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Extreme weather ‘polar vortex’ could see new ‘Beast from the East’ blast UK

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    While we’ve already seen some snow this winter, few of us have yet to experience dramatic scenes on a par with the 'Beast from the East' event that brought the UK to a standstill in February 2018.

    The weather phenomenon – known to forecasters as Anticyclone Hartmut – was unlike most winter storms. Instead of forming as a low pressure area along the jet stream, it came from a disrupted polar vortex.

    The polar vortex, a powerful weather system surrounding the north pole, tends to contain bitterly cold air and prevents icy blasts from coming our way.

    READ MORE: Polar snow blast could strike UK as rare Arctic phenomenon 'releases -10C beast'

    That means most of our weather usually comes in from the west – with a flow of relatively mild air coming in over the Atlantic.

    But when the polar vortex is disrupted, in what meteorologists call a Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) event, we can see spectacularly low temperatures and sometimes heavy snowfall here in the UK.

    The term SSW refers to what is observed in the upper atmosphere – a rapid warming [up to about 50C in just a couple of days] up to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface.

    While the warming takes place so high up that we don’t feel any warmer ourselves, a few weeks later, we will start to see knock-on effects on the jet stream.

    A SSW event can have a massive impact on our weather.

    Following an SSW, high altitude westerly winds give way to easterlies, which progress down through the atmosphere and can lead to periods of intensely cold weather in Northern Europe.

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    The effect can take a week or two to reach the UK.

    Matthew Box from the Met Office told the Daily Star: “We get roughly 4-8 wintertime Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) events per decade.

    “Models are predicting that a SSW event will occur through late January. SSW events take a few weeks to have an effect at the surface, but when they do occur they increase the likelihood of outbreaks of cold arctic air affecting the UK.”

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    While in the past we have rarely seen extreme weather events in the British Isles, the Beast from the East was blamed for sixteen deaths – including one 52-year-old homeless man who was found frozen to death inside his tent.

    The massive weather system extended all the way to the Russian far east, and in total, as many as a hundred people may have lost their lives as a result of the cold and treacherous conditions.

    SSWs can usually be predicted about a week in advance, using satellites and data from ground stations.

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    The weather is always complicated and hard to predict, but experts say we could well see a repeat of 2018’s conditions in mid-February.

    As always, when the weather is unfavourable you should avoid risky behaviour – such as mountain climbing, wild swimming or even long road trips.

    The government advises that as much as possible you should try to heat your home to a temperature that is comfortable for you. In rooms you mostly use such as the living room or bedroom, try to heat them to at least 18C if you can, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

    You should also keep your bedroom windows closed at night. Exposure to low indoor temperatures can have a serious impact on your health as you get older. Wearing several layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thicker layer.


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