The Winter of 2013-14

   "A great deal of weather, all bad" - Walpole.

 EDIT 20.11.14. - further research and access to more records as shown that the winter of 1868-69 in Cumbria was extremely wet and would indeed be the wettest on record in Appleby with 501.7 mm, records having commenced in 1856.

  However, the text below remains in its original form and it should be noted that between the winters of 1856-57 and 1890-91 apart from 1868-69 none exceeded 400mm.

   The term 'unprecedented' is both overused and misused when it comes to describing the weather and its impacts and another recent annoying and misleading development in the media coverage of weather events is to have a local person say to camera "I've lived here x years and this is the worst that I've ever seen it." But has the winter of 2013-14 been unprecedented and can we factually apply that term to describe it?

   As with the wet summer of 2012, the position of the Jet Stream was very much to the fore and its virtually static position fed us a succession of deep and vigorous depressions. These were most pronounced around the 20th-23rd December when 114.6 mm rain fell in 4 days at Maulds Meaburn, 27th December which had a mean wind speed of 29.7 mph and again during 8-14th February which was also wet and stormy with mean SLP falling to a new low of 957.3 Mb here at Maulds Meaburn on the 8th. Indeed winter overall as seen MSLP some -15.0 Mb below the local average and here at Maulds Meaburn February set a new record low MSLP of 990.2 Mb for any month in my records.

   The barograph trace below for this winter shows the reasonably stable start to winter and then just how disturbed it then became. Indeed this winter saw the most cyclonic January in 142 years of records (1) and then February had the lowest MSLP of any month on record (1).

  Barograph Trace from Huncoat (Accrington)

     The meteorological winter consists of December, January and February and here in our corner of Cumbria it has been a mild one with frost a rarity, but obviously as with the majority of the UK the real story is that of rainfall.

   However, taking temperature first, winter on the whole as been milder than average. A general theme is that, especially in January and February, this was more as a result of mild nights as opposed to warm day-time temperatures.

   January saw night-time minima markedly higher than average whilst day-time maximum temperatures were only slightly above average and come February this disparity was even more marked as the mean maximum for the month was only 0.4°c above average whilst the mean minimum was 2.1°c above.

   The average mean minimum temperature at Newton Rigg for winter is 0.5°c, but for this winter was 2.7°c, whilst the average mean maximum should be 6.4°c but was 7.7°c.

   The lack of frost was noticeable this winter with the total number of air frosts at local sites being: Keswick 3, Shap and Warcop both had 8 and a site such as Blencathra had a staggeringly low final total of just one and which mischievously came on the last day of winter. Brampton in the northeast of the county failed to record a single air frost.

   The Met' Office site at Newton Rigg would expect to have an average of 36.4 air frosts over winter and it only recorded 7, the same as here at Maulds Meaburn.

   Local mean temperatures for winter are (the 1981-2010 mean in brackets): Newton Rigg 5.2°c (3.4°c) - Warcop 4.9°c (3.2°c) - Keswick 6.3°c (4.4°c) - Shap 4.6°c - and here at Maulds Meaburn 5.06°c. Overall it was the mildest winter since 1997-98 and in the Newton Rigg records ranks as the equal third warmest since 1914. Slightly further afield at Huncoat a mean temperature of 5.3°c makes it the fifth warmest winter in 40 years of records.

   But the rain! This winter has been the wettest on record at both Appleby (see edit above) and Newton Rigg. Rainfall records at Newton Rigg since 1914 show that previously the wettest winters were: 1989-90 with 540 .6 mm which stood way ahead of the next wettest, 471.0 mm in 1914-15 and indeed in total only six winters had previously recorded in excess of 400 mm.

   This is repeated in the slightly longer (from 1891) series from Appleby with 6 winters having over 400 mm of rain with 1989/90 also the wettest with 492.1 mm slightly beating 1924-25 (490.3 mm). There is the possibility that locally the winters of 1871-72 and 1876-77 may have been wetter, but there are a lack of monthly records from that time with which we can make direct comparison to the sites in operation now.

   Here at Maulds Meaburn all three winter months recorded over 200 mm of rain for a final total of 725.9 mm and just as depressingly it fell on 77 of the 90 days of winter (70 of those being wet days, 1.0 mm+). In my short period of records this was the first occasion to record consecutive 200mm+ months, but then February made it a run of three! To put this into context, since 1891 Appleby has only recorded successive 200 mm+ months once (Jan' + Feb' 1990), but like Newton Rigg (since 1914), never three. Newton Rigg has also only recorded back to back 200 mm+ months the once in Oct' + Nov' 1954.

   Also this winter Appleby failed to reach 200 mm in any month whilst Newton Rigg only passed that mark in December.

   The table below gives the 2013-14 totals for several local sites.

Winter Rainfall:
                                                                                    Winter 2013-14          
                             Average      % of annual total              Total        % of average    % of annual total

Kirkby Thore +              190.5 mm          26.6 %                   439.4 mm          230.6 %           61.4 %       

Nunwick Hall +              205.9 mm          25.5 %                   502.2 mm          243.9 %           62.2 %       

Brothers Water +            773.0 mm          30.7 %                  1791.6 mm          231.8 %           71.1 %       

Seathwaite farm +           897.0 mm          28.4 %                  1981.0 mm          220.8 %           62.8 %       

Newton Rigg *               280.8 mm          29.6 %                   566.8 mm          201.9 %           59.8 %       

Shap   *                    639.4 mm          35.3 %                  1092.6 mm          170.9 %           60.3 %       

Keswick *                   462.0 mm          30.4 %                   894.0 mm          193.5 %           58.8 %       

Warcop  *                   260.5 mm          29.0 %                   417.6 mm          160.3 %           46.5 %       

Appleby + (1891-2009)       254.6 mm          28.6 %                   498.5 mm          195.8 %           55.9 %       

Maulds Meaburn (2007-13)    333.8 mm          27.8 %                   725.9 mm          217.5 %           60.5 %       

   + Environment Agency rain gauges - averages for 1961-1990   ‘Data kindly provided by the Hydrometry and Telemetry team of the Environment Agency (Penrith)’.

   * Met' Office rain gauges - averages for 1981-2010

   So whilst both Newton Rigg and Appleby have recorded their wettest ever winters it hasn't been the wettest on record everywhere. At the Met' Office climate station at Drumburgh (Solway coast west of Carlisle) it has only been the third wettest winter on record and at Huncoat near Accrington quite surprisingly only the 5th wettest in its 40 years of records.

   This is such a difficult disparity to account for and further afield an even more peculiar disparity was the meagre 32.0 mm of rainfall recorded for the whole of February at Waddington (Lincs) (1), especially when you consider that this is just 4.5% of the 710.2 mm recorded at Seathwaite!

   But what is more amazing is that at Waddington this winter is only the wettest since last winter (2012-13) and that 4 of the last 10 winters have been wetter than this one!

   But nationally it has been the wettest winter since records began in 1766 (1) and the Met' Office are reporting this winter as 'Being the wettest winter for the UK, England, Wales and Scotland, and the second wettest winter for Northern Ireland in series from 1910. It was also the wettest winter in the long running England and Wales Precipitation series from 1766. There were more days of rain during the winter than any other in a series from 1961'. The UK total being 532 mm, which is 161% of the 1981-2010 average.

   But it is useful to compare our own Cumbrian data with that further afield and from some of the locations/areas worst affected.

Winter Rainfall:
                                                                                    Winter 2013-14          
                             Average      % of annual total              Total        % of average    % of annual total

Eastbourne *                225.7 mm          28.4 %                   519.9 mm         230.4 %            65.4 %       

Yeovilton *                 194.2 mm          27.4 %                   417.6 mm         215.0 %            58.9 %       

Oxford *                    162.2 mm          24.6 %                   327.8 mm         202.1 %            49.7 %       

Cambridge *                 127.5 mm          22.4 %                   200.8 mm         157.5 %            35.3 %       

Penzance                    382.3 mm          31.4 %                   625.0 mm         163.5 %            51.2 %       

Huncoat (Accrington)        361.0 mm          28.6 %                   517.4 mm         143.3 %            41.0 %       

   * Met' Office rain gauges - averages for 1981-2010 - winter 2013-14 totals still provisional

   And despite all this rain the impacts in Cumbria have been relatively minimal and mainly as a consequence of the strong winds in December as opposed to issues of flooding.

   Even at the peak of the rainfall during 20th-23rd December flooding was limited and localised in Cumbria and whilst the river Eden at Appleby has been permanently high has not spilled over. Certainly the ground as been waterlogged and saturated but in Cumbria despite that rain we have escaped the worst.

   The rain has tended to be constant and at times heavy, even for a few days at a time, but not to the extent that we saw in November 2009. Also one other consideration as to the flooding risk is the lack of snow this year. The impact of melting snow from the mountains on rivers that are already running high as fortunately been avoided.

   Graham Easterling reports a similar story in Penzance, stating "The rainfall was the same here, i.e persistent and often heavy, but it didn't cause any of the problems we had in the previous winter. Also, although we had an exceptional number of gales none were particularly severe, so there was limited wind damage. It was the sea conditions that were truly exceptional in this part of the UK."

   But surely the term 'Unprecedented' can be applied to this winter? The wettest nationally on record and indeed at numerous sites within Cumbria, however, the term sits a little uncomfortably. The figures above from Waddington are more a case of being 'Unremarkable' as opposed to 'Unprecedented' and Huncoat and Drumburgh would only class this winter as wetter than average, but not record breaking.

   What was probably unprecedented about this winter was the nature of its longevity which gave no respite and was just continuously disturbed.

   The rain that Cumbria experienced in November 2009 was unprecedented. That month saw national records broken for the heaviest rainfall over a period of 24 hrs and upto and including a five day period and sites from all points of the compass in Cumbria recorded their wettest ever month - not so this winter.

   But in the areas of the south that have recorded over 250% of average winter rainfall and experienced some devastating flooding over a pre-longed period, then I'm sure 'Unprecedented' is an apt term.

   But what does constitute 'Best' when trying to establish the best winter? Undoubtedly most would want something that was dry, mild and sunny, but to get all three is unlikely as usually mild/wet and dry/cold/(sunny) tend to go together. The wettest winter (1989-90) at Newton Rigg was also mild at 4.5°c and the driest (1963-64 80.5 mm) was only the 53rd warmest, although at 3.03°c not that much below average.

   The 4th driest winter with just 102.2 mm even had 167% of average sunshine and would surely be a strong candidate for the 'best' winter, but then 1962-63 was also the coldest and I can't see many describing that particular winter as the best!

   So if applying a criteria that all three months of winter must be both warmer and drier than average, only one winter in the Newton Rigg records passes the test. Whilst it only had 86% of average sunshine 1975-76 with 167.1 mm of rain and a mean temperature of 4.46°c stands out. The few others that just failed to meet the criteria being: 1931-32, 1971-72 and 1991-92 (spot the theme!) and also 2005-06 was dry, but marginally colder than average.

   ** Rainfall data for Appleby in 2013-14 is taken from a site at Mill Hill. The last reading of the gauge at Castle Bank was in June 2012 and the site is now closed. Comparatively the rainfall for Mill Hill and Castle Bank for Jan'-June' 2012 was virtually identical.

   Many thanks to the people who helped me with the compilation of this report and for providing me with and allowing the use of their data:

   (1)Philip Eden Philip Eden's Website, Roy Chetham (Huncoat) Huncoat Weather, Graham Easterling (Penzance) Penzance Weather and the Environment Agency in Penrith.



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