Forecasters have warned of a weather event that could bring very cold temperatures to the UK in the coming weeks, potentially becoming a new “Beast From the East”.
Sudden stratospheric warming in 2018 brought a cold wave and heavy snow to the UK that lasted for nearly two weeks.
Much of the country was covered in snow, causing schools to shut and forcing drivers off the road.
Now the Met Office is tracking two weather events “fighting for influence over the UK” that could bring more low temperatures in the coming weeks.
Meteorologists have observed a sudden stratospheric warming is under way, which is associated with very cold weather.
However, forecasters say this event is more likely to bring cold weather without heavy snow – though it is difficult to predict.
The agency is also tracking a La Nina in the Pacific that could bring wet and stormy weather as it increases the UK’s chances of westerly winds.
Met Office spokeswoman Nicola Maxey told the PA news agency: “You’ve got the two events happening at the same time so they vie against each other in a sense.
“They’re sort of fighting for influence over the UK – we’re a very small dot in the middle of the ocean.”
Watch: Beast From the East spells chaos for commuters
She added that the warming in the stratosphere takes at least 10 days to move down into our atmosphere.
Maxey continued: “The feeling at the moment is that we may see some colder weather towards the end of January into February, but probably the sort of weather that we’re seeing at the moment, as opposed to what is popularly perceived as a Beast From the East.
“There’s still a lot to play for, we’re keeping an eye on the situation, the experts are working on how that might influence our weather.”
What is a ‘Beast From the East’?
While the term “Beast From the East” is synonymous with the long cold spell in February and March 2018, it is not unique to that event and in fact is used to describe any cold and wintry conditions in the UK that come about from easterly winds from the continent.
According to the Met Office, high pressure over Scandinavia in winter draws in cold and wintry conditions from Europe and Asia to the UK – giving rise to the “Beast From the East’ term.
However, whether the UK experiences heavy snow as well as the extreme cold depends on the direction of travel the air takes.
If the cold, dry air reaches the south of the UK across the short passage of the English Channel, clear skies and severe frost will generally be felt in the country.
But if the air travels longer over the North Sea, it becomes unstable and, as moisture is added to the mix, the risk of rain or snow increases and temperatures can stay freezing during the day and dip to -10C at night.
The 2018 Beast From the East resulted in 16 deaths related to the weather, including those of a seven-year-old girl who was hit by a car struggling on the ice and a 60-year-old man who was attempting to rescue his dog from a freezing lake.
Britain was blanketed in snow for several days, and several crashes were reported, people were stuck in cars overnight as temperatures plummeted to below freezing and flights from UK airports were cancelled.
Forecasters are predicting that the current cold spell affecting much of the UK will continue, with temperatures expected to remain slightly below average into next week.
Watch: Britons divided over weather during Beast From the East