Calm Brixham harbour

Calm after the storm

27 August 2014

After one of the wettest and stormiest winters on record, spring provided a welcome break from the elements.

Following an exceptionally wet winter - the stormiest period of weather experienced by the UK for at least 20 years - spring 2014 was much more benign. Even though it was generally a calmer period, we kept a watchful eye on conditions.

Spring temperatures remained broadly above average - minimum temperatures were also mainly above average, particularly in April and May. The season brought a mix of settled spells, most notably during the middle of March and April, and some wetter periods.

March provided a contrast to the three wet and stormy winter months which preceded it. There were several warm days that gave an early taste of spring, however some areas, most especially western Scotland, did have wetter weather at times.

Dusty dawn

At the end of March, as people across the south and east of the country set off to work, many motorists found their vehicles covered with a thin layer of red dust that had travelled 2,000 miles from the Sahara desert. The air flowing from North Africa over Europe and the UK brought a steady flow of dust from northwest Africa for several days.

Dust on car windscreen

Saharan dust, a mixture of sand and dust, can be lifted from the ground by strong winds. Sometimes, clouds of dust reach very high altitudes and are transported worldwide. Gale force wind conditions in the Sahara contributed to this most recent example of the phenomenon. When the airborne particles arrived in the UK, they combined with warm air and were deposited during rain showers. As rainwater evaporated, a thin layer of dust was left on exposed surfaces.

Quality advice

In addition to pollution levels and weather conditions, Saharan dust also affects air quality. The most recent incident of Saharan dust in the UK coincided with enhancements to our air quality forecasts that we provide to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Now, in addition to providing data for a 5-day forecast from the Met Office Air Quality Model (AQUM), we issue a daily text forecast for Defra's air quality forecast web pages and tweets. Our forecasts significantly enhance Defra's existing Daily Air Quality Index, which up until now has only forecast out to 24 hours.

The new service provides a more detailed UK map, giving a forecast more relevant to users' needs. At the start of April, high levels of air pollution were recorded from industrial sources in the UK and blown in from the continent along with fine Saharan dust. People with lung and heart conditions were advised to avoid any strenuous activity and asthmatics were warned of an increased risk of attacks.

Warmer than average

April was the fifth month in a row with above average temperatures in the UK. The start and end of the month were relatively unsettled, although most parts of England and Wales saw some fine weather between the 8th and 19th with rainfall largely confined to north-west Scotland. In the middle of the month, runners in the London Marathon woke up to a cool, cloudy start but had a mainly dry day. There was a mix of weather over the Easter weekend with sunshine and showers. At the end of April, showers with some thunder affected mainly southern areas, with some localised downpours.

May was yet another warmer than average month. The Early May Bank holiday weekend was dry and fine, if at times rather cloudy. There was dry and warm weather for many parts of the country early in the month, around the middle of the month and again right at the end, but these were interspersed with cloud and rain.

Late May was less settled, often overcast with plenty of rain and thundery showers some areas, especially East Anglia and other eastern counties of England. An unusually windy spell over the weekend of 10th to 11th in many southern areas led to some local disruption on the roads of south Wales.

Sweltering conditions

As summer started, people from across the globe gathered in Brazil for the World Cup in June. While players battled it out in the tropical heat of Brazil, the UK enjoyed its own hot and dry spell. Many people also felt the impact of hayfever as the combination of warm and dry weather has created the perfect conditions for releasing pollen. As the festival season kicked off in mid-June, it was fine and dry across the UK with some prolonged dry and sunny spells. However, after a couple of weeks, conditions changed and Glastonbury Festival had some unsettled weather.

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