Insights & News

Worrying Winds & Concerning Cold: A Construction & Wind Power Outlook for Northwest Europe

10th February 2021

The Recent Past: An Extreme Weather Layout

So far, this winter has brought mixed fortunes for the construction and wind power sectors. The predominant weather patterns have been far from ‘typical’ for the time of year.

Low pressure has frequently travelled well south of usual, down across the mainland instead of near or over the UK. Alongside the wet or snowy weather, this has strongly affected mean wind speeds across Northwest Europe.

The UK is experiencing an exceptionally ‘calm’ winter, especially in the northern half. Wind power has been severely lacking. This is in stark contrast to the previous winter, which was one of the windiest on record! While wind turbines have struggled, the UK construction industry has rarely known fewer instances of downtime caused by strong winds. Unfortunately, this has often been accompanied by weather too cold for concrete laying.

Meanwhile, it’s been an unusually wild couple of months for western France, much of northern Spain and the central Mediterranean. All a consequence of low pressure systems tending to spend a lot of time centred over the middle of Europe. You see, wind speeds are typically highest on the western and southern flanks of these systems.

Here, wind power is booming but construction has been subject to more wind-forced downtime than usual. On the other hand, it’s not been cold as frequently in the UK – you win some, you lose some.

February 2021: Less Calm in the Northwest

The MetSwift analogues* predicted yet more in the way of high pressure to the north and low to the south for February 2021, but with wind speeds not as far below normal in the UK. This is precisely what’s been observed during the first half. At the time of writing, the pattern has hit another peak, driving a bitterly cold easterly across much of the northern half of Europe.

That’s brought a change of fortunes for much of the UK, where the easterly flow has produced above-average wind speeds. On the other hand, temperatures have been very low. Early on 10th February, Altnaharra in Scotland recorded -17.1°C, the lowest UK temperature since December 2010!

Generally in the UK, the cold weather has put concrete laying on hold for an entire week as daytime temperatures stay below 4°C.

Next week, northwest Europe is expected to experience milder temperatures, but there are signs that this may not last for long. High pressure could move back over or north of the UK by the fourth week.

* These are a selection of historical years (out of 1950-2020) in which key weather patterns behaved most similarly to what’s been observed during the months leading up to the forecast period. What happened next during these ‘most relevant’ years guide skilful predictions for the forecast period.

March 2021: Back to Square One?

The pattern of high pressure to the north and low to the south is the result of a highly perturbed Northern Hemisphere circulation. The broad-scale wind flows have been greatly distorted by powerful, far-reaching influences (teleconnections).

Their ability to recover toward normal varies across the winter season. It has a peak in Dec-Jan and then drops away for Feb-Mar.

Consequentially, when they’re very distorted in February, there’s a good chance they will remain so into March. Worryingly from a UK wind power perspective, MetSwift analogues not only support that outcome but show a return to well below normal mean wind speed there.

Indeed, the pattern is very reminiscent of what we saw in Dec-Jan 2021.

What’s bad news for wind power is good news for the construction industry, though. Such scarcity of strong wind events keeps downtime low, especially as you head into spring and the typical frequency of disruptively wet or cold weather reduces. Tower crane activities should see less disruption at all heights.

Concrete laying is less secure, though. We only have to look back a few years to 2018’s ‘Beast from the East’ for an example of very cold weather in March. That month also saw a second very cold spell about halfway through. Then there’s March 2013, which was colder than most Januarys!

Sadly, the predicted pattern is conducive to such spells of very cold weather in March 2021, especially in the north and east of the UK.

Further south in Europe, it looks like strong winds will continue to be the bigger issue overall for construction. On the other hand, wind power should be healthy.

 

Take care in the cold weather – it’s still got a bite to it!

James Peacock MSc
Head Meteorologist at MetSwift

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