Within the winter months it’s not uncommon to be stormy and a bit grim but this winter is proving to be somewhat extreme. Since the first storm named “St Jude” that hit on the 28th November, we have had 4 more over the festive period. Xavier, Christian, Dirk, and Erich; they have all slammed the British coastal lines over the past few months bringing flash flooding, abnormal tidal heights and some pretty amazing pictures.
But why are we getting all of this extreme winter weather?
Even accounting for the fact that it’s winter, the jet stream has been particularly strong over the past few weeks – but why?
It’s partly due to particularly warm and cold air being squeezed together in the mid-latitudes, where the UK sits. This could be due to nothing more than the natural variability which governs Atlantic weather.
However, looking at the broader picture, there is one factor which could increase the risk of a stormy start to winter and this is called the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO for short).
This is a cycle, discovered by the Met Office in 1959, which involves a narrow band of fast moving winds (much like our jet stream) which sits about 15 miles up over the equator. The cycle sees these winds flip from easterly to westerly roughly every 14 months.
In 1975 Met Office researchers discovered that when the QBO is in its westerly phase, it tends to increase the westerly winds in our own jet stream – meaning there’s a higher risk of a stronger, more persistent jet stream with more vigorous Atlantic storms. It has been in its westerly phase since early 2013 and we expect it to decline over the next few months.
This is just one factor among many, however, which needs to be considered – so it doesn’t mean that the westerly phase of the QBO will always bring us stormy winters.
The next big storm due to hit will be on the 6th Jan and proves to compete with the biggest of storms over the past few months. This is one solid system in a position to deliver huge surf to the whole of west facing Europe and North Africa, and most importantly people are preparing to surf it at peak intensity from Scotland and Ireland down through Europe to North Africa. Most of the big wave surfers from around the world have been chasing the black ink in fear of missing out of the huge forecasted surf.
BIG surf Facts: