What is causing the current low temperatures in the UK and how long will the Arctic chill persist?
As the coldest temperatures in 14 years are predicted to hit the UK overnight, with parts of Scotland potentially plunging to -15C, freezing conditions are expected to remain across the country for the next few days.
The most recent occurrence of such low temperatures in Britain was in January 2010, known as the “big freeze,” when Altnaharra, Scotland recorded a temperature of -22.3C.
The frigid air from the Arctic moving towards the southern parts of the UK is creating chaos and distress, prompting many to wonder about its duration.
What is the reason for the low temperature?
The UK is currently experiencing a blast of cold air from the Arctic due to the shifting polar jet stream. This high altitude air flow has a hot and cold side, and the country happens to be situated on the colder northern side.
The prolonged duration of the cold weather is not aiding the situation; the accumulation of snow over numerous days is resulting in increasingly lower temperatures.
The problem is compounded by the presence of an El Niño year, which happens every three to four years. This phenomenon causes a change in the jet stream, leading to higher sea surface temperatures and atmospheric waves. As a result, there are significant shifts in winter weather patterns in Europe. In El Niño years, the northern region tends to be colder and drier while the southern region experiences more precipitation. In the UK, summers during El Niño years can be hotter and drier.
Who is facing more challenges – and who is more fortunate?
If it provides any solace to British citizens, other nations are facing even harsher conditions. While the UK is experiencing temperatures 5-6 degrees Celsius lower than average for this time of year, northern Scandinavia is dealing with a drop of 20 degrees Celsius from their usual temperatures. Despite this, they seem to be handling it well, as social media is filled with posts of parents putting their infants outside to sleep in the crisp air and participating in the Norwegian tradition of friluftsliv, or “outdoor living.”
For those who prefer a warmer outdoor atmosphere, the hot side of the jet stream is currently located south of France. Anyone in that area is experiencing unusually warm temperatures.
Why are we taken aback?
Dr. Matt Patterson, an atmospheric physics postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Oxford, found the following to be a thought-provoking question. He expressed, “I am intrigued by the widespread concern over the current cold temperatures. These conditions were much more frequent 20 to 30 years ago.”
According to Patterson, we have adapted to the new normal, which is a general increase in temperature. He refers to this as the “shifting baseline syndrome.” Due to climate change, we are no longer accustomed to extremely cold days like we used to be, and have forgotten what it was like before the warming trend.
In reality, although there may be a recent drop in temperature, overall warm days are becoming even warmer and cold days are also becoming warmer. In simpler terms, we are experiencing fewer extremely cold days, which are simply part of the natural and expected changes in weather patterns.
What is the duration?
The upcoming weekend will be less severe, but there will be a significant change in the weather as the cold front moves away. Strong low pressure systems are predicted to move in, bringing potentially disruptive storms during the weekend.