Extreme weather Snow

When will it snow?

What are the requirements for snow?

There are three main requirements for snow, these are:

  1. Moisture

    There must be water vapour in the air for clouds to form. In the UK, surrounded as we are by sea, this is rarely a problem. As water warms up and cools down more slowly than land, the sea around us stays at a pretty constant temperature all year round and is a constant source of water vapour into the air above, through evaporation.

    It can be ‘too cold for snow’ in the centre of large land masses, such as Eurasia, Antarctica or N. America, where the wind has not encountered liquid water from which water can easily evaporate. It’s really ‘too dry for snow’ – but it’s too dry because it is so cold that the rate of evaporation from the lakes and rivers, which may be frozen, is very, very slow. 

  2. Cloud

    For clouds to form, the rate of evaporation must be lower than the rate of condensation. Evaporation and condensation are going on all the time, but the rate of evaporation falls as it gets colder. So, clouds can form when the air cools – there are several possible mechanisms for this

  • Where warmer air meets colder air at a front, causing it to rise. As the air rises, the air pressure falls and so the air cools (this is known as adiabatic cooling).
  • When air from somewhere colder than us (i.e. Arctic maritime of Polar Continental air masses) approaches the UK, is warmed from below as it travels over relatively warm land or sea which causes it to rise and cool. This is the most common source of snow in the UK.
  • When air is forced to rise over the coast, hills or mountains and, as it rises, cools. This mechanism can add to, or enhance, the formation of cloud by either of the other mechanisms above.
  • If the ground cools overnight, the air in contact with the ground can cool to the temperature at which cloud forms. This is fog and is not likely to produce rain or snow.
  1. Temperature

    It has to be cold enough for the cloud droplets to grow as snowflakes and to not melt as they fall through the atmosphere and down to the ground.  To see whether this is the case, forecasters look at the 528dam (=5280m) line. This line shows where the vertical thickness of the bottom half of the atmosphere (by mass) is 5280m i.e. the vertical distance between the 1000mb height (somewhere near the ground) and the 500mb height (somewhere in the middle of the troposphere). As warm air is less dense than cold air, the smaller this distance, the colder the air is.

If we are north of the line (i.e. the thickness is less than 528dam) then any precipitation can fall as snow, and if we are south of the line (i.e. the thickness is greater than 528dam) then we get rain.

If you look at the surface pressure forecast charts on the Met Office website, then if you go more than 24 hours into the future the thickness lines are shown. The 528dam line is shown as a blue dashed line, and the thicker/ warmer 546dam line as a green dashed line.

Another way to find out is to look at the weather forecast charts (in the charts and data menu) at;sess= and select ‘HGT 500-1000’ from the ‘select chart type’ menu If the 528dam line is South of where you are, and there is a forecast of precipitation, then that precipitation is likely to be snow.

will it snow isobars
Image of the UK, 5th December 2012

It is also worth having a look at a cross section through the atmosphere for example at – select ‘Vertikalschnitte’ which gives a longtitude/ height cross section for 50N (move the pointer on the right side of the left hand map to change the latitude of the cross section). The air between the clouds and the ground has to be cold for snow to reach the ground.

Lesson Idea

Using the information above, can your students identify which countries/ regions should have a forecast of snow? At the basic level, they can just look and see where is inside the 528 line. More advanced students should try to predict where there will be precipitation. 

Nullschool is a great resource for visualising air flow and air masses. 

When do we get snow in the UK?

More information from the Met Office about Snow in the UK and forecasting snow.

A nice explanation of why we had such a different November in 2011 to the weather in November 2010 from the Met Office and a report on the 2010 snow and its impacts on the UK.

And an article from the BBC about what constitutes a white Christmas. 

Snow inspired science teaching ideas from Science in School.

Dreaming of a white Christmas – an article from MetMatters

Snow inspired geography teaching ideas from the GA.

How to make a snowflake, from the Institute of Physics

From Brilliant Maps; the probability of a white Christmas across Europe

Climate Change maths Secondary Weather

Maths Resources for Scotland’s Curriculum

maths for planet earth

We are delighted to have worked with Education Scotland to tweak some of our maths resources to align them with Scotland’s Curriculum. 

These resources were developed a couple of years ago in conjunction with MEI, and allow teachers to demonstrate to their students how their maths skills are relevant to their understanding of issues associated with climate change.  

Extreme weather Geography Secondary Weather

New Animation – Storm Surges

storm surge flood barrier

We are delighted to have worked with Seth Jackson Animation and the staff and students at Boston College to produce a new animation, explaining what factors combine to give us storm surges in the UK, their impacts, adaptations and how climate change will affect them. There’s also a knowledge organiser for students to take notes on and summarise their learning. 


New Careers Spotlights

We have updated our careers spotlights page – see what the class of 2013 are doing 10 years after they graduated, and how the careers of the class of 2003 have progressed. 

An excellent overview of careers which a meteorology degree can enable.

Helene Muri
Matt Waring
Tim Barnes in Antarctica
Hannah Bloomfield
Laura Tobin climate stripes
Climate Change Teaching

Quality Control Framework

Climate Change Quality Mark Pedagogy

Climate Change Education Resources

Part 1- Self-assessment

Resource author/ publisher to complete:

  1. Resource title
  2. Type of resource (see definition*)
  3. Resource location (url or similar) with any required access passwords
  4.  Level/ age
  5. Curriculum links
  6. Give an overview of the climate content in this resource (is it a small/ medium/ major part of the resource).
  7. Are references given within the resource/ teacher support materials for all climate change information used?
  8. If not, what was the source for any climate change information included?
  9. Are you able to update the resource based on this evaluation?
  10.  What pedagogical approach is the resource based on?
  11.  Have you referred to any existing research on effective climate pedagogy (please give reference if you have)?
  12. Are the learning objectives, including knowledge and/ or skills, stated in the resource? If not, please list them.

Part 2 – Expert Assessment

Climate Content

  1. Are the links to climate change explicit?
  2. Are the references given/ sources used reputable, reliable and up to date?**
  3. Has the author accurately conveyed information from the sources:
    – Are there any significant errors in the content (using latest IPCC report and similar for authoritative guidance)?
    – Are there any minor errors in the content (using latest IPCC report and similar for authoritative guidance)?
  4.  Is there anything significant missing e.g. a caveat, uncertainty statement, other important/ relevant piece of information etc.?
  5. Are all the terms defined and all the graphs/maps well explained?
  6. Could the resource be used out of context, to mislead or to promote misconceptions?
  7. Does the resource meet the required political guidance to schools***

Part 3 – Expert Assessment

Pedagogy and Curriculum Relevance

a) Climate change specific
i. Are the references given for climate pedagogy reputable and up to date?
ii. Does the resource promote student resilience through development of appropriate knowledge/ skills?
b) General

i. Is the chosen pedagogical approach appropriate and appropriately used?
ii. Clear, appropriate and beneficial/ rich learning objectives and achievable learning outcomes
iii. Appropriate pitch and progression of knowledge and skills with links to prior (and future) learning.
iv. Curriculum alignment – clearly stated and appropriate, both in terms of knowledge and skills and broader subject specific way of thinking (e.g. science capitol, thinking like a geographer etc.)
v. Material presented in an accessible and engaging way.
vi. Promotes effective learning.
vii. Supports adaptive teaching.
viii. Inclusive – is the material relevant to the lives and/ or future careers of all students?
ix. Teacher support/ guidance available – enabling the resource to be used effectively in the classroom and promoting teachers’ own content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and professional development.

* The definition used by CooperGibson research (2018), in their independent work for the Department for Education, was as follows:

  • Online/printed resources: such as worksheets, lesson plan templates, videos that can be accessed via websites (either requiring membership/subscription or freely available to download).
  • Digital resources: mobile applications, software packages and tools that are interactive and can be used for setting and completing tasks (e.g. on a computer/mobile device).
  • Physical resources: predominantly textbooks and literary texts/library books, and revision guides.

** appropriate sources include recent IPCC reports, Carbon Brief, Global Carbon Atlas, Climate Action Tracker, NOAA, Met Office, Royal Meteorological Society/ MetLink, UKCP, WMO

*** Teaching about climate change, and the scientific facts and evidence behind this, does not constitute teaching about a political issue and schools do not need to present misinformation or unsubstantiated claims to provide balance. However, in climate education there is relevant political and scientific debate about the best ways that climate change can be addressed – there are different views and opinions, and different solutions. Debates on political and policy change need to be grounded in wider citizenship education on democracy and democratic values and topics should be handled in line with schools’ legal duties on political impartiality ( )


The Quality Control framework was developed as part of the National Climate Education Action Plan and in partnership with other organisations. 


Careers Day Recordings

In June 2023, we hosted an inspirational selection of speakers for our first virtual careers day for all those considering a career in weather, climate or climate change.

If you are choosing which A level or Higher subjects to take, or starting to look at undergraduate courses listen to these people from UK Universities, the Met Office and other employers of meteorologists speaking about their current work and how they got there, and exploring the best routes into meteorology.

Session 1: Kirsty McCabe, Weather Presenter and Meteorologist: Matthew Scholes, Undergraduate, Edinburgh University (Physics with Meteorology) : Thomas Breitburd, Undergraduate, University of Reading (Meteorology and Climate with a year in Oklahoma): Ravi Kotecha, Weather Risk Manager for UK Transport – DTN.

Session 2: Heather Corden, Postgraduate Student, Bern University (Climate Sciences): Esme Stallard, Climate and Science Journalist, BBC news : Dr Sarah Wilson Kemsley, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia : Emily Dowd, Postgraduate Student, Leeds University

Session 3: Dr Hannah Bloomfield, Science Engagement Fellow – Insurance Industry, Royal Meteorological Society (and University of Bristol): Matthew Wright, Science Engagement Fellow – Energy Industry, Royal Meteorological Society (and University of Oxford): Hannah Findlay, Met Office Meteorological Advisor to the Independent Gritting Sector: Katie Hodge, Applied Scientist. Science for Impacts, Resilience & Adaptation Team – Met Office

Session 4: Routes into Meteorology including Dan Skinner, Science Engagement Fellow – Early Careers, Royal Meteorological Society (and University of East Anglia), Prof Sylvia Knight (Royal Meteorological Society) and Rebecca Griffiths, Tess Clegg, Lisa Tomkins and Claire Allerton from the Met Office.

Climate Change Schools Teaching

Easy Wins for Climate Change Education in England

climate change in the curriculum

There are many opportunities for better climate change education within the current secondary school curriculum in England, reveals a report published by the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS).

A key finding was that, through supplying teacher support and assessment resources, very rapid improvements can be made to the climate literacy of English school leavers.

RMetS research reviewed the GCSE specifications across all subjects and exam boards and highlighted how many concepts already taught in schools are relevant to students’  understanding of climate change and its relevance to their future lives and careers.

Climate change is traditionally taught in subjects such as Geography, however not all students take Geography at GCSE meaning that a considerable proportion of students leave school without a basic understanding of climate change. Also, there are many aspects of climate change that are relevant to subjects like Design and Technology, Art, or English.

Earlier research published by RMetS in 2022, shows that there are notable gaps in how much students understand about climate change. However, students are concerned and believe that climate change will affect them personally. With the right support and without increasing teacher workload, teachers can help students to make the connection between what they are already learning in school and climate change.

Prof Sylvia Knight, Head of Education at the RMetS, said: “The Royal Meteorological Society is working to ensure that every student in the UK leaves school with at least a basic understanding of climate change.

“This valuable report shows how teachers can be supported to deliver high quality climate education, within the current curriculum, to equip students with the knowledge and tools to engage with messages about climate change from the media and politicians, and to make decisions about their own lives and careers.

“We are indebted to the RMetS members involved in the review; without their support and expertise this work would have not been possible.”

For media enquiries, please contact Angela Lovell, Communications Manager (Royal Meteorological Society), at  or +44 (0)118 208 0483.


Geography Weather

Cloud, Sunshine and a cool Breeze

synoptic chart 6th June 2023

Were you lucky enough to have blazing sunshine through the half term holiday, or were you sitting under a blanket of cloud? 

Whichever, the cool wind and the distribution of cloud were a lovely case study of Polar continental air

With High pressure sitting to the North of Scotland, and winds blowing clockwise around it, the typical pattern of cloud forming over the western side of the North Sea, spreading onto the eastern side of Scotland and England, persisted for many days. One some days, the cloud was thin enough for most to evaporate during the day, on others, the cloud persisted. 

Having come from Scandinavia or Siberia, the air was cool. To identify the source of the air, simply pick an isobar that crosses the UK, and follow it back to see where the air has come from, remembering that the wind blows approximately along the isobars, in a clockwise direction around High pressure. 

polar continental air

Balloon Launch Anniversary

In May 2013 we sent a weather balloon into the stratosphere, carrying a digital camera and GPS tracker so that the camera could be retrieved when the balloon came back down to Earth. We got some amazing images and data of the Earth and its atmosphere. The launch was from Holy Cross School in Chorley, and supported by Manchester University

Highlights of the launch, without the data, can also be seen here.


Read our guidance on launching a school weather balloon. 

Climate Change Schools

Climate Literacy Survey Extended

climate literacy

We are very excited to announce that, in partnership with Ecorys and Ipsos and funded by the DfE, we will be extending the climate literacy survey of school leavers which we first ran in 2022.

Our baseline findings in 2022 highlighted that, despite around half of school leavers (54%) saying they have had education on climate change in the past year, confusion and misunderstanding prevail.

The DfE funding will allow us to broaden the annual survey, in terms of both the numbers of questions we are asking young people, and the number of young people being surveyed. 

Ecorys will also be evaluating the National Education Nature Park and Climate Action Award, delivered by the Natural History Museum partnership. The programmes aim to give young people more outdoor learning opportunities, connect to nature, learn about climate change, and take positive action while developing numeracy and data science skills. The evaluation, funded by the DfE, will assess how the programmes run in practice and benefit education estates and young people.