Parts of Europe were left with severe flooding, heavy snowfall and major damage after successive winter storms hit in late January and early February.
In parts of the UK, Portugal, Spain and France, Atlantic storms caused severe flooding and major damage to thousands of properties and many transport lines. In England and Wales January was the wettest on record (records go back almost 250 years). In several other countries, including Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Austria and Switzerland, the winter storms brought the heaviest snowfall for decades.
Severe storms (areas of low pressure) battered the UK and Atlantic coastal areas of Europe in quick succession in January and February. According to the Met Office England and Wales had their wettest winter for 250 years with more than 430 mm of rain.
The jet stream
As UK weatherman Liam Dutton explained in his weather blog the main cause of the stormy weather was the jet stream — the fast-moving ribbon of air 10 km up in the atmosphere that drives the weather at the surface. The jet stream helps create deep areas of low pressure and transports them from one place to another. Because it was stuck in position all winter, the weather stayed stormy.
It was particularly powerful at the beginning of 2014, because of extremely cold air flooding off eastern Canada and colliding with sub-tropical tropical air, boosting it to speeds of 320–370 km/h (200–230 mph).
Figure 1 (right) shows the jet stream forecast chart from Netweather illustrating the position and potential power of the jet stream on 8 February.
The impacts of these storms were widespread, intense and, potentially, very expensive.
- The Danube River closed to traffic because of strong winds.
- Venice and other parts of Italy flooded due to a combination of high tides and strong winds.
- Flooding in Finistère, France.
- Waves reached heights of 10 metres along the coast in northern Spain, causing major damage along the Asturian and Cantabrian coasts.
- At least one person was swept away by the water in Spain.
- Heavy snowfall in the southern Alps, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia and parts of Germany.
- Highest avalanche risk (level 5) in the Dolomites.
- Gusts of more than 160 km/h (100 mph) were reported in the UK.
- More than 200 trees felled across South West England.
- Towns along the south-western coasts of the UK were severely flooded.
- Railway line in Devon collapsed as water washed away the sea wall underneath.
- Cork city centre in Ireland was badly flooded.
- Five sailors rescued off the Spanish coast as their ship started to sink.
- Waves 12 m high reported in the Bay of Biscay.
- Flooding and landslides closed all rail routes from London to South West England.
- The Thames in England burst its banks, flooding many areas.
- Galicia in northwest Spain had heavy rain and strong winds of up to 100 km/h (60 mph).
- In Portugal, flooding, felled trees and structural damage caused chaos near Porto.
- Wales and North West England battered by hurricane-force winds — more than 160 km/h (100 mph) in places.
- Tens of thousands of properties left without power.
- Public transport in many areas cancelled or severely disrupted.
- One man was reported to have died after being electrocuted by a fallen power line.
- Southern England battered by hurricane-force winds — more than 160 km/h (100 mph) in places.
- Landslides and more 100 fallen trees led to rail transport in many areas being cancelled or severely disrupted.
- Two people died — one from fallen masonry, another after being hit by a wave.
- Further flooding in areas already badly affected.
- More than 100,000 people were left without power in the UK and France.
Atmospheric Moisture River
An atmospheric (moisture) river is a moisture plume in the atmosphere that can, under certain conditions, lead to heavy rainfall and flooding. Looking at the NESDIS Operational Blended TPW (Total Precipitable Water) Products, at least 18 disturbances or moisture rivers can be seen crossing the Atlantic towards Europe between December 2013 and February 2014.
Atmospheric rivers consist of narrow bands of enhanced water transport, typically along the boundaries between large areas of divergent surface air flow, including some frontal zones associated with extratropical cyclones that form over the oceans. They are rivers that are typically several thousand kilometers long and only a few hundred kilometers wide and carry a massive flux of water.
Figure 2 (right) shows the moisture river (in bright green) over the Atlantic on 7 February, 06:00 UTC, taken from the NESDIS Operational Blended TPW Products.
Photo of heavy snowfall in the Alps (Credit: L Silvanti, MeteoSvizzera)
EUMETSAT's Monthly Weather video for January
Watch BBC news coverage of the storms (YouTube)
Storms batter north coast of Spain
Severe weather in Spain news story (in Spanish)
The recent storms and floods in the UK (Met Office report)
BBC round-up on the winter storms since December
Storm Xaver batters Europe
Microwave Products & Applications Overview for Analysis & Forecasts
Cold front with severe thunderstorms brings end to Italian heatwave
Catastrophic Flash Flood on Madeira Island (EUMETrain)