While snowfall in winter can be a minor inconvenience at its best, it can cause major issues at its absolute worst. Storm Arwen and Storm Barra in late 2021 both led to snowy conditions, while thundersnow was recorded in some areas of the country in the early part of 2022.
But the Beasts from the East seen in 2018 and - to a slightly lesser extent - in 2021 showed us the true meaning of the word ‘cold’. They led to some of the worst wintry spells the UK had experienced in around a decade.
Any bad weather this winter will be met with anxiety given the energy crisis and cost of living crisis. A cold snap is likely to lead to an increase in energy demand - although some people may be unable to afford putting the heating on altogether. Any surges in gas or electricity usage could result in potential blackouts.
So, can we expect a Beast from the East this winter - and could it snow before Christmas? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is a Beast from the East?
According to the Met Office, a ‘Beast from the East’ is a weather event that sees cold air and, occasionally, intense snowy weather carried into the UK by easterly winds. This kind of event tends to take place between November and April.
When high pressure lodges itself above Scandinavia, it exposes the UK to what is known as a polar continental air mass. This weather system sucks cold air from Eurasia (especially Russia’s Siberian region) and blasts it at the UK.
If this weather hits the UK via Germany or the Netherlands, it tends to bring about clear skies and icy, frosty conditions. But if it comes across the North Sea from the direction of Denmark or Norway (i.e. further north), it will pick up moisture and bring about heavy rain, sleet or snow - particularly in Eastern areas of Great Britain.
In both scenarios, temperatures are likely to plummet to well-below freezing, remaining below zero even in daylight hours.
When could it snow?
While the Met Office has played down the likelihood of a Beast from the East hitting the UK before Christmas, a cold snap is on its way.
The mercury has already started to drop and is expected to get lower and lower over the coming days, with temperatures set to struggle to get into the high single figures - particularly between Sunday (4 December) and Tuesday (6 December). Night time temperatures will be around the 2℃ mark for most, with daytime maximums unlikely to get above 5℃ in inland areas.
The low temperatures could lead to some wintry conditions on Sunday and Monday, especially on higher ground, as the UK is hit by winds from the east. But the forecaster says settled, dy - but foggy - conditions will prevail for many.
Into next week, there is some uncertainty about how much wintry weather the UK could be in for. “Uncertainties in the forecast start to develop as we head through next week with models offering two possible scenarios,” explains Met Office deputy chief meteorologist Tony Wardle.
“We could continue in an easterly airflow, or we could see air crossing the UK from the north. Both these scenarios will result in cold weather but, it is important to note, neither scenario will bring anything unusual for this time of year in the UK.”
Should the wind be northerly - the more likely scenario, according to the Met Office - there will be brighter, but colder conditions. Daytime temperatures will be anywhere between freezing and 4℃ (depending on how close to the coast you are), while they will fall below zero at night - possibly as low as -6℃.
In this situation, snow could be on the cards, with sleet likely at lower levels. Under an easterly breeze, we can expect temperatures to be marginally higher (2℃ to 5℃ in daylight hours, -2℃ to -4℃ at night) but it will feel colder due to the wind chill.
The chance of snow diminishes in the easterly breeze, the Met office says, unless you live on high ground in the north. It will remain murky and dry.
Although we could have an easterly breeze, the Met Office says there “is no indication at this stage” that we will see conditions “in any way comparable” to those witnessed during the 2018 Beast from the East. Temperatures will be below the average for the time of year, but not significantly so.
How bad was Beast from the East 2018?
Given the cost of living crisis and fears over energy supplies this winter, very few people will be hoping for a repeat of the Beast from the East in 2018.
Between 22 February and 4 March, much of the UK turned white and temperatures struggled to rise above zero. In some areas, temperatures struggled to get above -12℃.
Overall, 10 people died as a direct result of the weather. The Met Office was forced to issue two red weather warnings (in central Scotland and then the South West of England and South Wales), thousands of homes lost power, travel chaos ensued and schools were closed for several days.
While the conditions were severe, temperatures fell even further during a ‘mini’ Beast from the East in February 2021. A low of -22.9℃ was recorded in Braemar, Aberdeenshire.