Iconic British gardeners meet Met Office scientists

27 12 2013

Devon’s gardeners have had some of their horticultural problems answered thanks to a visit from the iconic BBC Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time team to the Met Office.

The show, in front of a 200 strong audience, was lead by Met Office and BBC forecaster, and show regular, Peter Gibbs with Bunny Guinness, Anne Swithenbank and Pippa Greenwood making up the panel of experts.

While at the Met Office Headquarters in Exeter the panellists looked at the work undertaken on the almost 11 hectare site aimed at promoting bio-diversity and reducing the impacts of the building on the surrounding fauna and flora.  The panel heard about the success of the wildflower meadow and how outlawing the use of fertiliser has reduced pollution in the ponds, leading to an increase in amphibians and the reintroduction of the very rare Maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides). Devon Wildlife Trust has helped with the work and the Met Office has been awarded a coveted Biodiversity Benchmark Award.

The panel also talked to some of the many world leading scientists who work for the Met Office in Exeter and heard how some of their research is leading to changes in the way we think about plants and how we garden.  They learnt how the Met Office has developed a mobile weather service that not only lets you check the weather forecast for where you are via your mobile phone but also allows you to upload and share your local weather conditions.  Bunny Guinness was so impressed she vowed she would be using it in future. The panellist also heard how increased atmospheric carbon dioxide could result in increased planet growth and why global warming has not led to an end to cold winters.

The episode will be aired in the Christmas special on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 27th December at 3pm, with a repeat on Sunday 29th at 2pm December.

Is Arctic sea ice shrinking or expanding?

13 09 2013

The decline of Arctic sea ice is often pointed to as one of the most visible indicators of a warming world but earlier this week the Mail on Sunday published an article claiming the ice is in recovery. This was followed by similar stories in The Express and The Telegraph.

However, yesterday there were stories on BBC online and CBS News, among others, saying satellite evidence confirms the ongoing story of long-term decline. So what’s really going on?

Year to year variability

Arctic summer sea ice extent has a lot of year to year variability because it can be heavily influenced by weather patterns:

– temperatures naturally vary from one year to the next;
– the amount of cloud can affect the amount of surface melting;
– summer storms can also break up ice, which can accelerate the melting process;
– settled conditions can be more conducive to ice forming;
– winds may act to spread out the ice or push it together.

Due to this high degree of variability, it’s important to look past short term fluctuations in sea ice extent and look at the longer records.

Also sea ice extent is only one part of the story; it’s the volume of sea ice that we should also be considering that depends on ice thickness as well as extent.

The longer-term view

Satellites provide the most comprehensive measurements of sea ice extent, and have provided data since 1979. They show a long-term trend of decline in sea ice extent, at an annual rate of more than 4% per decade.

The seasonal minimum (September) ice extent has declined at the faster rate of 11% per decade, and this rate of decline has accelerated in the past 15 years.

More importantly the volume of sea ice has declined substantially since 1979, as the ice has thinned. This has made the ice much more vulnerable to stormy weather, as was the case in 2012.

How does this fit the news stories?

The Mail on Sunday article points to a big recovery in Arctic sea ice compared to last year, but this needs to be viewed in context.

Last year’s minimum sea ice extent was 3.41 million square kilometres according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), 0.76 million square kilometres lower than the previous record set in 2007.

Extent has not yet reached its minimum for 2013, so it’s too early to make any definitive judgements. However, using NSIDC data to August this year we know that while the ice cover was greater than at the same time last year, it was still ranked as the sixth lowest August extent in the 34-year record.

Ann Keen, Sea Ice Scientist at the Met Office, said: “In 2012 we saw a record low which was likely to have been influenced by a storm which swept through the region in summer, but this year’s weather conditions appear to have been less conducive to ice loss.

“We know sea ice extent is going to vary from year to year due to weather conditions and that’s not at all inconsistent with the overall decline in extent. You wouldn’t expect to see records broken year after year, so this ‘recovery’ is not unexpected.

“In fact, model simulations of sea ice suggest that a as the ice gets thinner you actually get more year to year variability in extent because larger areas of the ice are more vulnerable to melting away completely over the summer.”

The stories published yesterday use new data from a satellite named CryoSat which looks at sea ice volume, which gives a better view of the relative ‘health’ of the sea ice.

Data from this satellite shows that the ice continues to thin and the volume of sea ice continues to shrink.

So all the evidence suggests the long-term decline of Arctic sea ice continues.

Met Office continues to drive forward research on long-range forecasting

29 03 2013

The BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Programme have run a story this morning regarding the advice the Met Office gave to our government customers ahead of the exceptionally wet weather of April to June 2012.

This was an extreme period of weather that saw a marked change from dry conditions to very wet conditions in a very short period of time.

Following the exceptionally wet weather of late spring 2012 the Met Office provided a full report into the possible reasons for the switch from dry to wet conditions. Our report states that the advice provided in the long-range outlook for April to June 2012 issued in March 2012 ‘was not helpful’ to our government customers.

However, looking at the skill of these outlooks over many individual forecasts clearly shows that they provide useful advice to their specialist users on over 65% of occasions. In addition these outlooks are never used in isolation but form one part of a range of forecasts from the Met Office including regular monthly outlooks and highly accurate 1 to 5 day forecasts and warnings.

Facing up to the challenge of long-range forecasting

The science of long-range forecasting is at the cutting edge of meteorology and the Met Office is leading the way in this research area. We are continuing to work hard to develop the science of long-range forecasting. We are confident that long-range outlooks will improve progressively and that the successes we have achieved in other parts of the world already will, in the future be mirrored in the UK.

The Met Office constantly reviews the accuracy of our forecasts across all time scales and is recognised by the World Meteorological Organization as one of the top two national weather forecasting services in the world. We also routinely verify our short-range forecasts on our website.

The ‘big switch’ of April 2012

During March 2012 the La Nina event that had persisted from 2009 was finally waning in the Pacific (as predicted by the seasonal forecast system), although many parts of the global oceans and tropical weather patterns still retained characteristics associated with La Nina. In the northern hemisphere the jet stream was very disturbed, resulting in a wave pattern of high and low pressure regions. The UK was positioned under a strong high pressure region resulting in very dry and warm conditions. In April, the wave pattern underwent a significant shift to bring the UK under the influence of strong low pressure, with prevailing south-westerly flow and heavy rainfall.

As detailed on ‘Today’, one of the potential causes of this shift in the northern hemisphere circulation may have been associated with a shift in tropical weather patterns. In particular, this may have been caused by a strong Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) which occurred in March. This is a large-scale tropical phenomenon which leads to disturbed weather patterns over a timescales of typically 30-60 days. This changes originating over the Indian Ocean may have influenced our northern hemisphere weather regimes. Understanding the initiation of an MJO event is, however, largely unpredictable, and remains one of the great unsolved challenges of tropical meteorology.

Due to the fact that the initiation of an MJO is largely unpredictable – combined with knowledge that often subtle, and sometimes small, shifts in hemispheric circulation patterns can make all the difference between fine, dry weather and unsettled, wet weather over the UK – it is very unlikely that its impacts could have been anticipated in any forecasts for the coming months issued in early and mid-March.

A complicated world

Finally, although one reason for the switch in the fortunes of our weather in 2012 may have been the MJO, there are other parts of the climate system which we increasingly recognise as having an influence on our weather patterns. These include the North Atlantic Ocean temperatures, solar variability, the circulation of the upper atmosphere – the stratosphere – and of increasing interest, the changing state of the Arctic.

Better understanding and representing the drivers of predictability in the global climate system that influence our weather patterns is as ever a priority for Met Office research in order to deliver improved advice and services on all timescales.

How the ‘pest from the west’ will beat the ‘Beast from the East’

10 12 2012

There was much talk at the end of last week about the ‘Beast from the East’ being set to bring some cold and wintry conditions to the UK this week. However, the balance in the atmosphere has changed and the current cold weather looks set to be replaced by milder, wetter weather by the end of the week.

So what has happened in the atmosphere to bring such a dramatic change in the forecast?

As expected at the end of last week, we do have winds blowing from the northeast, tracking across the North Sea from Scandinavia and bringing scattered showers to eastern parts of the country as shown on the chart below. So, we can expect a couple of days of cold and mainly dry weather with a few showers in eastern counties, sharp frosts and some freezing fog at night.

Actual chart Monday 10 December 2012

The atmosphere is always finely balanced and for the ‘Beast from the East’ to really ‘bear’ its teeth the high pressure area over Greenland would need to develop and draw the wind in from Europe. It now looks like this is not going to happen and instead the depression to the west of the UK is going to win the atmospheric battle and bring heavy rain and strong winds to us all from Thursday.

Met Office forecasters will be monitoring this developing weather situation throughout the week and have already issued warnings to give advanced notice of the potential impacts from the heavy rain in some parts of the country.

The latest forecasts and warnings can be found on the Met Office website, on our mobile apps and through TV and radio broadcasts on the BBC and ITV.

Long to rain over us

11 05 2012

Weather often makes front page news but today it’s the weather forecaster who has garnered the headlines – as the paper’s focus on the Prince of Wales’ star turn as a presenter.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall both tried their hand at delivering the Met Office weather forecast on the BBC during a tour of BBC Scotland’s Glasgow headquarters yesterday.

While they couldn’t do anything about the wet, windy and rather cold weather – they certainly did an accomplished job at getting the message across.

At one point, the Prince said: “But a cold day everywhere with temperatures of just 8C and a brisk northerly wind. Thank God it isn’t a bank holiday.”

The forecast has been a big hit on the internet, as the forecast has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube.

It has also created interest around the world, as numerous National Met Services have contacted the Met Office to compliment the Prince’s forecasting skills – suggesting he might be a good new recruit!

This is not the first time the Prince has had a close-up view of the Met Office’s world leading forecast science, as he paid a visit to our Exeter HQ in 2009

As someone with a keen interest in weather and climate change, he used the visit to find out more about our cutting edge capabilities in forecasting and our pioneering climate research. Perhaps that visit was good preparation for his performance yesterday!

At the time of his visit to the Met Office Prince Charles said: “But for somebody like myself who spent at least a little bit of time in the past, when I was serving in the Royal Navy and learning to fly in the Royal Air Force, as you can imagine meteorology was quite an important part of this particular exercise.

“Having understood a little bit about what weather patterns are all about, to me it’s particularly interesting to see what you do here [at the Met Office].”

The Met Office is a leading provider of weather services for the UK’s media industries – providing forecasting solutions for the BBC, ITV, STV and UTV.

We also run TV weather presenter training so others can hone their skills before going in front of the cameras.

Met Office scientists to feature in BBC Horizon programme ‘Global Weirding’

27 03 2012

BBC Horizon will broadcast ‘Global Weirding’ on BBC Two tonight at 9pm, exploring the science behind why the world’s weather seems to be getting more extreme and if these patterns are a taste of what is to come.

Horizon say: “Something weird seems to be happening to our weather – it appears to be getting more extreme. In the past few years we have shivered through two record-breaking cold winters and parts of the country have experienced intense droughts and torrential floods. It is a pattern that appears to be playing out across the globe. Hurricane chasers are recording bigger storms and in Texas, record-breaking rain has been followed by record-breaking drought.

“Horizon follows the scientists who are trying to understand what’s been happening to our weather and investigates if these extremes are a taste of what’s to come.”

The producers of the programme visited the Met Office headquarters and Operations Centre in Exeter to film for the programme at the end of last year, interviewing Adam Scaife, Head of Monthly to Decadal Forecasting and Helen Chivers, a Met Office Forecaster.  In the programme we discuss the science being undertaken here at the Met Office into the effects of Climate Change on ourt weather including the effects of Arctic sea ice depletion on European winter weather, and our role in forecasting extreme weather for the UK.

Adam Scaife and Helen Chivers from the Met Office appear in the programme

Other contributors to the programme include Mike Lockwood (University of Reading) on solar observations, Kerry Emmanuel (MIT) on hurricanes and Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech University) on extreme wet and dry conditions in Texas.

This weeks Radio Times also previewed the programme saying:

“This week’s Very Big Number from Horizon: the Met Office’s computer can do one hundred trillion calculations — a second. It needs to, in order to process the gouts of data gathered from satellites, data which means, we’re told, that a five-day forecast today is as accurate as a one-day forecast was 30 years ago. (Were we so long-suffering in 1982?)

All this technology isn’t to feed some quaint British obsession with weather, it’s to keep track of increasingly freakish extremes in meteorology, not just here but around the world: from record rains in Scotland to droughts in Texas and a boom in hurricanes. Scientists are trying to get to grips with it all and Horizon follows them, in one amazing scene, right into the heart of the storm.”

Communicating uncertain forecasts

15 12 2011

This has been a challenging week for the Met Office. As early as last weekend our forecasters identified the potential for some very severe weather to affect the UK at the end of this week. Our forecasting systems had identified a possible area of significant development, which if this were to happen would result in a rapidly deepening, vigorous low pressure system running across the UK bringing with it storm force winds and the potential for widespread disruption to travel as well as the possibility for structural damage and uprooted trees.

Although we were quite sure this low would cross the UK at the end of the week, there was also the potential it may not develop and consequently cross to the south of the UK and instead of stormy winds, bring the risk of heavy rain and snow fall.

And here is where the challenge began.  When the weather is not feeling too predictable how do we make sure we give sufficient warning to people, when the impact of such weather could be so high but the probability of it happening is relatively low?

Right from the beginning of the week our forecasters and advisers have briefed local and national governments and resilience communities on the risks associated with the developing weather situation so that they are fully aware of the potential for this storm. We worked hard to show the range of uncertainty in the predictability of the weather and then honed in on the detail as it became clearer through the week.  This is what the Met Office does best and we have had some very positive feedback.

Our television forecasters at the BBC and ITV, have kept the public right up to date with the latest details of the forecast from the Met Office. The BBC forecast went as far as showing alternative possible forecasts on Tuesday evening highlighting the possible impacts the weather may bring at the end of the week.  These forecasts have been extremely well received by those who saw them and, along with a range of videos on the Met Office website with our Chief Forecasters have kept everyone well-informed on what could be expected.

Our latest forecasts show that the low will track to the south of the UK, with the strongest winds confined to the English Channel and across the near continent. The Met Office has been liaising with MeteoFrance, our counterparts in France, on the severe weather now expected there.

Having said that, it will still be windy along parts of the south coast and our attention for the UK turns to the risk of heavy rain and snow. Warnings have been issued to the public and the resilience community with the potential for heavy rain in southern most counties of England and snow in parts of Wales, the Midland and southern and southeast England through Friday morning.

We continue to show in our forecasts the most likely outcome as well as and what the weather might be like if the low were to push a little further north. Some may say this is just “sitting on the fence” but what this actually shows is how challenging it is to forecast the weather is the UK, and how good forecasts and targeted information can allow people to make the right decisions based on the best information when it really matters.

Met Office in the Media: 09 December 2011

9 12 2011

The severe weather that affected much of the north of the UK over the last day or so has just shown how important accurate weather forecasts are in keeping people safe and well. Our forecasts were in deed very accurate and last night Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: “The conditions are exactly as predicted when the Met Office issued its red warning.”

Equally important however is clearly communicating our weather forecasts to make sure that the nation knows where and when severe weather will hit and then what the impacts may be.  We work with agencies, such as local and national governments, the police and fire service as well as emergency planners to make sure they clearly know what the weather has in store, but we still need to keep the public informed.

We best do this with our partners at the BBC and ITV, where our weather forecasts reach many millions of people every day. These forecasts over the last few days have been extremely clear, accurate and informative, ensuring we all knew what to expect. Similarly working with national and local newspapers and radio stations across the land the nation was prepared for severe weather when it really mattered.

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Met Office in the Media: 11 November 2011

12 11 2011

It is has been a busy week for the Met Office in the media this week.  It started with the broadcast of “Will it Snow?” on BBC2 last weekend. This programme looked at the challenges of forecasting severe weather and explained the science of weather forecasting.  The programme, which included several interviews with the Met Office has been positively received across a number of outlets.

On Wednesday, following evidence by Edward Davey to the Science and Technology Select Committee, several news pieces ran on the work of the Met Office and the resources needed to support our world-leading weather forecasting capability. The BBC reported that the ‘Met Office more powerful computers’, whilst others reported on the work we have been doing to explore the use of probabilities in weather forecasts. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the study we undertook using an online game to explore how people use probability information and others have reported on our use of probabilities of rainfall and temperature range forecasts on our new beta website. The Mail, Telegraph and Yahoo News all reported on this. Mike Hanlon wrote a very interesting piece in his blog about the use of probabilities entitled ‘New weather forecasts show just how far the Met Office has come‘.

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New show for BBC One taps into our weather obsession with the help of the Met Office

18 06 2011

‘The Great British Weather’ is a new and live 4 part series for BBC One scheduled to be broadcast this summer. The Met Office have been working very closely with Love Productions, who are making the series for BBC One, providing expert scientific and meteorological advice, support and guidance into the making of the show.

The show is to be presented by Carol Kirkwood (Met Office), Alexander Armstrong (Have I got News for You, Armstrong and Miller) and Chris Hollins (BBC Breakfast, Watchdog) alongside veteran weather presenters John Kettley, Michael Fish MBE and Bill Giles OBE and meteorologist Tomasz Schafernaker, all of whom worked for the Met Office as meteorologists when presenting the weather on the BBC.

The Great British Weather is an interactive live series set to tap in to the nation’s obsession with weather, as we find out which clouds mean we should dig out our brollies and where to head for the most sunshine in Britain. It also helps to answer our
annoying weather questions, does it really rain cats and dogs – or does it actually rain frogs? Does red sky at night really mean shepherd’s delight? Why are there so many types of clouds and why are they so different?

We will see Chris Hollins get up close and personal with the Basking Shark in Cornwall, all in aid of discovering why this enormous creature is attracted to the Gulf Stream.

Carol Kirkwood will also report on the weather, not from the safety of a BBC Studio – but from 15,000 feet in the air as she paraglides into the heart of an enormous Cumulus cloud. How vast is it? How much does it weigh? What does it taste like? Carol gets her head in the clouds to find out.

Specialist Meteorological Reporter, Tomasz Schafernaker will also join the The Great British Weather team across the country as they visit Cornwall, the Lake District and Greenwich (London) on its tour with a live and local audience at each destination.


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