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November weather

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In medieval times 1 November was regarded as the start of winter, and it is still about this time that the weather gets decisively colder. At the end of October one may be still be sitting in shirtsleeves on a sunny day, but by the end of the first week of November such times already seem a long way away. Hats, gloves and scarfs come out of the cupboard, even if they are not always used.

The temperature contrast can sometimes be quite stark. In 2014 the last day of October saw a record temperature of 24 degrees, the climax of a month when temperatures had regularly been up in the high teens. But on 5 November daytime temperatures were just 10 degrees, falling to 4 degrees overnight. 30 October 2016 was also a summer-like 20 degrees but on Sunday 6 November the temperature was just 7 degrees, with minus 1 overnight.

That being said the weather often starts the month in a changeable, westerly mode, only rather colder and bleaker than in Octopber. There is some rain, scattered sun, but mainly lots of cloud. Maximum day time temperatures in such conditions are generally in the 9-13 degree range but may rise into the mid teens in the first half of the month. Night time temperatures are in the mid single digits but when the skies clear they can dip away to 2 or 3 degrees. In a possible sign of things to come as the climate warms, 2020 was unusual in having many nights in the first three weeks with temperatures of 9 to 12 degrees, though a brief period of high pressure from the 4th to the 6th saw the mercury dip to freezing overnight.

Sometimes there can be major storms. 2009 was dominated by an extraordinary series of deep lows which brought heavy rain, severe flooding in Cumbria, and wind speeds of over 100mph on the south coast on Saturday 14th. In 2012 there were also several deep lows throughout the month, including a period of intensely wet and windy weather from 23-27 November which brought flooding to the West Country.

2015 was another particularly windy November, with the country always in the eye of an intense jetstream. Temperatures remained mild (10-14 degrees) both day and night and the weather was particularly grey, with only brief intervals of sun. 2010 had deep lows from the 7th to the 13th, and in 2016 there was a large storm on 20 November. In 2019 a storm brought 50mph winds and heavy rain to the south east on 2 November: the month was otherwise mostly dominated by static lows, caused by a bend in the jetstream. On 27 November 2021 a storm caused lots of disruption and produced some heavy snowfall in the north of England and Scotland.

The first real blast of winter

In the second half of the month there is often a change to high pressure, which can bring the first real blast of winter - daytime temperatures down to 5 or 6 degrees and night time close to or below freezing.

Sometimes this is due to high pressure over the UK or Scandinavia, as happened from the 11th in 2011, from the 14th to the 27th in 2018, from the 23rd onwards in 2016, and from the 28th in 2014. But a more common pattern seems to be for high pressure to establish itself to the west of the UK, bringing a north westerly or northerly airflows and changeable weather from Iceland or the Arctic. This happened from 11-16 and 22-26 November in 2007, from the 12th to the 29th in 2005, from the 13th onwards in 2013, from 17-20 and 28-30 November in 2019, from the 18th onwards in 2008, from 20-22 November in 2015, from the 26th onwards in 2020, from the 27th onwards in 2012, and (unusually early in the month) from 4-9 November in 2016. In 2017 and 2021 this pattern dominated throughout the month, though in 2021 the north westerly winds still contrived to be quite mild until the 21st, when they turned fully northerly, bringing bitter winter cold.

This high pressure quite often results in lots of grey cloud - November is in general a thoroughly gloomy month - but it can sometimes mean days of crisp, frosty sunshine. 2011 saw nine such days, while 2005 had 12 days of full sun and four of part sun. In 2017 there were 11 days of full sunshine and 10 with part sunshine (and only seven with rain), while in 2021 there were eight sunny days, ten with some sun, and again only seven with rain (drizzle and light showers only). In 2020 there were six days of full sunshine and 14 of part sunshine, while the two high pressure interludes in 2019 produced three sunny and two partly sunny days, with two more full sun days during the low pressure part of the month. In 2013 there were seven full sun days and seven with partial sunshine, and November 2016 started with two sunny days and finished with four more, making eight days of full sunshine and 12 of part sunshine in all.

Late November can occasionally produce the first snow of winter in the south east, though it is almost always very short-lived and typically not repeated until some time in January, if then. Winds from the Arctic flowing around western-centred highs are usually the cause. For example there was briefly snow in the early morning of 23 November 2008 and 21 November 2015, and on 25-27 November 2005 snow in the West Country was bad enough to strand motorists on Bodmin Moor. On 21 November 2021 there was a good covering in places in the Chilterns.

On 21 November 1993 several centimetres of snow fell in London and stayed on the ground for some days, and on 30 November 2017 there was snow down the east coast of England into Kent. The latter was followed on 10 December by 6-8 centimetres of snow in the south east, which stayed on the ground for three days to the north of London.

Even worse was 2010, when a western-centred high brought northerly winds from the 19th onwards, and then moved to Scandinavia bringing easterly winds. By the end of the month temperatures were getting down to minus 3 to 5 at night, rising to just 2 or 3 degrees by day. 30 November 2010 then saw three centimetres of snow fall in the south east, and there followed a bitterly cold and snowy December, the coldest for 100 years.

When the sun does shine in November it can take on an ethereal, mystical quality - but on the other hand it always seems to be shining straight in your eyes or be blocked by trees, buildings or isolated clouds. Though at the start of the month it still packs some warmth, by the end of the month it feels very weak, not rising above the tree tops till after 10am and dipping below them again by 2pm. By this time even the midday sun seems to offer little heat.

In general, one rather loses interest in the weather in November, however – days are getting so short that it barely seems to matter anyway. The dark evenings seem to spread awfully ahead of you: it will be the end of January before it is light after 5pm again. But on the other hand, there is a cosy feel to being indoors, and the city centre with its lights and animation starts to be a cheerful place to be.

Bonfire Night on 5 November marks the start of a kind of winter festival of light. Often this is the first time gloves, scarfs and hats come out of the cupboard, and about a week after it the Christmas decorations go up in the High Street, accompanied by the ritual complaints about how the celebrations start earlier and earlier each year (they don't: they always start in the second week of November). Yet the jolity has not yet started to take on the frenetic pre-Christmas quality: one can still shop without too many crowds.

Paths are usually muddy in November (though notable exceptions were 2016 and 2021 when they remained dry into December) but the effect is mitigated by all the freshly fallen leaves. Only when these have rotted away later in the winter do paths become truly squelchy. In November fallen leaves can sometimes obscure the route of paths, especially in beech woods.

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