One of the wettest ends to winter in past 80 years

Records confirm that this was the 3rd wettest period in February-March since 1931
Records confirm that this was the 3rd wettest period in February-March since 1931

Even well before the solar eclipse of next week, the Sun has been hiding its face all too frequently this year, with overcast skies, relentless rain and strong winds perpetuating what feels like a never-ending winter.

With an astonishing 226.4mm (9 inches) of rain falling in Stornoway during the three week period from 16 February to 8 March, the records confirm that this was the 3rd wettest period in February-March since 1931. In addition, the two days of last Friday and Saturday (7th & 8th March) saw the 2nd highest amount of rainfall (49.6mm) ever recorded in March in Stornoway.

What has caused all this bad weather? Is it likely to continue?

You may remember that at the start of winter, I warned Stornoway Gazette readers to pay scant attention to some maverick forecasters who were predicting a “long, hard winter of snow and ice”.

Even the well-established (and usually more reliable) UK Met Office announced that no “preferred pattern” of weather was likely during the oncoming winter.

Instead, we have seen a near-endless stream of westerly and south-westerly winds, bringing near-constant driving rain, hail, snow and record storms. A record high number of thunderstorms was also observed, and since the end of November there have been only 7 ‘rain-free’ days!

The poor winter weather has been directed towards us by a powerful ‘high pressure’ zone situated between the Azores and just south of England. As a consequence, our neighbours down south (and even those as far north as sheltered Aberdeenshire) have seen a dry, very sunny and sometimes frosty winter, whilst we’ve had to contend with the entire opposite. It is mostly just the luck of the draw that such situations arise, and I am sure Mother Nature will reverse the meteorological Wheel-of-Fortune soon enough.

More sinisterly, however, is the effect that global warming and climate change may be having on our climate, right here in the Western Isles. Already, the annual number of frosty nights has nearly halved when compared to the 1970s and 1980s, and winter rainfall has increased inexorably by more than 40%. The risk of particularly violent windstorms also seems to be increasing, coupled with ever-rising sea-levels too.

The Hebrides are very much at the forefront of extreme weather and climate as it happens, and our island communities are especially vulnerable to their impacts. In this context, if the trend towards wetter and stormier conditions continues, new planning and adaptation strategies will be required.

Read more on this winter’s weather statistics in this week’s Stornoway Gazette, out on Thursday!