April 1938 – probably the most anticyclonic month on record

Figure 1 – Data and Images courtesy of The Met Office, CRU & Wetterzentrale

There’s no doubt about it April 1938 was quite an extraordinary month across the British Isles. Not only was it the most anticyclonic April on record, it was also the most anticyclonic* of any month in the objective LWT series that started in 1871 (fig 4). Mean anomalies for the month were in excess of +16 hPa above the 1918-1947 long-term average across northwest Ireland (fig 2 & 3), and according to the MWR for the month :

Mean pressure markedly exceeded the average throughout the British Isles, the excess at 7h. ranging from 10.6 mb. at Lerwick to 16.7 mb. at Malin Head. The mean pressure over Scotland as a whole was the highest recorded in the month of April for at least 80 years. At Oxford the mean pressure was the highest for April since 1881 and at Southport the mean pressure was the highest in April since record were first taken in 1871.

(Courtesy of the Met Office © Crown Copyright)

I’m so pleased that the anomalies I generated for the month from the NCEP reanalysis data match the anomalies reported in the April 1938 MWR. NOAA doesn’t make things easy with their 6 hourly MSLP reanalysis data which is on a 2.5° x 2.5° grid back to 1948, but before then (from the 20th Century Reanalysis project) is on a finer 2° x 2° grid. This makes the file sizes much larger to download (~35 mb), and required changes to the code to handle both grid sizes, it also explains the strange LTA period of 1918-1947 that I’ve used in the anomaly chart (fig 3).

*I calculate a simple anticyclonicity index for the month by scoring the LWT for each day. Pure anticyclonic scores 1, while a hybrid anticyclonic type scores 0.5, add them and calculate a percentage of the maximum possible, and hey presto you have a simple anticyclonic index. You could of course have used the mean daily vorticity for the month that the objective LWT data series also produces.

Figure 2 – Data Courtesy of NCEP/NOAA Reanalysis

Figure 3 – Data Courtesy of NCEP/NOAA Reanalysis

I’m slightly concerned about the number of pure ‘A’ types in the objective LWT series from the CRU (fig 4). A few of the days look like they may have been better classified as more of a hybrid anticyclonic type rather than a pure anticyclonic type, take the 30th for example. Should that be an AE or ANE type perhaps rather than pure anticyclonic? Of course it’s impossible to be definitive about this though, because the objective LWT is derived from 12 UTC reanalysis data and the Wetterzentrale charts are generated using 00 UTC data. Going back to the original ‘subjective’ LWT data that Hubert Lamb developed, and who was the final arbiter on, and that scores an anticyclonicity index of 68.3. Who knows perhaps Lamb was being a bit hard on April 1938, especially in the first week. I will investigate this a little more.

Figure 4 – Data courtesy of CRU

It goes without saying that such an anticyclonic month was also very dry across the whole of the British Isles. Using the UK gridded rainfall data it was the driest April in the whole series that started in 1910 (fig 5).

Figure 5 – Data courtesy of the Met Office

Using the EWP series it was the driest April since at least 1766 when the series started (fig 6).

Figure 6 – Data courtesy of the Met Office

Sunshine was well above average in all western regions, but closer to average in eastern areas and the North of Scotland. The MWR says that Valentia Observatory had a total of 262 hours, the largest total for April in a record which started in 1880. It goes on to say that at Mallaranny, in County Mayo (notice how we didn’t exclude the Irish Republic back in 1938), they recorded 129.6 hours from the 8th-18th inclusive which is a daily mean of 11.8 hours for 11 consecutive days.

Temperatures were also above average in the west, but closer to average in eastern districts. Because I use the very warm 1981-2010 LTA to generate the anomalies for the April 1938 graphic (fig 1), all regions look rather cold, which just goes to show you just how misleading statistics can sometimes be.

About xmetman

An ex-metman passionate about all things to do with weather, climate and clouds
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