May is normally when my garden starts to come into its own. I dust off the outdoor furniture, sit out and enjoy my collection of sub-tropical plants, from palm trees to yuccas.
This year, however, I’m feeling as deflated as my enfeebled plants. My BBC weather colleagues and I often exchange stories about how our gardens are doing. Like mine, theirs have been nipped by all the sharp frosts we’ve had this spring.
Meanwhile, people are stopping me in the street, asking when spring will finally arrive. And what have we done to deserve such cold, gloomy weather dragging on so long?
It’s true, this year has been wet and cool. Last week, thundery showers brought torrential rain. We may have had a reprieve over the weekend, but I’m afraid it will be cool again over the next five to ten days at least.
Why? I would say the answer lies in the past. This is the kind of spring weather no one would have batted an eyelid about in the 1970s and 1980s.
BBC meteorologist Tomasz Schafernaker says no one would have been surprised about our current cold, gloomy weather in the 1970s and 1980s
Since then, however, thanks largely to climate change, temperatures have been creeping up — snow has become less frequent and spring has occasionally brought very warm weather, too. And we have grown used to it.
Every so often we will get a reversion to past weather habits and that’s what we’re experiencing this year.
Some years, we reach January and feel that winter hasn’t really got going yet. But last December was below average temperatures by as much as 1.3c for the UK as a whole. In December, it plunged as low as minus 17 in parts of Scotland.
This continued in January, when I escaped to beautiful Bali for three weeks. On my return to London, I was amazed to see everything was frozen solid.
March only added insult to injury. Not only did we have a lot of snow — the Peak District was cut off — but the rain was relentless. Much of England and Wales had twice the normal level for that month. On top of that, we had far less sunshine than average — in the South, sunlight was slashed by half.
We longed for April to turn the tide, but it was actually very mundane. The UK temperature was just 0.1 below the climatological average — around 12c.
And now we find ourselves mid-May. A point when, last year, we had temperatures as high as 28c. And who can forget the epic spring of 2020, when we took our one lockdown walk a day in spectacular sunshine.
This May has barely scraped 20c, meaning we’ve endured nearly half a year without any sustained period of warmth.
Tomasz says people often ask if the jet stream — a core of strong winds around five to seven miles above the Earth’s surface, blowing from west to east — is to blame
But there is a glimmer of (sun)light on the horizon. The Seasonal Forecast from the Met Office indicates an increased likelihood of hot spells over the summer. I cannot absolutely guarantee this, of course — long-range forecasts are based on probability.
But we are already seeing signs of that heat in parts of Europe. Southern Spain has already experienced temperatures of up to 39c. Gradually, this will extend to parts of northern Europe too.
Prepare yourself for a shock as we go from cold and gloomy to suddenly very warm.
However, very warm weather doesn’t necessarily mean super-sunny. It can mean downpours and thunderstorms, and there’s actually some indication that the weather might be somewhat wetter than usual.
People often ask if the jet stream — a core of strong winds around five to seven miles above the Earth’s surface, blowing from west to east — is to blame.
It’s true that the jet stream has been very close to the UK lately, and has brought with it a ‘conveyor belt’ of low pressure weather systems. But the reason for cold weather outbreaks can be more complicated.
We look at weather patterns all around the globe which may be affecting what’s going on here. Changes in the wind patterns of the stratosphere can lead to particularly harsh cold weather during the winter.
He may be hopeful for a balmy summer, but Tomasz says don’t pack away the brolly just yet
That in turn can be exacerbated by other phenomena. For example, weather in the tropics — rainfall patterns across the Indian Ocean and Indonesia — have been having a knock-on effect on our seasonal weather too.
Last summer’s blistering heat was astonishing. While it’s not likely to happen again any time soon, as it was a freak occurrence, global warming will make mid to high 30s and low rainfall commonplace here soon enough.
I don’t think anyone would welcome a return to that period of drought, but this year Mother Nature is teasing us with brief flashes of sunshine among the gloom and doom.
When people ask me for the forecast, I can’t go wrong with ‘changeable’. I am hopeful we’ll get a balmy summer, but don’t pack away the brolly just yet!
- Tomasz Schafernaker is a meteorologist with BBC Weather.
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