The Met Office’s outlook for UK winter

29 11 2013

There are some headlines in the media today which suggest the Met Office is warning of exceptionally cold weather for three months.

However, the Met Office hasn’t issued a warning along these lines and we have not highlighted months of ‘exceptionally cold’ weather ahead. If there is any sign of significantly cold weather or disruptive snow in the forecast, we will keep the country up to date through our forecasts and warnings.

The news stories are based on information taken from our three month outlook for contingency planners, so let’s take a closer look at that.

What does our three month outlook say?

This outlook is not like our other forecasts because, as we have discussed previously, it’s not currently scientifically possible to provide a detailed forecast over these long timescales.

Instead, the outlook assesses the level of risk connected to five different scenarios for both temperature and rain/snowfall. It’s a bit like the science-equivalent of factoring the odds on a horse race.

The current outlook for December-January-February says the chance of the coldest scenario happening is between 20 and 25% and the chances that the period will fall into the warmest scenario is between 10 and 15%.

So while uncertainty is quite large, below average temperatures are more likely than above average (for note, average maximum temperatures for the UK in winter are about 6.6C and average minimum temps are about 0.9C).

However, as with any horse race, it’s always possible that the favourite won’t win – so these probability scenarios have to be used in the right context. This is why they’re useful for contingency planners who plan ahead based on risk, but not that useful for the general public.

So what will winter be like?

Obviously there’s always a lot of interest to know what winter will be like – how cold will it be, how much snow will we get and where and when will it fall?

The Met Office is working with research partners around the world to improve longer range forecasting, but it’s not currently possible to forecast snow or exact temperatures three months ahead.

However, our 30-day outlook (under the text forecast tab) provides a look ahead to the general type of weather we’re likely to see in the UK.

Currently it says that after today, we’ll see settled weather and fairly normal temperatures into the first week of December before the chance of some colder, more changeable weather towards the end of next week. This may last a few days before giving way to milder and unsettled weather.

For the mid to latter part of December, there are indications that temperatures are likely to remain near or slightly below average for the time of year, but otherwise fairly normal conditions for early winter are most likely.

With regards to forecasting snow, because there are so many factors involved, generally that can only be discussed in any detail in our five day forecasts.

If there is any sign of significantly cold weather or disruptive snow in the forecast, we will keep the country up to date through our forecasts and warnings.



17 responses

29 11 2013
Richard Dixon (@richsdixon1975)

Given that we are increasingly seeing sensationalist forecasts in the press that are quite often without much grounding, I am wondering whether the Royal Meteorological Society might have a role here to accredit forecasting companies that are in the public domain and give them a “gold seal” so that the man in the street actually knows who to believe?

29 11 2013
Fran Duggan


30 11 2013

I prefer seaweed to the Met Office’s long range forecast. I’m not sure how the Royal Meteorological society would know which of the ‘man in a pub’ predictions deserves a gold seal.

29 11 2013
Paul Gray

Press have and always panda towards doom and gloom and with that the worst based possibility is what they will print. Why, well because drama sells. Also if they are right then they will go on about it and if they are wrong, nobody will complain and all will fall silent. Think of it like politician promising to do something if elected when that date is many years of and they could just do it now. Does that make sense, no it does not and with that this is how press stories work in situations of unknown, a promise of doom or whatever they can say to sell the and increase viewers/readers/followers.

Thank you Metoffice for restoring facts into peoples lives because you got misquoted in the press and they used that overly creative bias to make money out of your good name. Shame the law/system has no process to curtail such situations when somebody induces panic, scare and undue stress onto the public by misquoting a reputable source so out of context that any aspect of fact is buried under the drama.

29 11 2013

The whole ‘increased extreme weather’ meme as a result of increased CO2 in the atmosphere is an example of induced panic and scare when the data all shows no increase in such events.

Unfortunately it’s not just newspapers who are to blame, there’s a considerable number of climate scientists and all sorts of assorted green NGO’s and politicians jumping on the bandwagon. It’s shameful.

30 11 2013

Are you talking about papers or the Met Office? The Met Office loves to fill use with doom and gloom about climate change which thus far has not appeared here in the UK. Still their budget’s increased 100 fold and they have shiny new supercomputers every year, so at least they’re happy. In the meantime, 1000s of old people are dying to pay for the green levies which pay for these lies. Oh well.

29 11 2013
Dr Chris Nankervis (@cjnankervis)

Is there a clear casual link between current weather conditions that would indicate a colder than average winter. I’m just wondering: What are the natural forcing factors in the long range prediction models that imply this scenario? If it is a complicated “amalgam” of variables from different sources, then I’d say the strength of certainty in this prediction is much more unclear.
In a nutshell, could you for example list the top two principal components. The tropical pacific state indicates neither El Niño nor La Niña are present – so that’s #1 factor out of the picture. So I’m basically asking what could cause a 0.8C depression in temperature below the current “greenhouse” world? Are we talking about the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) or a weaker Meridional Over-tuning Circulation (MOC) in the Atlantic Ocean?

29 11 2013
Nicholas Lee

Can’t you take some kind of legal action against the Express for this?

29 11 2013
Danny Fairclough (@dannyfab67)

The Met Office or Just another overpaid Quango

29 11 2013
Huw Sayer - Business Writer

Excellent – we need more nuanced reports like this to educate the public and counteract the sensationalist news reporting.

14 12 2013

God, I hope no businesses are using Met Office forecasts to make decisions more than 5 days in advance Hew. Or at least not decisions that could cost them money.

29 11 2013

Reblogged this on Real Words.

30 11 2013
G Bamford Bamford

Being a farmer its not good all this hype about cold wether.

30 11 2013

As you say, your forecasts for more than 5 days in advance are absolute rubbish. I don’t see why they’d be useful for somebody assessing risk given how useless they’ve proved in the past.

4 07 2014

Interesting quote “forecasting the weather is like forecasting the 100th word in Chinese whispers” – this is what makes Winter forecasts have thousands of possibilities, and so difficult to forecast :).

24 07 2014

Reblogged this on the WeatherAction Blog and commented:
From November 2013. :-)

27 07 2014
Tony Lear (@Grimbeaconfire)

The Polar Vortex is back in the USA (two weeks earlier than in 2013) does this suggest the UK will also have a similar winter to last year?


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