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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 13:43 GMT
Q&A: Stormy weather ahead?

weather report graphic
Where the wind blows...

Deadly storms have swept across the UK and northern Europe, destroying buildings and homes and leaving at least 33 people dead.

Is this a one-off event or should we be prepared for stormy times ahead? In this Q&A the BBC's meteorological expert Rob McElwee makes sense of the changing weather:

Q: What is going on with the weather worldwide?

There is currently an El Nino event - the abnormal warming of the eastern Pacific at the expense of the western Pacific. These happen irregularly but always move global weather patterns away from the norm. This may be an influence on our recent weather.

The jet stream of air currents that circulates around the northern hemisphere, looking much like a clover leaf, has more exaggerated curves than is often the case.

Nestled in the folds of this jet stream, big Atlantic storms can grow. The sharper the curves the bigger the storms. Apart from one brief spell, the prevailing wind direction has been westerly.

This prevents much cold and brings in much rain.

Q: Does global warming explain these extremes of weather?

I am tempted to say yes but have no evidence. Single events cannot yet be blamed on global warming. But if you think about it, if the atmosphere is warmer on average, so it has more energy and is likely to produce more violent storms. Logic.

A young Highland cow covered in snow at Carronbridge
Will you be ready for the cold?

Q: What should we expect to see in the coming days?

The train of Atlantic lows is slowing down and our winds will decline by Sunday, having turned to the north - it looks like getting much colder with showers, of snow on the hills. There's a suggestion of proper winter cold next week. What is the explanation for the warmer weather in Europe?

The absence of a "blocking pattern", a mound of cold stubborn air over Russia, has allowed the Atlantic weather to run into Europe. So it's been too mild for Alpine snow and Moscow cannot sustain its usual winter frost.

Is there any connection between the warmer weather and what we are seeing now?

The two are a consequence of the generally more energetic atmosphere over the Atlantic at the moment.

Car and a lorry trapped in a ditch during winter storms
Bad weather has made driving treacherous

Q: What can we learn from our European neighbours who have also been hit hard by this weather?

Generally speaking, continental countries are geared to clear snow in winter and rest in the heat of summer. As a result the infrastructure will be built to cope, resources put aside and lifestyle adapted. Let's not assume that anyone is ready to cope with unpredictable extremes of wind, rain and temperature.

Q: Can we expect to see the weather get worse?

As the results published today of the latest climate modelling experiment consolidate what has already been predicted, with a general warming of the UK atmosphere, more summer drought, winter rain and violent storms seem likely.

Q: What can we do now?

In my humble opinion, adapt our lifestyle to the inevitable change. Reduce our energy use so as to stop the trend from being a continuing upward curve.

Your pictures: Storm damage
19 Jan 07 |  In Pictures
Poland battered by deadly storm
19 Jan 07 |  Europe

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