UK’s Big Snowfall, As Seen From Space

Article written: 7 Jan , 2010
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

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This satellite image taken by NASA’s Terra satellite shows the entire island of Great Britain blanketed by heavy snowfall, with some areas seeing the most snow in 50 years. It looks pretty from space, but frigid temperatures followed snowfall, leaving roads and sidewalks treacherously icy, according to news reports. As of January 7, overnight temperatures had plunged to -18 degrees Celsius (-0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in isolated spots, with more widespread temperatures of -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). The heavy snowfall downed power lines, leaving several thousand homes in southern England without electricity.

North America is also experiencing heavy snows and cold temperatures. NASA’s Earth Observatory website says that a possible contributor to the persistent cold and snow across much of the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-latitudes in December 2009 and January 2010 could be the fact that the atmosphere was in an extreme negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The AO is a seesawing strengthening and weakening of semi-permanent areas of low and high atmospheric pressure in the Arctic and the mid-latitudes. One consequence of the oscillation’s negative phase is cold, snowy weather in Eurasia and North America during the winter months. The extreme negative dip of the Arctic Oscillation Index in December 2009 was the lowest monthly value observed for the past six decades.

Source: Earth Observatory

Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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31 Responses

  1. Dark Gnat says

    Hmm, would the increased snowfall in Europe and NA cause more sunlight to reflect, possibly lowering the tempurature of the atmosphere?

    Unfortunately, the colder tempuratures means more fossil fuels being burned to keep warm.

  2. Don Alexander says

    Can you post a pic Terra will take on Sunday or Monday of Germany?? 😀

    We are being warned of a massive snowstorm starting tomorrow evening and covering the whole Republic, which is already pretty much covered in snow from New Year’s.

    I’m waiting for all the dolts to claim Global Warming is obviously passé and we are entering a new Ice Age… :O

  3. Olaf says

    It is global Dark Gnat, tomorrows forcast of Adalaide in Australia is 39 degree celcius because it is summer there. And it is average, that means it could be perfect normal that we have a winter once in a while that is very cold.

    In 10 years we will know if global warming has changed.

    Tehnically the global warming can change the sea currents so Europe gets colder weather instead.

  4. DrFlimmer says

    Oh yeah, Don Alexander. Germany gonna be doomed! We are all going to die, according to the media!

    I think, it will be quite funny.

    I wait for the snow in the eastern Ruhrgebiet. Where do you wait?

  5. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    If anyone has seen t.v. news reports about the weather we’re enduring here you may well be wondering why the country has apparently ground to a halt. The British love the weather and love to complain about it. The slightest fall of snow and the railway system fails;[in the autumn they complain about leaves on the lines], and chaos grips the roads. We never give a thought to our near neighbours on the continent who suffer longer, deeper cold snaps and heavier falls of snow yet they continue with business as usual. Still, it’s a great photograph.

  6. andyf says

    To refine Paul Eaton-Jones’ comments: yes, it’s a preoccupation of the Brits to whinge about the weather but it is mainly in the South of England where about 1″ of snow is enough to make headline news and cause utter chaos. It seems that winter is always a surprise down there.
    I live in the Highlands and find it quite funny to hear of the ‘difficulties’ down South when we are going about our business up here in over a foot of snow and temperatures that dipped to -22.3C last night (not the coldest – I’ve had -26C).
    The UK just can’t seem to get it together to prepare for bad weather, unlike the US and continental Europe, who get real snows on a regular basis.
    It is a nice photo! Mid-day temp here is -7.5 and gloriously sunny. Off to feed the poor birds now.
    Happy New Year all!

  7. Member
    Aqua says

    75 miles North of San Francisco – low 40’s (F) with rain expected – and hoped for! El Nino-like high pressure system along the California coast is drawing the water vapor north and passing us by before finally coming ashore in Oregon/Washington/Canada. USUALLY, our winter weather comes down along the coast from Alaska. This year its coming from mid pacific or more southern waters.

    Oh yeah.. and the fish have ‘gone away’…. hmmm. But we DO have an invasion of Humboldt Squid ongoing to make up for the difference? They usually live in Baja SA – Cabo

  8. bonan quao says

    Uuummm…..sorry ansyf, no offense, but I think Canada’s the only place in North America that’s “got it together” when it comes to snow fall and dismal temperatures. I live in Montreal where 5 foot dumps and -45C days are walks in the park for us. Ever had to pour boiling water on your car door just to open it in the morning? I didn’t think so.

    Sorry to toot my Candian horn here but we’re definitely second to none when it comes to weathering the winter.

    Ok, I’ll give some credit to the Russians and some Scandinavian countries, but that’s it.

    However, I do agree: nice photo!

  9. DrFlimmer says

    @ Paul Eaton-Jones, andyf

    In the western part of Germany we face the same problem. A small bit of snow and everyone, especially car-drivers, tend to behave even crazier than they do on regular days (car driving is a mess, here!). And now a huge snow front is heading for us.
    As I already said, Germany is doomed!

  10. watchful.stone.guardian says

    bonan, when I read andyf’s comments I got the same impression. Here in Saskatoon (Saskatchewan, Canada) it was -31°C yesterday. Life continued. Heck I even considered riding my bike to work. Today is a balmy -20°C.

    But I do have to let the world in on our dirty little secret. Vancouver, BC, grinds to a halt when the snow hits despite the Canadian reputation of winter that got it the Olympics… and being from Montreal you must remember when Toronto had to call in the military to clear the snow a few years back 😉

    wsg

  11. Spoodle58 says

    Nancy why take NASA’s word when you can look at the Arctic Oscillation figures for the last 60 years yourself.

    http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/daily_ao_index/month.ao.gif

    You will note there is little correlation between cold winters, hot summers and Arctic Oscillation, if you compare this AO data with weather reports, of the past 60 years.

  12. Spoodle58 says

    @ watchful.stone.guardian & Co

    Infrastructure of more southern locations around the world have not been built with conditions like these (present cold weather) in mind which is why it is so much more worse when its gets cold down south.

  13. bonan quao says

    @ watchful.stone.guardian

    I totally remember that winter! TO called in the army for one meter of snow! What a joke (by Montreal standards)! Don’t get me wrong, the mayor did the right thing, but they’ll never live it down. This topic has made my top 10 things to say to a Torontonian over a few pints.

    @ Spoodle58

    I couldn’t agree more. After all, practice makes perfect!

  14. andyf says

    @bonan quao, watchful.stone.guardian

    O.K. guys – tip of the hat to the experts! I should have clarified my remarks to exclude countries that have regular real snow.

    I was referring to the wimp countries for whom winter comes as an apparent surprise – every year….

  15. Silver Thread says

    Am I mistaken or is a large portion of Ireland free from snow?

  16. Spoodle58 says

    Not a large part, just munster the southern bit.
    But all the lakes, roads and water supplies are frozen solid down here. Cold but no snow, very little precipitation.

    We are used to a warm climate usually it never goes below 0c during winter, (Gulf Stream) So this is a bad, 3 weeks at sub zero.

  17. Olaf says

    Belgium is also a mess here. But it is the first time in my life that I see snow more than 3 days in a row.
    And I am really really happy about this! I love cold and I love snow!

    Of course dangerous driving and bad trains.

  18. star-grazer west coast says

    Beautiful pic!!! The sluggish Low system centered on SE UK was sending storms/clouds toward Strait of Gibraltar all the way from SE US and the Caribbean for a few days
    @Aqua Says:
    Auburn, Ca 35miles (55KM) NE of Sacramento reached 58F (15C) today, now 48F(9C) I’m hopping for a record all lowland 40-80 inches (1-2meters) of chilly rains this season and 30meters of snow in the Sierra highlands!!!!! I know what I wish for is incredible, but California needs the rains and snows!!!!! People of California,, plase stop giving your pet dogs and cats 100gallon (378 litres) daily showers!!!!! The people needs it for living!!!!!!

  19. Spoodle58 says

    @ Olaf

    I totally agree.
    I also love the snow and cold, except for the bad roads.

    Usually it means nice clear nights for my scope.
    And if its cloudy, I can build a snowman. 🙂

  20. star-grazer west coast says

    I note S. Canada and the Eastern US uses
    interesting names like ‘ Alberta Clipper’ , ‘ Arctic Express’ etc to describe a cold blast of air from the North, does much of Western Europe have a name of a cold blast of air from Siberia, like ‘ Siberian Buran’ or something to that effect(I realize Buran is usually for Siberian area only )- I would like to know what Western Europe uses to describe a prolonged blast from the East. Thank you in advance.

  21. andyf says

    @star-grazer west coast

    As far as I’m aware the UK has no colourful, or poetic, names for cold blasts of air, or for any other weather phenomenon.

    We just moan about it for days and the news channels ignore all the worldly death and destruction to concentrate on the plight of the partgoers who can’t invade town to drink themselves stupid. Sorry, even more stupid.

    Cynical? Me?

  22. star-grazer west coast says

    @andyf Says
    ROTFLMAO- I laughed like hell on your answer to my question!!!. About 35 years ago when I living in Portland, Oregon for 5 years, during the winters, we dreaded the ‘gorge winds’ a cold air-mass staying put when a warm Pacific front hit, causing a nasty freezing rain event for a day or more-the name of that wind was changed to a more colorful ‘Coho Wind’ . When I was stationed/living in San Antonio/Dallas Texas I heard of ‘Dry-Line’, a potential for dangerous weather conditions and ‘ Chinook Winds’ , a warming winds for Winter- of course we always dreaded the ‘Alberta Clipper’, ‘Arctic Express’ and other cold blast from the north.
    @Don Alexander Says
    @DrFlimmer Says
    I will love to see a satillite view of Nothern Europe after the powerful snowstorm covered a large area- I’m not sure if it covered about +3million Sq.Kilometer(+1.2million Sq.Miles) of land but still will be an interesting pic.
    As bad as this storm was, the continent still operated, although somewhat subdued, and now recovering gracefully.

  23. star-grazer west coast says

    Addendum- they named that snowstorm over Germany ‘DAISY’!!!!!!. lol. I think the name should have been ‘ Big Bad Betty’ !!!! lol

  24. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    I think the reason why we don’t have fanciful, colourful, romantic namaes for winds, precipitation, sunshine etc here in Britain is that everything happens so quickly. we have weather not climate. Very, very rarley does any type of weather pattern stay for more than a few days. Summer 1975 and 76 were exceptions ditto winters of 1947, 62/63. That’s probably why we make a fuss when these event occur.

  25. Olaf says

    It seems that this can explain why we have this cold in Europe and sadly also proof of global warming.

    It was already warned in 2005 that some climate models showed that Europe could get an ice age.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/1/6/822520/-Freak-Current-Takes-Gulf-Stream-to-Greenland

  26. star-grazer west coast says

    @Olaf Says
    I visit SW Australia (Perth) in Dec-Feb every other year since I retired in 06 to enjoy the southern skies. Back in the 60s’ I’ve read about the climate of Perth and thought the winters was well watered, but when I got there, the locals let me know over 35-40% of the precipitation failed over a very short 2-3 generations-the powers to be were wise enough to build desalination plants as 2/3 of the rainfall inflow to the reservoirs is lacking compared to 50-60 years ago. Perth has a Mediterranean climate, summer hot and dry and winters mild and moist, I live in the same type climate in California and wonder how global changes will affect California rainfall and eventually the economy. Other areas of Australia like Melbourne which suppose to have year-round rains, it makes me wonder what changes will occur?!? The rapid change to Perth, Australia rainfall shocked me how quickly changes can occur,
    I assume European do not have colorful, poetic names for weather phenomena as the climate as a whole is generally benign. It appears the only problem is partygoers makes violent weather events an excuse to go crazy lol.

  27. Olaf says

    Right now we have snow fort 9 days outside now.
    I love it but also so weird since only aruund 1975 I do recall 3 days of snow. Normally maximum 1 day.

  28. andyf says

    Olaf, you can have some of our snow – it’s been here since before Christmas.

    As Paul Eaton-Junes says, we in the UK have weather and it’s usually benign. The two major features we are subject to are the position of the jetstream, and the Gulf Stream (or Atlantic Conveyor).

    If the melting of the Greenland cap accelerates and puts large quantities of ice into the north Atlantic, there is the possibility that the Gulf Stream would be interrupted, causing the Atlantic Conveyor to switch off pretty rapidly. The effect on our climate would be pretty catastrophic in a very short space of time and could precipitate some pretty cold weather here.

    So, global warming would result in us having snow up to our ass, and beyond.

    More vacations in Arizona would be on the cards for me, but it might be 50C in Phoenix by then…..

    Oh, it’s starting to thaw here!

  29. Olaf says

    @andyf

    it all depends where you live. For some it might even become a paradise.

  30. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    Here in Hull [east coast of Britain] we had a huge snowfall on Friday 8th. which froze on impact. Result? Chaos, mayhem. By Tuesday 12th it had virtually disappeared. Result? Endless chatter about how we’d all survived the ‘terrible weather’. Britons, eh??

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