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What's up with the Weather this Winter?
08 January 2016

What's up with the Weather this Winter?

An unusually high frequency of southerly or south-westerly winds persisted throughout December. Warm and moist tropical air masses brought very mild, wet and stormy weather over Ireland. December 2015 was one of the mildest on record in most areas and the wettest on record in parts of the West, South and Midlands. The widespread flooding in some parts of the country was exacerbated by already saturated ground following above normal rainfall in November. The combined rainfall totals for November and December were the highest on record in some parts of the country, in particular at Shannon, Cork and Knock airports.

Jets streams play a key role in determining the weather. Jet streams generally donít follow a straight path, normally have peaks and troughs. This December there was a pattern of continuous troughs and ridges across the North Atlantic and over Ireland giving us a mild predominantly south to south-westerly airflow. This resulted in a prolonged spell of very mild and very wet weather during which record temperatures and rainfall amounts occurred.

It is very difficult to determine the exact causes of the recent extreme weather. Some studies suggest that the El Nino event in the Pacific is likely to increase the risk of strong jet streams, heavy rainfall and stormy conditions during winter.† Climate Change models suggest that with rising temperatures leading to an increase in the water carrying capacity of the atmosphere we can expect an increase in the frequency and intensity of severe weather events. However climate needs to be assessed over a number of decades before we can confidently identify genuine trends, as opposed to natural variability. At present we can point to the unusual persistent strong west-south-westerly air flow over the country as the predominant causes of the extreme weather this December, without attributing a definitive cause.

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