A “perfect storm” of weather patterns which brewed the frigid chill of the Beast from the East, bringing freezing temperatures and heavy snow last winter could return this year, forecasters have warned.
The Met Office said sudden stratospheric warming had appeared around Christmas, when there was a sharp increase in the temperature over a couple of days.
When this happens in the Arctic, it can lead to a rush of cold air blowing eastwards across Europe a few weeks later, bringing much cooler temperatures to the continent.
The Met Office said this is what caused the Beast from the East early last year – an icy blast of freezing Siberian winds which brought sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow to much of the UK.
But spokesman Grahame Madge said that while Britain being hit by a new Beast from the East could not be ruled out, the forecast so far suggests the country will see stable weather conditions and above average temperatures for January over the weekend.
“Last year there was a classic set-up with the Beast from the East, there was an event in the Arctic – sudden stratospheric warming – where the stratosphere warms rapidly,” he said.
“That triggers, generally, a change in the direction of winds across Europe at surface level. The upshot is that normally when this happens in the Arctic you get easterly winds and that’s what happened last year.
“But although that warming has happened in the Arctic already just prior to Christmas, we are not seeing any change in an easterly pattern.”
Madge said Britain was looking at a stable week, with above average temperatures at the weekend.
But he said it was not possible to rule out a cold snap, with parts of Europe facing “significant” chills and heavy snow.
“There have been some parts of Europe that have experienced quite significant cold, heavier-than-average snow in countries like Austria and in northern and central Europe.
“It is possible we could still see this turn to a more easterly flow but if anything it looks as though we are in stable weather conditions.
“We are looking at the next week or so, but we could see a change after that. But there is nothing in the next week or so that could indicate any change like the Beast from the East.”
He added: “We are not ruling out a return to cooler conditions, we would normally expect a cold spell or two during winter.
“It may happen, but there’s no signal of it happening in the models.”
Heavy snow is blanketing parts of Europe, with one elderly woman found dead in Greece and two men missing after blizzards. In Austria, a 28-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman who went missing while snowshoeing were found dead near Salzburg, while rescuers are still searching for two other people who went missing in the snow near Hohenberg.
In Germany, a 44-year-old man died in Wackersberg in Bavaria when he was hit by tree branches brought down by heavy snow.
And a woman who was buried in an avalanche last week in the Uri canton of Switzerland died of her injuries.