The Science Of Predicting Snowfall I Oxford Open Learning


    The Science Of Predicting Snowfall

    Understanding the science behind snowfall is deceptively simple: moist air rises, cools, and condenses into ice crystals around particles, forming snowflakes. This process demands freezing temperatures, ample moisture, condensation nuclei, and upward air motion, all abundant during winter. However, predicting snowfall proves to be more elusive.

    Why Snowfall In The UK Is So Unpredictable

    In many countries, scientists can with some reliability predict when it is going to snow. But, in certain geographies, and we can use the UK as an example, predicting snowfall is not easy. In December 2023, the UK media buzzed with reports of imminent snow in the South of England, yet scientists couldn’t pinpoint when or how much would fall. The reason for this lack of predictability of snowfall in the UK is down to two things, according to Rob Thompson, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Meteorology at the University of Reading: “Its location and the fact that small differences in temperature can cause dramatic changes to the forecast.”

    Situated at the convergence point of diverse global weather patterns, the UK experiences freezing northern or easterly winds, which occasionally collide with moist air from the west to produce snow. The UK’s awkward predicament stems from the sporadic interaction of northerly/easterly winds with southern warm moist air—a rarity in winter. This tenuous relationship between weather systems makes snowfall hard to anticipate. Moreover, in regions where winter temperatures hover around 0 degrees Celsius, (such as the UK), minor temperature fluctuations wield substantial influence. A two-degree rise transforms falling snow into rain, while a two-degree drop ensures a snowy spectacle.

    Even with precise precipitation predictions, the UK’s atmospheric idiosyncrasies make it challenging to forecast the form — rain, sleet, or snow — that precipitation will take. Being a snow weather forecaster in meteorologically awkward regions like the UK is therefore an extremely challenging occupation. Conversely, in regions with consistently colder temperatures, like those at -10 degrees Celsius, snowfall can be predicted with more certainty.


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    I am a practising HR consultant working with several start-ups on an ongoing and ad-hoc basis in the London and M4 area, and am a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development or CIPD. I am the Director of; is a resource for start-ups and small business. It includes a blog containing career advice, small business advice articles, HR software reviews, and contains great resources such as HR Productivity Apps.