part 2 - January freeze-up: worst since 1986!
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January 11th 2010 and we are now into the fourth week of the cold spell
- now the most prolonged since the fierce winter of 1985-6. Overnight
temperatures have dropped as low as -14C during the past week, giving
ice on the insides of my windows and allowing the Dyfi Estuary to
freeze over in places as it did in January 2009 - so two cold winters
in a row. This has created excitement in the tabloids who confidently
cited the cold weather as proof that global warming is a scam/con/hoax.
However, most science is best found in the scientific literature and
not in the tabloids - put it another way, if you had the misfortune to
be diagnosed with cancer, who would you prefer to go and see - an
oncologist or a tabloid op-ed writer?
Climate models do not rule out cold winters for the time being and the
extent of the wintry weather this past week is beautifully illustrated
from this image taken by NASA's TERRA satellite on Thursday 7th
January, showing all but some coastal areas of Wales blanketed in snow:
Machynlleth only had a few falls of snow,
resulting in a covering of no more than 3cm, but up in the hills above
7-10cm was more widely seen, and in the higher mountains who knows how
much? The deep drifts photographed for my last post will not have
changed a lot and more snow will have accumulated on top of them, but
the problem has been that one of the snowfalls melted to slush and then
froze again, making all minor roads treacherously icy. So this week I
have stayed closer to base, apart from a quick look at the Estuary (see
further down), and gone about on foot.
This is the view from Y Wylfa, a 150m high hill that overlooks
Machynlleth, across the Dyfi Valley to Tarrenhendre, late in the day on
showing unusual small S-facing corries on Tarrenhendre....
On the way down that
evening the gritters were busy keeping the main road safe, but the ice
and snow remained on the lanes:
No accident observed here - perhaps it was just a hint?
From the dark recesses of my spare room I dug out my crampons for a
walk with friends on the 7th, finding them a very useful aid to making
progress across the frozen and in places horribly slippery surfaces!
So on the 7th we set out to
do a 5 or 6-mile round of the hills immediately above Machynlleth. It
was a beautiful day of sparkling snow and deep-blue skies, although the
Northerly airflow had allowed the North Channel Effect to occur over
the Irish Sea, with convective cells shooting up along a N-S line out
in Cardigan Bay - here captured in the morning with a telephoto:
And here, zoomed-out, at lunchtime. The distant thunderheads can
clearly be seen, and isolated lightning strikes occurred within the
line of storms according to the Met Office sferics-plotter. Because
this N-S line of convective activity tends to cross Pembrokeshire,
meteorologists have given it the slang-term "the Pembrokeshire
Dangler", as I explained to my companions, commenting afterwards that
it would probably be the first and last time that phrase cropped up in
a conversation with them!
The surface-hoar was everywhere, and on the frozen Llyn Glanmerin it
was especially impressive, refracting the sunlight to create myriad
rainbow points of illumination:
On the nearby snow, a closer inspection
revealed leaflike ice crystals to nearly a centimetre:
Views were clear and superb in the cold Polar air:
Here's the view up the Dyfi Valley, with Mynydd Cemmaes and the
windfarm forming the horizon:
Continuing on our way, we passed above Rhiwlwyfen, where I lived for a
few years. This is the view inland towards Foel Fadian. It used to take
me less than two minutes to get to this viewpoint from my home!
We continued on down to Forge via forest
tracks, and had an icy walk along the road back into Machynlleth, where
the crampons proved useful again, and I picked up a blister on my right
foot having not worn my Alpine climbing boots for rather a long time!
On the 8th, I had an email from Alex at Roustabout, a business located
right on the Estuary at Frongoch Boatyard, to let me know that
ice-floes had appeared (I had asked him if he'd mind keeping tabs for
me) - thanks Alex!
The 9th dawned cold and fairly clear so I set off down to the Estuary.
The first stop was at Gogarth, where mud of the the salt-marshes was
covered in some of the largest hoar-frost ice crystals I have seen:
Contorted and broken sheets of ice littered the Estuary sandbanks:
Here's the view
upstream, with the steep-sided Llyfnant Valley in the background:
By the time I got over to Frongoch, the tide was flooding in earnest.
Immediately I could hear strange clunks and booms. On investigation, it
turned out to be ice-sheets coming up-river on the tide and coming up
against the chains from the mooring-buoys....
I stopped awhile, watching this chaotic interaction going on, before
the fireside at the White Lion in Machynlleth became too much of a
In the time it's taken to write this early on a Monday morning, another
period of snow has occurred and everything is white over again. And
tomorrow, a frontal system attempting to push in from the Atlantic
creates an airmass "Battleground" - where we could see rain, sleet or
snow - and if the latter, a major fall is possible, but there are
enough variables involved to create a little uncertainty in forecasting
it - a forecasting nightmare in other words! I suspect quite a few
people will be quite glad by now, if the milder air out West wins the
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