As we head towards spring, the winter of 2011/12 will go down as one of the sunniest ever. It was also dry and mild.
It’s been a topsy-turvy winter in the Anglia region with plenty of sunshine and near-records at both ends of the temperature scale. As February draws to a close, the region has seen temperatures as low as -16°C while soaring to above 18°C just a fortnight later.
The weather world classes winter as the three months of December, January and February so Thursday will be the start of the meteorological spring. With the thermometer hitting 18.2°C(64.8°F) at Santon Downham, Suffolk and Shoeburyness, Essex last Thursday, you could be forgiven for thinking that spring had already sprung. A more normal maximum temperature for February is around 7°C (45°F).
Despite the fortnight in the deep freeze at the start of February, this winter as a whole will be the mildest for four years and the first one in that time that has been warmer than normal. More significantly, it’s been one of the sunniest ever. Since the Met Office started keeping East Anglia sunshine data in the 1929, the sunniest ever winter was just a few years ago in 1999/2000 with 252.9 hours. With just a few days to go, this winter has stacked up 223.4 hours and it could turn out to be the second or third sunniest on record.
As gardeners, farmers and the water companies will all tell you, we’re still after more rain. This winter has so had only three-quarters of the normal rain with 114 mm (4½inches) of the winter average of 150 mm (6 inches). The area of the region in “official drought” was expanded on Monday 20th February to included south Bedfordshire, Hertfordshireand west Essex. Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, north Bedfordshire, west Norfolk and west Suffolk has been under drought conditions since June 2011. The rest of east Norfolk, east Suffolk and east Essex is considered to be at “high risk” of drought.
East Anglia in 2011 saw the driest year since 1921 and the second driest year ever recorded. The rainfall deficit by the end of the year was 150 mm (6 inches) which about the same as getting no rain at all for three months.
Winter is the season that water companies look to for topping up reservoirs and re-stocking groundwater. This winter is the sixth of the past eight that has seen lower than normal rainfall.