By February, the UK would normally have had around three storms that the Met Office gave names to, like Arwen, Barra and Callum. But so far this fall and winter, there hasn’t been a single one.
Weather patterns have been calmer on the other side of the Atlantic and towards northwestern Europe. But why?
There are a number of factors at play, and the forces behind this year’s lack of storms were also instrumental in December’s cold snap.
In previous years, the first named storm occurred in early December. And by the end of January, three storms would normally have formed, affecting the UK.
Storms can be life-threatening and cause millions of pounds worth of damage from high winds, heavy rain and even significant snowfall.
The most active autumn/winter season was 2015-16, when a total of eight named storms hit the UK in early February.
During February 2022, three storms were named in one week. Dudley, Eunice and Franklin affected hundreds of thousands of homes.
Insurance payouts resulting from the three storms approached £500m, according to the Association of British Insurers.
Storm Eunice was one of the worst storms to hit the UK in 30 years, with rare red warnings being issued in South Wales and South England.
Eunice was also responsible for a new England wind gust record of 122mph at The Needles on the Isle of Wight.
Windstorms in the UK are generally caused by small wobbles in an active jet stream (a corridor of strong winds around 30-40,000ft in our atmosphere) over the Atlantic heading towards north-west Europe.
In some circumstances, atmospheric conditions can create an explosive cyclogenesis, or weather bomb, just to the west of the UK, which can bring the most damaging winds.
Storm naming was initiated by Ireland’s Met Office and Met Eireann in 2015, with the idea of being able to communicate the dangers and warnings associated with them.
The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) joined the initiative in 2019, thus contributing names to the list as well.
Why so quiet this season?
Last year our fall, which meteorologically speaking runs from September to November, was the third warmest on record.
Although precipitation increased after the very dry spring and summer, it was only marginally above average.
At the start of winter, December was the first month in 18 where the average temperature was below average.
The December cold snap was partly due to what’s known as a “locked weather pattern.” At the time this pattern was over Western Europe and was preventing weather systems from reaching the UK.
The lack of named storms in the UK this season is likely due to the position of the polar jet stream, a ribbon of strong winds high in the atmosphere that creates and propels weather systems across the Atlantic towards northwestern Europe.
Other parts of Europe have had more than usual named storms. There have been eight in the South West European name group, which includes France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium.
The UK cold snap may be partly due to the fact that a natural weather pattern called La Niña, meaning large-scale cooling in the Pacific, is in its third year running. This is known as “triple dipping.”
In this phase, UK winters tend to be colder and calmer at first and then change to milder, wetter and windier weather towards the end of the season.
Experts believe that rising global temperatures mean that La Niña and El Niño events, the opposite of La Niña, will be stronger by 2030.
What about the rest of winter?
The current forecast suggests that high pressure will keep things relatively calm for most of the UK through the first week of February.
Any periods of wet and windy weather will be limited to the northern areas of the UK.
Weather forecasts beyond a week are generally uncertain, but, by mid-February, there are signs that it could become wetter and windier more broadly.
How does climate change affect windstorms?
According to the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the link between climate change and extratropical cyclones, the storms that typically affect northwestern Europe, is currently unclear.
They suggest that European windstorms have actually reduced in frequency in recent decades.
However, it is widely accepted that when we do have storms, climate change is likely to make them more extreme with higher rainfall totals and potentially greater impacts.