28mm. The heaviest daily rainfall total was 156mm on 23rd at Postbridge on Dartmoor. On the 23rd, the lowest barometric pressure in the UK since 1886 was recorded at Stornoway, at 936mb. Stormy weather just after Christmas lead to the strongest gusts for the month on the 27th, with 95 knots at Aberdaron, and 82 knots at Capel Curig (both Caernarfon).

    December 2014
    Last December was the driest December since 2010, with rainfall figures above average in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but below normal for England and Wales. Achnagart (Wester Ross) had the highest monthly rainfall total, with 545mm, whereas the lowest monthly total was at Inverbervie (Aberdeenshire), with only 22mm. The highest daily total was 78.8mm at Tyndrum on 21st. It was a sunnier December than normal, and the sunniest since 2008. It was warmer than the previous December, on average, but not warmer than December 2012. The highest daytime maximum temperature was 14.2C at Nantwich (Cheshire), which was recorded there on both the 17th and 22nd. The lowest overnight minimum was -8.5C at Braemar on 26th.

    December 2015
    So far this month, the relatively mild and wet weather has dominated, especially last weekend, with the exceptional rainfall over Cumbria that led to flooding. This weather pattern looks set to continue through the coming 10 days at least, with further low pressure systems and weather fronts affecting the UK, with northern and western areas in particular expected to have further heavy rain and strong winds. This is following the recent pattern of mild and often stormy Decembers, leading us to look back to 2010 to find a cold and particularly snowy one.

    Don’t forget that you can keep track of the forecast for the rest of the month on our Weather Pro app and WeatherCast website.

    By: Rachel Vince