Beast from the East snow phenomenon is returning to UK – how it works and when

Weather forecasters have said Brits could face heavy snow from November and well into next year due to a bizarre weather system called sudden stratospheric warming (SSW).

Despite its name, SSW actually causes temperatures in the UK to drop significantly. Some recent deep freezes and major snow events, including 2018's Beast from the East, came as a result of SSW.

"Warming" refers to what happens in the stratosphere some 50km up in the sky. When temperatures there spike (sometimes increasing up to about 50C in two days) it has a knock on effect down here.

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The Met Office explains: "Every year in winter, strong westerly winds circle around the pole high up in the stratosphere. This is called the stratospheric polar vortex and it circulates around cold air high over the Arctic.

"In some years, the winds in the polar vortex temporarily weaken, or even reverse to flow from east to west. The cold air then descends very rapidly in the polar vortex and this causes the temperature in the stratosphere to rise very rapidly, as much as 50­°C over only a few days; hence the term sudden stratospheric warming.

"As the cold air from high up in the stratosphere disperses, it can affect the shape of the jet stream as the cold air sinks from the stratosphere into the troposphere. It is this change in the jet stream that causes our weather to change."

The change in the jet stream can cause it to "snake" more, creating an area of what is called "blocking high pressure" over the North Atlantic and Scandinavia. This prevents other weather systems moving past it. In turn, it means the UK experiences extended periods of low temperatures – and in some cases the drop leads to massive downpours of snow.

Exacta Weather forecaster James Madden said there is a "medium-high risk for an early SSW from in and around mid-November onwards this year" – although it could take "a number of weeks" before it impacts our weather.

Moreover, he said there is "an even greater risk for further SSWs to occur throughout January and February 2024 that are likely to be highly influential on our overall weather patterns in terms of snow and cold".

Madden noted how this doesn't mean it will snowy throughout that entire period, but insisted at least one or two SSW events are coming up this winter.

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