Spring 2012 Part 2: from summer to winter in one week!


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It's April 9th and this post covers two remarkable weather-events for the time of year that ended up featuring the transition from heat-wave to Arctic chill and significant snow within a week. Such events can often occur at this see-saw time of year, where the key to what happens lies with the origin of the airmasses that arrive over the UK.

Late March saw high pressure centered either over or just to the east of the UK with a light southerly airflow affecting the country, bringing up air from North Africa and the attendant warmth. It also brought rather a lot of cloud and haze at times, but on the clearer days the heat was most pleasant, with temperatures of 20-23C widely bringing an excuse to cook and eat outside and generally enjoy life. By the end of the month the dominant high had drifted west, allowing a northerly flow all the way down from the Arctic, and on April 3rd-4th a small area of low pressure tracked south over the UK, bringing rain but with a cold air undercut behind it that progressively turned the rain to snow, giving Scotland, Northern England and Wales a very snowy period. What a contrast!

On March 24th I set out to photograph parts of the coast south of Aberystwyth. Watery skies, despite the sunshine, were far from ideal conditions and not my usual style at all, but the day's objectives actually needed "nice weather", so on I went, starting with a good walk from near Blaenplwyf, where something of weather-related interest was found as a bonus: these amazing, wind-bent thorn-trees on the exposed high ground of the area. I'll return to this spot on a better (stormier!) day and have another go at these:

Trees bent by the wind

Here's a telephoto of the coast near Llanon, with Aberystwyth, Clarach and Borth all visible through the attendant haze. I liked the wave-sculpted architecture of the coast here and the shadows cast by the early-morning sun.....

The Cardigan Bay coast near Llanon

I continued as far down as Newquay that day, where I met my mates from the Ceredigion Sea Anglers and had a pleasant, lazy afternoon fishing at Cei-Bach. There is a reef here that lies off the beach, so that at low tide you can reach it with a good long cast. I can manage 125m without bait, measured on a casting-court (i.e. a field, borrowed for the day from a farmer) and the reef is typically about 100m out, so I thought it would be worth a go. I know I was reaching the reef because I got snagged a few times, but the guy next to me was a serious caster who was banging his baits much further and who caught a series of good bull-huss to over ten pounds in weight, whilst I was only getting dogfish! Long casting is a skill that requires the same combination of strength and coordination that the best Olympic athletes use in field events and, above all, training and practice. Normally over the areas I fish it isn't necessary and you can actually over-cast if careless, so I wasn't too bothered and enjoyed the sunshine and took more photos. I liked this one, shot towards the sun:

Sea-angling at Cei Bach

The day ended for me with this pleasantly diffuse sunset over the Bay, taken from the coast-road above Aberarth, a small village near Aberaeron:

Sunset from above Aberarth

On March 28th I resumed my campaign, beginning at Llangrannog. As the photo below shows, conditions were more reminiscent of the Tropics!


This is Ceibwr Bay, near Moylgrove to the south of Cardigan, with its stunning rock-architecture:

Ceibwr Bay

I had a lot of places to cover, and would like to return here in better light and do a shoot purely centered on these amazing rock-pinnacles - the potential is obvious and they'd look great with storm-swells breaking around their bases:

Ceibwr Bay

By the time I reached Strumble Head the sun was getting low in the sky, making the haze even worse! Look how clear the water is: a sure sign of prolonged settled conditions.....

Strumble Head

This is Porthgain harbour at low tide - really struggling with the light now!

Porthgain Harbour

At Abereiddy Bay I managed some usable representative shots of the beach.....

Abereiddy beach

...but the famous Blue Hole, an old slate-quarry into which the sea has broken, was cloaked in blackness. I'll have to return here around midday - the colour in the right conditions can be incredible.

Blue Hole, Abereiddy

pril 3rd saw me driving northwards to Manchester, to give a talk on weather-photography to the Royal Meteorological Society, whilst the snow advanced southwards. Having carefully checked the models, it appeared that the snow would start to affect Wales from about 10pm; the talk finished at 7pm so I could in theory get back home before it arrived. All went according to plan until, on the last stretch of the M62 westbound, signs started warning of "delays" on the M6, but giving no indication of how bad things would be. Two hours later, I finally reached the A57 turn-off and was able to make my escape through Warrington and thus onto the M56. It turned out that a lorry had gone up in flames on the Thelwall Viaduct, resulting in the complete closure of the M6 southbound.

The snow started in earnest on the drive back from Newtown to Machynlleth - I had chosen the lowest crossing of the Cambrian Mountains at 693 feet - and whilst mesmerising in the headlights for a tired driver, it had not yet started to settle, thankfully, and I was home a little before midnight. The following day was raw, sleety and very windy but Thursday April 5th was fine, with the winds easing off by afternoon, so remembering that I'd hardly seen any snow this winter, I headed up the mountain road for a walk over the top.

From what I thought was a sensible high-point at about 300m above sea-level, I watched this Toyota advance a little more, stop, turn round and come back down. Time to continue on foot....

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

The high-point for vehicles:

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

Beyond, the road was crisscrossed with increasingly deep snowdrifts:

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

On the upper part of the pass, looking north towards the Dyfi Valley, with Dyfi Forest and the Arans in the background....

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

Approaching the summit at 520m:

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

Up here, a raging blizzard had clearly been blowing, sculpting the snow into large drifts, some over a metre in depth:

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

The view east, towards Trannon wind-farm:

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

The wind had now died away completely and I was removing the extra layers I had put on, with the blazing sun making me regret not having sunglasses - conditions were reminiscent of the Alps in summer!

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

Back over the summit....

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

Lambing is now underway on the high pastures and heavy snow is the last thing that the farmers need - fortunately a rapid thaw had already set in, so that the ewes were having no problems in finding grass by late afternoon.

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

Finally, a retrospective of where I was, taken on the way home. Spring snow often contrasts beautifully with the vibrant green of the new grass and the splashes of colour where the gorse is in bloom...

Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, snowbound - April 5 2012

The Atlantic has now taken over for a bit, with rain for all of Bank Holiday Monday followed by sunshine and showers for the rest of the week - classic April conditions in other words and offering the possibility of a thunderstorm or two to get to grips with. As the risk of severe wintry weather recedes once more, it's time to think about more planting in the veg-garden, more fishing and to generally appreciate the notion that winter has, with one last dramatic flourish, departed. More soon!

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