USW History

The newsgroup: " - its history, myths & legends"

How did the newsgroup come to be & when?

On the 1st March, 1996, Philip Eden, a highly respected meteorologist based in the UK, proposed that a new newsgroup be formed, with the title: "". A 'request-for-discussion' (RFD) was called for, and after overwhelming agreement, and a suggestion that it might more appropriately be part of the "uk.sci.-" hierarchy, on the 4th April, 1996 a 'fast-track' procedure was invoked to enable the group we now know as "" (usw for short) to be enabled 7 days later.

On the 20th April, 1996, the charter for the newsgroup (also proposed by Philip) was formally published, and this was probably the first post into the newsgroup (an extract from this is contained in this section of the FAQ). The newsgroup was the 131st ng created in the "uk" hierarchy. Newsgroup traffic has grown dramatically since about 1999, and the group is particularly busy when major snow events are expected (real or otherwise) or when significant outbreaks of severe thunderstorms are possible. The group is populated by a wide variety of people from many countries (NOT just the UK) with all sorts of backgrounds - as long as you are 'weather-aware', you are very welcome!


How do I determine my location and altitude?

Knowing where you are might seem rather obvious but when logging weather events and setting up web sites etc., it is useful to be able to state with some precision a location in terms of latitude and longitude and/or by grid reference.

For the UK, then it is recommended that you use or then if you use the search facilities (I find the Post Code method good), you will find a read-out of the location.

The best way to determine your altitude above mean sea level (again UK only), is to use an Ordnance Survey map with contours marked at 5m intervals. Use this link: accept the terms/conditions, then use the search facility to find your location and zoom in to the maximum extent. It should be possible to determine with acceptable accuracy the height using the contours and spot heights given.

How do I use the [WR] and [OBS] prefixes in the newsgroup?

Observations are the lifeblood of meteorology. The newsgroup is a valuable resource in this respect and many of us contribute reports of what is happening 'out of the window'. To enable those who don't always want to look at every report of fog, snow, rain etc., a system of prefixes in the Subject line of a post has developed as below:-


This follows from a suggestion by David Buttery in early 2001, and is used to highlight reports of weather in plain language. This has proved very useful. Example (in the Subject line) ...

[WR] 1050 GMT snow falling now in Reading

with the body text then amplifying this brief 'heads up'.


this follows from a suggestion (in mid-December 2004) by David Mitchell, as refined by Dave Ludlow, that those posting a sequence of observations (perhaps semi-coded), could usefully indicate this in the Subject line thus:


[OBS] Bracknell Wed 15 DEC 2004

Use of this convention would then enable a search engine to pick out and list data from defined stations on specific dates etc. It is further suggested (BUT NOT MANDATORY) that some form of approximation to the METAR code could be used to list these sequential observations. For more on the METAR code follow the appropriate see here.

However, please note that it is not intended to follow this slavishly: most will heavily amend the format and looking at the newsgroup will make this clearer.
(subject to review)


What is a "Bartlett High"?

As the nights draw in, and the yellowing leaves are blown hither & yon in the autumn gales & rain, thoughts of many on this newsgroup turn to ... the "Scandinavian High"! Reason? Well, for those of us living in the 'maritime' region of NW Europe, to get any sort of prolonged cold, wintry weather, we really need a large (in horizontal extent), slow-moving, intense anticyclone - primary centre northern/arctic Russia (probably in excess of 1045 mbar central pressure) - with a strong and persistent ridge extending westwards over Scandinavia - spawning occasional discrete but reasonably 'solid' individual high cells around the periphery; these cells from time-to-time taking over as the primary focus of high pressure.

The air at low levels should be bitterly cold, with low thickness values (indicative of cold air in depth: see  "Thickness: what is it?"). In addition, to produce the required snow, Atlantic depressions / fronts will approach this 'block' (see "Why does the weather sometimes get 'stuck in a rut'?") along latitudes south of 50 degN, attempting to displace the beast and in the process we end up with snow .. or sleet .. or freezing rain .. or blizzards, or any combination of same. Some good examples occurred in the winters of: 1946/47, 1962/63 & 1978/79 as well as January 1940 and December 1981 (not meant to be exhaustive).

However, in recent years (this written in autumn, 2005), these situations have been notable by their absence. What 'high' blocks there have been stay teasingly just too far east and more often than not, a broad band of high pressure extends from the Azores area, east-north-eastwards towards the Biscay / English Channel region - perhaps now & then displaced towards the Alps, as storm upon storm sweeps in from the North Atlantic, hurried along by an often powerful upper jet (see "What are jetstreams?"). Rain, gales and above average temperatures prevail, with any 'wintry' weather confined to brief incursions of Polar Maritime west or WNW'lies, or perhaps a temporary Arctic Maritime blast from the north - which is shunted away as the next surge of mild air hurries in from the west. The apparently semi-permanent belt of high pressure in the 'wrong' place has been christened ... "The Bartlett High", in honour of Paul Bartlett, a luminary of this ng, who used to put his experience of forecasting to the test by publishing a reasoned winter forecast for all to see. As Les Crossan has noted (also a stalwart of this ng), this has come to be regarded as a 'slug' - nothing moves it, not even extracting a pair of dividers and skewering the said beast as it sits dominating any particular synoptic chart!


What's wrong with the phrase: "mini-tornado"?

(prepared with help & advice from Les Crossan - a stalwart of this newsgroup, who sums it up perfectly by going " ... ' freak ' (argh): ' mini - tornado '- AAARGHHHH - CALL TORRO FAST! " If you want to help lower his blood pressure, read on ..... )

Within the memory of many of us 'oldies', there was a view amongst quite respectable meteorologists in this country that tornadoes just didn't happen in the British Isles. Any damage was caused by a "freak gust" - and that was that. Over the last 40 or so years, thanks largely to work by British stormchasers, officials and members of TORRO (see the 'useful sites' section), the fact that British & Irish tornadoes do indeed occur has entered the public consciousness, and more importantly, the Press / Media are now also aware. The British Isles are recognized as being the most tornado - prone landmass on Planet Earth (Fujita) and have a disproportionate number of weaker T1-2 events (Brooks) - the TORRO site has more on this.

However, it is unfortunate that the prefix 'mini' has come into use somewhere along the line, presumably in an (unnecessary) attempt to try and differentiate between our events, and the sometimes more powerful tornadoes of the North American continent. 'Mini', as used for the small car, or a small skirt, or a short-lived spell of heat might be appropriate, but not for 'our' tornadoes, which do indeed belong to the same family of Whirlwind events observed on the other side of the Atlantic (& elsewhere around the world).

A much better qualification would be 'weak' (or 'moderate' if applicable)[or the U.S. term 'landspout' could be used - coined by Les Lemon and others for describing non - supercellular tornadic events]. Even weak tornadoes cause some damage - but 'weak' is presumably 'wimpish' in media-speak (for some): for us in this newsgroup though, we avoid the rather derogatory term " mini-tornado ". And as for 'freak' .... well that's another story and covered in the TORRO FAQ (via the 'useful sites' section), as are many other facts related to tornadoes, waterspouts, funnel clouds etc.

When did the FAQ series come into being?

Following a discussion on the use of Total Thickness (500-1000 hPa) in the winter of 1996/97, it was suggested that I (Martin Rowley) turn a posting on the subject into a FAQ, and this was done, the result being formally posted / uploaded on the 1st March, 1997.

There then followed suggestions that a more general FAQ be provided - I undertook to manage / collate same, and the first FAQ in this series was published mid-May, 1997. The FAQ was updated routinely, and a companion Glossary was added in 1998. In addition, several other documents have been provided, which are all linked from the FAQ / Glossary series. The aim is to help those who are not steeped in all the jargon to get the best out the discussions, and simply enjoy our varying weather / climate.

As of Christmas / New Year 2006/07, Martin ceased to be responsible for updating this FAQ. It has now (2007/8) moved to this new site ( and is now maintained by myself (Steve Loft) using the Drupal content management system.

Where can I find a complete copy of the newsgroup Charter?

Follow these links:....

It is worth pointing out that the area embraced by the phrase 'adjacent parts of Europe' has grown to include Australasia and North America! As long as it's interesting weather, and within the context of the rest of the Charter, then that has come to be accepted as OK!

From time-to-time, threads in the group can become 'heated', usually when the weather has not gone according to (someones) plan. Usually things calm down and we are all friends again, but as the forum is not moderated, newcomers should be aware that it can get a bit hectic: a good night's sleep, avoiding personal abuse, and reading what you have just typed before pressing the 'send' button can usually work wonders.

Why does usw come alive at the prospect of snow?

Some of those lurking in the newsgroup must find this fascination with severe winter weather (as well as other 'severe' events) rather odd, or even perverse. However, it must be appreciated that our interest, from both amateurs and professionals, is primarily in the meteorology of such events ... the rapidity with which the scenario can 'kick-in' and the mechanisms which maintain such blocks as are described here. ( For example, the 'severe/snowy' period, lingering until early March in 1947 did not really start until well after mid January of that year, & was immediately preceded by an unusually mild spell around the middle of that month.)

We do appreciate that bitterly cold, snowy weather is the cause of great inconvenience, not to say distress to many people, especially the elderly, disabled and those on low incomes. Make no mistake, although the incidence of severe winters has decreased, this must not be taken to imply that they will always give us a miss. Subscribers to this newsgroup will perform a valuable service in monitoring conditions as they develop. (See various/other sections on making weather reports in this FAQ series e.g. here, and the section on observing and reporting and links therefrom.)