‘Beast from the East’ to plunge Europe into historic deep freeze

A bone-chilling, frigid air mass will soon stretch from Ireland to Siberia, as a record-shattering weather pattern establishes itself across the North Atlantic Ocean. The cold will cause temperatures to plunge well below freezing in London, where snow is likely to fall during the next 1 to 2 weeks. 

The U.K. Met Office is calling the cold snap “exceptional,” saying it will be the coldest air to affect the country since at least 2013. The cold winds from Siberia, which are pushing the frigid air westward into Central Europe and the UK, are popularly known as “The Beast from the East.”

“The cold easterly wind will persist bringing a significant wind chill  which will make it feel several degrees colder than thermometers indicate,” the Met Office warned in a press release. 

The weather agency released a Twitter animation showing a menacing dark blue area of cold air enveloping all of Europe in the coming days like a giant ink stain. The circulation of air surrounding a sprawling area of high pressure over the North Sea will keep pumping the cold air from east to west day after day.

Paul Gundersen, a Met Office chief forecaster, said: “Parts of southern England and Wales are likely to see their coldest spell of weather since 2013.” Gundersen said several chances for dry, powdery snowfall exist next week across the UK. 

Even colder conditions are expected in the European mainland, with heavy snowfall possible in the mountains of northern Spain, the Italian and French Alps, mountains of Croatia, and vast areas of southeastern Europe. Across Europe as a whole, this will be one of the coldest outbreaks of the last decade, potentially setting records for the coldest air seen so late in the season.

By the end of this long-lasting cold snap, much of Europe will be blanketed in a deep snow cover just as spring begins to set in. 

The coldest air is projected to affect eastern Europe and Scandinavia, where temperature departures from average could reach nearly 40 degrees Fahrenheit below average for this time of year. The cold snap won’t just be noteworthy for its severity, however, but also for its duration — lasting at least 10 days and possibly even longer. 

The frigid weather will make headlines for bringing stinging cold to popular tourist destinations such as Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Frankfurt, and Berlin. Those with ski vacations may find it difficult to impossible to reach their destinations due to the sheer amount of snow, with skiing made more challenging due to frigid air temperatures and strong winds. 

Extreme weather from an extreme pattern

The weather pattern behind the cold snap is a remarkable one that is causing meteorologists to take notice. First, it’s related to a recent sudden stratospheric warming event and subsequent split in the polar vortex. The split sent one part of the vortex, which is associated with some of the coldest air in all of the Northern Hemisphere, spinning its way above Eurasia. 

Computer model projection showing temperatures in Berlin remaining at or below freezing from Feb. 23 to March 5, 2018.

Image: weatherbell analytics.

Computer model projection showing temperatures in London remaining at or below freezing for several days in late February and early March.

Computer model projection showing temperatures in London remaining at or below freezing for several days in late February and early March.

Image: weatherbell analytics.

Next, a pattern of air pressure known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO, is shifting into an extreme configuration that meteorologists have never before witnessed during December, January, or February, which are the months considered to be meteorological winter. 

The NAO will shift into a record negative phase, with an unusually intense area of high pressure located over southwest Greenland, and low pressure across the North Atlantic and into Europe. 

Negative phases of the NAO are typically associated with colder and snowier-than-average conditions on both sides of the Atlantic, but in this case it’s mainly going to affect Europe, at least at first. 

The high pressure area over Greenland, however, may favor a significant winter storm along the East Coast of the U.S. sometime in early March, though the uncertainty in this forecast is higher than average. 

While millions of Europeans may be less than pleased by the late-winter cold blast, residents of the Arctic, who are seeing a rare drop in sea ice coverage in the dead of winter, when there is no sunlight to melt the ice, could really use some of the cold air up that way. 

Instead, the temperatures at the North Pole itself will be flirting with the freezing mark for the next several days, as higher-than-average temperatures are pumped into the Arctic from the Atlantic and Pacific sides. Arctic sea ice is at a record low, and temperatures have soared to above freezing at the northernmost land-based weather observing station in Greenland, just 400 miles from the Pole. 

It’s as if someone opened the freezer door in North America’s kitchen, and let all the cold air drain out toward the midlatitudes. The Arctic is unusually warm, from Alaska to Norway, while Europe and parts of North America freeze. 

This setup should persist for at least the next two weeks, making it quite likely that the Arctic will set another record for the smallest peak in wintertime sea ice.