Eight storms have hit the UK in the past 12 weeks and experts say we can expect a couple more before this miserable winter departs . . . possibly with an Arctic sting in its tail.
The worst one for a very long time? Or just a meteorologic illusion created by giving them all a cuddly identity?
“We’ve certainly noticed them more now they’ve all got fancy names,” said amateur Lancashire forecaster Stuart Markham, “But in fact, nationally, it’s not that long ago since we had one like this.”
While Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva, Frank, Gertrude and now Henry have battered Britain on a trans-Atlantic conveyor belt since early November, this rapid windstorm sequence is nothing new.
The floods they have triggered in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire have been some of the worst ever experienced. Yet this particular pattern of extreme weather is far from unusual.
El Nino, a global phenomenon which springs up in the equatorial Pacific thousands of miles from Britain, is to blame. But, as the event occurs on average around three times a decade, the adverse effect it has on weather here is not as rare as it might seem.
“2013/14 was the wettest winter on record in the UK,” said Stuart. “Had we had names for the storms that year then we would probably have remembered them more.
“With El Nino we get global patterns that turn out to be very strange. They’ve even had snow in Dubai.
“This one is the first since 2009 and possibly the strongest we’ve experienced. But I wouldn’t say the frequency of storms is anything too unusual.”
El Nino starts when a band of warm ocean water develops in the Pacific, sparking a sequence of weather events around the world and affecting the jet stream crossing the Atlantic. Newfoundland becomes a breeding ground for storms heading across to Europe, with low pressure systems being “beefed up” en route.
Met Office forecaster Emma Sharples said: “If you look back to 2013/14, if anything there were more periods of stormy weather than this winter.
“Windstorms are being named for the first time this winter in a pilot project between ourselves and Ireland’s Met Eireann. Maybe people are taking more notice of them as a result.
“I don’t think we can deny it has been very wet. December was the wettest month on record. But we really can’t say whether we are going to continue to see storm after storm for the remainder of February.”
Stuart is convinced Henry won’t be the last of this windy winter.
“We aren’t finished yet,” he said. “I think it will be another seven to 10 days, easily, of this with maybe one for the weekend and possibly one for next week. There is every chance we will get two or three before it’s done. Then, based on past history, it will turn very cold for a while from mid-February onwards. The winter will have a sting in its tail. Early spring certainly looks like it could be cold.”