So what happened to our summer?

28 08 2015

Our Chief Scientist Professor Dame Julia Slingo OBE FRS reflects on this summer’s weather and what has influenced it:

No-one can deny that we have had a pretty disappointing summer with a lot of unsettled weather and only a few warm spells, especially through July and August. Our weather has been dominated by low pressure over and to the west of the country that has brought us periods of heavy rain from the south – what we call the Spanish Plume. So what has been happening?

If we look beyond our shores there have been some big changes in the global climate this year. El Niño is in full flight, disturbing weather patterns around the world. The low pressure that has dominated our weather is part of a pattern of waves in the jet stream around the world that has brought crippling heat waves to places like Poland and Japan. And, looking back over past El Niños, you could have expected that a more unsettled summer might be on the cards for the UK. Closer to home the North Atlantic is more than 2 degrees colder than normal. It seems quite likely that the unusually cold North Atlantic has strengthened and pushed our jet stream south, also contributing to the low pressure systems that have dominated our weather.

So could all this have been anticipated? Seasonal forecasts for this summer suggested that temperatures and rainfall would be near normal. However, as the season progressed all the leading models around the world failed to capture the signal for unsettled weather over the UK. We all know that forecasting months and seasons ahead is still in its infancy and much more research needs to be done. On the other hand our day-to-day forecasts have been really successful in allowing us to warn of bad weather, highlighting yet again the benefits of our research that has delivered year-on-year and decade-by-decade improvements in forecasting skill. Our 5-day forecast is now as accurate as our 1-day forecast was when I started my career. This enables us to make so many decisions that keep us safe, protect our property, keep our infrastructure running and even when to go out and enjoy the sunshine!

All of this cannot happen without improvements to research and technology, and this week the first phase of our new supercomputer went live, five weeks ahead of schedule. This will enable us to provide even more accurate and relevant weather and climate forecasts to all of us, our government, emergency responders, and our many other customers at home and abroad.

The news that the BBC has decided that the Met Office won’t be their main weather provider when the current contract ends has raised the question of where will the new provider get their information from. It’s important to understand that no weather forecasting organization, whether it is a National Met Service like the Met Office or an independent company, can provide a service without a forecast, and that it is the leading meteorological agencies, like the Met Office, that build and deliver those forecasts. So whoever the BBC chooses to deliver their weather services in future, you can be sure that Met Office observations and forecasts will continue to be at the heart of them. We are committed to driving forward the skill and usefulness of our forecasts and ensuring that all of us benefit from the advances the Met Office makes in the coming years with our new supercomputer.





Met Office in the Media – 7 August 2015

7 08 2015

Earth from space

An article published today makes a number of claims about Met Office weather and climate science.

It would be difficult to cover all the points raised in this blog, but here we look at the science and facts behind a few of the assertions.

The first decadal forecast issued in 2007

We did indeed publish the first groundbreaking decadal forecast in 2007. It had two headline statements:

  1. that half of all years after 2009 would be warmer globally than the record year at that time (1998) – This is doing well so far with two out of five years (2010 and 2014) warmer than 1998 and given current temperature levels, it’s likely this will be 3 out of 6 by the end of this year, consistent with our forecast for 2015
  2. that 2014 would be 0.3 °C ± 0.21 °C warmer than 2004 (giving a range of 0.09 °C to 0.51 °C) – WMO figures show the global temperature for 2014 was 0.13 °C higher than that in 2004; which is within the range of the forecast

Adjustments to global temperature data

The article says we adjust our temperature figures ‘without justifying why it is scientifically appropriate’. In fact, numerous peer-reviewed science papers from research centres across the world provide detailed explanations of how and why datasets are adjusted to ensure they are as accurate as possible. This is available for anyone to view and analyse.

The conclusion that the world has warmed is supported by independent analysis of global temperature data.

European heatwaves

We published a paper stating heatwaves like that seen across Europe in 2003 would become more frequent under climate change. Subsequent observations back up these conclusions; 2006 saw comparable heat in the UK, 2010 saw intense heat across eastern Europe, and there’s been a prolonged heatwave across much of Europe this year (although not in the UK).

Weather extremes

Met Office research supports climate research centres around the world which concludes we expect more extremes of heat and rainfall as the world continues to warm. The article says this ‘simply hasn’t happened’ but in fact, research shows there has been an increase in both. While here in the UK, we have also seen an increase in the number of temperature and rainfall records.

The article also states ‘the Met Office did all it could to claim the rain that caused last year’s exceptional flooding… was the worst ever recorded.’ We’ve done studies (here and here) of the exceptional rainfall in winter 2013/14., which across southern England was one of the, if not the most, exceptional periods for winter rainfall in around 250 years. Here’s a fuller research piece about the winter 2013/14 storms.

Greenland ice

The article says that we claimed Greenland ice would melt in future due to global warming. We did, and we were clear that it would take thousands of years to happen, not ‘any time soon’. Observations show Greenland has been losing 300 gigatonnes (1 gigatonne is 1000,000,000 tonnes) of ice a year over the last 12 years and research shows surface temperatures have clearly risen.

Other claims

A series of other claims are made in the article, mostly focusing on our forecasts over seasonal to decadal timescales. The Met Office is at the forefront of this pioneering area of research and we are increasing skill in this area.

According to standards set by the World Meteorological Organization the Met Office is ranked as the most accurate global met service in the world. We will continue our research in collaboration with our global scientific partners to improve this vital area of science.





Record hot to record cold in a July of extremes

3 08 2015

While this year’s July may not have broken any monthly records – it was book-ended with some localised daily records at both extremes of the temperature spectrum.

The month started with the highest recorded July temperature in our UK climate records with 36.7C recorded at Heathrow on 1 July.

Then on the last day of the month, we saw the opposite extreme – with a number of stations across the UK breaking their lowest recorded July temperature.

Some of these stations have fairly long records – below we’ve highlighted those stations which broke their July low record which have observations going back for 30 years or more.

STATION COUNTY PREVIOUS RECORD PREVIOUS RECORD DATE YEARS OF DATA TEMP 31/07/15
ALICE HOLT LODGE Surrey 3.9 03/07/1984 64 3.5
KEELE Staffordshire 5.2 16/07/2001 63 5
EXETER AIRPORT Devon 3.3 01/07/2011 50 2
CHIVENOR Devon 5.7 07/07/1996 38 5.6
PERSHORE Worcestershire 3 04/07/1965 36 2.7

These temperatures came about after several days of a northerly airflow which brought colder than average air over the UK. Clear skies allowed temperatures to drop rapidly overnight across many spots, leading to some of the localised records.

None of these new station records came close to breaking the all-time UK record for July of -2.5C which was set at both St Harmon (Powys) on 9 July 1986 and Lagganlia (Inverness-shire) on 15 July 1977. It’s worth noting here that lowest daily temperature records exclude stations above 500 metres above mean sea-level.

Other extremes for July 2015 are:

  • The wettest day was recorded at Cambridge Botanic Garden on the 16th, with 87.1mm of rain recorded in 24 hours. This is significantly more than the whole-month average for July at that station, which is 50.7mm.
  • The strongest gust was recorded at the Needles on the Isle of Wight on the 26th, with 60mph.
  • The Sunniest day was on Fair Isle, Shetland, on the 26th, with 16 hours of sunshine recorded.
  • The coldest temperature recorded during the month was a chilly -0.6C at Katesbridge in Down, Northern Ireland on 15 July – although this wasn’t a record for that station.
  • The warmest temperature was 36.7C recorded at Heathrow on 1 July – you can read more about that on our blog.




Early July sees big rainfall contrasts

20 07 2015

After a hot and humid start to the month, when record daily maximum temperatures were recorded at several stations across the country on 1 July, it has been a fairly average month so far for the UK as a whole. However, on a regional scale there are some contrasts.

Using figures up to 15 July, mean temperatures have been close to or above average, with counties in eastern and southeastern England highest relative to average.

Meanwhile, for rainfall there are more notable variations, with eastern parts of England having received around or less than half the amount of rainfall that would be expected by mid-month. For example, Surrey and Sussex have both recorded less than 20% of the month’s average rainfall with 7.8mm and 9.9mm respectively. By the 15th of the month you would normally expect around 48% of the whole-month average.

This is in comparison with parts of Eastern Scotland where some places have already recorded more rainfall than the whole-July average. Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire have already seen rainfall in excess of July’s average at 79mm and 106.6mm.

After the hot, sunny start to the month there have been periods of unsettled weather, with weather systems arriving from the Atlantic bringing rain or showers at times. This has been interspersed with drier, sunny spells.

With west or southwesterly winds dominating, there have been some rather cloudy days in the south, leading to mild nights.

The table below shows figures for the 1-15 July. You would normally expect about 48% of the full-month average for sunshine and rainfall at this point in the month.

Mean temperature Sunshine duration Rainfall
1-15 July
Act (°C) Diff from avg (°C) Act (hrs) % of avg Act (mm) % of avg
UK 15.5 0.4 88.0 51 46.9 60
England 17.0 0.7 103.7 54 30.5 49
Wales 15.4 0.2 89.2 50 56.4 61
Scotland 13.3 0.0 66.8 47 71.9 72
N Ireland 14.2 -0.4 57.7 41 45.9 57

 





Annual State of the Climate Report for 2014 published

16 07 2015

A report which looks at all the climate variables that can be measured for 2014 has been released today.

The annual ‘State of the Climate’ report has been published by the American Meteorological Society, presenting summaries for all so-called Essential Climate Variables (ECVs).

These include various types of greenhouse gases, temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land, water cycle variables, ocean variables such as sea level and salinity, sea ice extent, permafrost temperatures and others. The majority of these reflect a planet that is continuing to warm.

The exceptional warmth of 2014 occurred against a backdrop of neutral to marginal El Niño conditions. Europe was especially warm and all land regions apart from North America showed above average frequency of warm extremes.

Annual average anomalies (difference to normal) for 2014 for surface temperature from the Met Office’s global temperature dataset, HadCRUT4 relative to a 1981-2010 climatology period.

Annual average anomalies (difference to normal) for 2014 for surface temperature from the Met Office’s global temperature dataset, HadCRUT4 relative to a 1981-2010 climatology period.

Over oceans, global sea surface temperatures and ocean heat content were also observed to be exceptionally warm and sea level exceptionally high.

The significant warmth is reflected strongly in regions of snow and ice. Arctic sea ice was well below average but above the exceptional lows seen in 2007, 2011 and 2012. Glacier volume is declining year on year – preliminary results for 2014 make it the 31st consecutive year of decline.

Long-lived greenhouse gases continued to increase, primarily owing to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, in addition to methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other minor trace gases.

The Met Office’s Kate Willett, a lead chapter editor on the new report, said: “The comprehensive view of the different variables in the report enables a better understanding of the interconnectedness of our climate system.”

‘State of the Climate in 2014’ is the 25th consecutive instalment of the report, which is lead by scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, along with 413 scientists from 58 countries.

Met Office scientist Kate Willett leads the Global Climate chapter and several other Met Office scientists contribute, using Met Office Hadley Centre climate data. All reports are freely available online.





First half of April has been dry and warm

17 04 2015

Early statistics up to the 15th of April show that month so far has been generally settled and warm, with limited rainfall in most areas.

The mean temperature for the UK was 8.2C, which is 0.8C above the long-term (1981-2010) average for the whole month.

Daytime temperatures have risen to well above average in many areas, especially in the south, with the year’s highest temperature so far of 25.1C recorded at Frittenden in Kent on the afternoon of the 15th. This is the highest April temperature anywhere in the UK since 2011.

The UK as a whole has seen average maximum temperatures 1.4C above normal, though much closer to average in coastal parts of northwest England and western Scotland.

Map shows the UK mean temperature for 1-15 April compared to the whole month average.

Map shows the UK mean temperature for 1-15 April compared to the whole month average.

Rainfall has been well below normal so far in most areas. After 15 days of the month you’d expect about 50% of the full-month average to have fallen in a ‘normal’ April, but the UK has seen just 35% (25.2mm). However, there was some persistent and heavy rain across parts of northwest Scotland on 13th and 14th, and parts of western Scotland have had most of the whole-month average already.

It has also been rather a sunny month so far for most parts of the UK, with 63% of the full-month average already – again you would expect around 50% by mid-month.

The forecast for this weekend is for a good deal of dry and bright weather. However, it’s still far too early to judge how this April will finish overall, with half of the month still to add in to the statistics.

Mean Temperature Sunshine hours Rainfall  
1-15 Apr
Actual Diff to Avg Actual % of Avg Actual % of Avg
  degC degC hours % mm %
UK 12.9 1.4 92.8 63 25.2 35
England 14.0 1.6 98.4 63 14.1 24
Wales 13.5 1.9 92.0 60 20.1 22
Scotland 10.8 1.1 85.8 64 43.7 48
N Ireland 12.8 1.2 81.5 56 32.6 44

Data from the Met Office’s UK digitised records dating back to 1910. You can explore our climate data on our website. Clearly these are early month figures and the statistics at the end of the month will change somewhat.





March continues sunny theme for UK

31 03 2015

Following the sunniest winter in records dating back to 1929, March has continued the trend with above average sunshine hours according to early Met Office statistics.

Map showing sunshine hours between 1-29 March compared to the full-month long-term average.

Map showing sunshine hours between 1-29 March compared to the full-month long-term average.

Up to the 29th of the month, there had been 115.0 hours of sunshine which is slightly above the full-month long-term (1981-2010) average of 101.8 hours.

Northern Ireland has been particularly sunny compared to average, with 126.9 hours of sunshine so far this month – which is well ahead of its long-term March average of 97.7 hours.

It has also been a slightly drier than average month up to the 29th, with 80.4mm of rain for the UK so far making up about 85% of the long-term average for the whole month (95.1mm). We’d expect to have had about 94% of the full-month average by this stage of the month.

England has been particularly dry, with the 39.4mm notching up just 62% of the full month average (64.0mm).

Wales and Northern Ireland were also fairly dry (notching up 74% and 78% of their full month average respectively), whereas Scotland is slightly wetter than average – having seen 148.2mm of rain which is just over the full-month average.

When it comes to temperatures – the month has been spot-on average up to the 29th, with a mean temperature of 5.5C.

Looking closer at individual countries, England, Wales and Northern Ireland were all slightly colder than average (by no more than a few tenths of a degree), while Scotland again bucked the trend with slightly above average temperatures (by 0.3C).

Overall the month has been fairly average so far, with no records broken. The final figures are likely to change slightly once the final two days of the month are added.

You can explore Met Office statistics on our UK Climate pages.

UK statistics for 1-29 March:

Mean Temperature Sunshine hours Rainfall  
1-29 March
Actual Diff to Avg Actual % of Avg Actual % of Avg
  degC degC hours % mm %
UK 5.5 0.0 115.0 113 80.4 85
England 6.1 -0.1 122.0 113 39.4 62
Wales 5.4 -0.4 118.7 117 86.1 74
Scotland 4.4 0.3 100.2 108 148.2 105
N Ireland 5.6 -0.2 126.9 130 74.3 78




One year on – A look back to last winter

17 02 2015

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Valentine’s Day storm, which also marked the end of a particularly stormy three-month period. A new review article – ‘From months to minutes – exploring the value of high-resolution rainfall observation and prediction during the UK winter storms of 2013/2014’ – written by 16 Met Office co-authors reviews the accuracy of our forecasting and warning of severe weather during winter 2013-14, and assesses its performance.

The paper concludes that the “prolonged period of high impact weather experienced in the United Kingdom during the winter of 2013/14 was very well forecast by the operational tools available across space and time scales.”

Here Huw Lewis, the paper’s lead author, and Derrick Ryall, Head of the Public Weather Service, look at the extreme weather last year and the role of the Met Office in communicating severe weather through the National Severe Weather Warning Service.

Analysis chart 1200 GMT 26 January 2014

Analysis chart 1200 GMT 26 January 2014

Winter 2013/2014 in the United Kingdom was remarkable. The country was battered by at least 12 major winter storms over a three month period and was officially assessed as the stormiest period that the United Kingdom has experienced for at least 20 years.

The series of storms resulted in the wettest winter in almost 250 years (according to the England and Wales precipitation series from 1766), significantly wetter than the previous wettest winter in 1914/1915.

Snapshot of UK rain radar surface rainfall rate for 2200 GMT on 23 December 2013

Snapshot of UK rain radar surface rainfall rate for 2200 GMT on 23 December 2013

The extreme weather caused widespread flooding throughout Southern England and coastal damage – most notably in the South West and Norfolk coasts. The impact of the severe winter storms on individuals, businesses and the government were substantial, including several fatalities, widespread power cuts and damaged infrastructure.

Recent advances in forecasting, technology and the scientific developments in meteorology have been considerable. These developments and improvements in accuracy mean that a four-day weather forecast is as accurate as a one-day forecast was just thirty years ago. During the course of last winter, the Met Office was able to use these forecasts to warn of any severe weather well in advance. In the case of the St Jude’s Day storm at the end of October 2013 warnings went out to the Government and the public five days before the storm even existed.

rainfall

As the accuracy of weather forecasts has evolved, so has the communication of the potential impacts of severe weather. The National Severe Weather Warning Service enables more ‘weather decisions’ which in turn help to minimise the consequences of severe weather. The Met Office was at the heart of the government response to the storms, providing advice on weather impacts through the National Severe Weather Warning Service and Civil Contingency Advisors. The Met Office also worked very closely with both the national and regional media, who in turn played a key role in ensuring that the public were fully informed about the potential impacts of any up-coming weather.

In addition to the Public Weather Service, commercial partners and customers were also provided with detailed updates throughout the period in order for them to plan effectively for logistical issues. Together, these advanced warnings helped authorities, businesses and individuals to be better prepared to take mitigating actions.

Driving further improvements in accuracy and therefore reducing the lead time and increasing the detail of severe weather warnings is one of the Met Office’s key priorities . The ultimate aim is to improve the potential for users to plan preventative measures for severe weather events much further ahead. Underpinning all of these developments is a continuing programme of scientific research and access to enhanced supercomputing over the next few years.





Early figures suggest third warmest spring on record

30 05 2014

Early statistics from the Met Office National Climate Information Centre show that this has been one of the warmest springs in records dating back to 1910.

Based on figures up until 28 May and then assuming average conditions to the end of the month, the mean temperature for the UK for the season is 8.97 °C, third warmest in the records (beaten by 2007 with 9.05 °C and 2011 with 9.15 °C).

Looking at specific countries, it is currently the third warmest spring for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, it has been particularly warm in Scotland compared to average. Depending on temperatures in the final three days of May, this spring could be Scotland’s warmest since records began with a current mean temperature of 7.63 °C, just above the record set in 2011 of 7.61 °C.

Each of the three months of spring have seen above average temperatures. The figures for May up to the 28th of the month show it has been 0.8 °C above the long-term average for the UK.

This continues a run of six months where the UK mean temperature was warmer than average, with all the months from December through to April each being at least 1 °C warmer than the long-term average.

Apart from the above average temperatures, statistics for May otherwise show it has been duller and wetter than average so far.

Sunshine is down compared to the long-term average, with the UK having seen 141.8 hours which is 76% of what we would normally expect.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have seen particularly low levels of sun – Scotland has seen 103.8 hours which is 58% of the average, and Northern Ireland has seen just 51% of its average with 92.9 hours.

Rainfall statistics for May show that it has been a wet month so far, with the UK having seen 97.7mm of rain which is 140% of the long-term average.

When it comes to rainfall for spring overall, it has been only slightly wetter than average. The figures show that spring is about 7% wetter than the long-term average.

Northern Ireland actually had a slightly drier spring, with only 91.8% of the average rainfall.

 

Mean Temperature Rainfall
Spring* Actual Diff from Avg Actual % of Avg
degC degC mm %
UK 8.97 1.23 255.1 107
England 9.76 1.24 201 111
Wales 9.04 1.03 295.5 101
Scotland 7.63 1.3 339.8 107
N Ireland 9 1.12 222.7 92

*Please note these are projected numbers that include statistics from 1 March to 28 May, then assume average conditions for the final few days of the season. They may not accurately represent the final full-season figures.

 

Mean Temperature Sunshine hours Rainfall
May** Actual Diff from Avg Actual % of Avg Actual % of Avg
degC degC hours % mm %
UK 11.1 0.8 141.8 76 97.7 140
England 12 0.8 170.6 90 91.1 156
Wales 11.1 0.5 138 74 124.2 145
Scotland 9.7 0.9 103.8 58 102.9 122
N Ireland 11.2 1 92.9 51 90.1 124

** Please note these are preliminary statistics from 1-28 May. The final figures will change once statistics from the final few days of the month are included.





Celebrating World Meteorological Day

18 03 2014

Every year on the 23rd March meteorological services around the world celebrate World Meteorological Day to mark the creation of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1950.  This year’s World Meteorological Day theme is ‘Weather and climate: engaging youth’.

World Meteorological Day 2014WMO is engaging with young people through a variety of ways, including:

  • A new and revamped “Youth corner” website providing fun information like ‘how to make a tornado in a jar’ or ‘creating a portable cloud’.

The Met Office is continually looking at ways to get young people engaged in the fascinating world of weather and climate. Here are some of the things we’re doing:

Inspiring the next generation with EDF Energy

This Met Office and EDF Energy collaboration is part of a wider partnership programme to help explain our science and extend science reach into new audiences.

In 2011, the Met Office began collaborating with EDF Energy to help educate school children about weather and climate science. It’s our aim to ensure that all children using EDF Energy’s The Pod have a good understanding of the science underpinning the other sustainability topics they study.

The Pod has a wide reach among teachers and children across the UK. There are now more than 17,000 schools registered and over 10 million children engaged with the Pod since it began in 2008.

Teachers can download hands-on activities designed by the Met Office, which help young people engage and develop their understanding of weather and climate topics. These activities include the ‘Degrees of change’ which addresses historic temperature records and natural variability and ‘Carbon Cycle Capers’, an activity that teaches children about carbon sinks and sources.

STEM Ambassadors at the Met Office

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is at the heart of the Met Office. Without continued expertise in these fields, we would not be able to maintain its position as the United Kingdom’s national weather service and a leading centre for climate research. We need to attract the brightest people and enable our employees to develop their professional skills during their careers.

One way to fulfil these aims, is to engage in STEM outreach and we have seen our STEM Ambassador team grow from 10 four years ago to more than 120 active ambassadors across the UK today. The STEM outreach programme is embedded into Met Office culture, bringing benefits to both the Met Office and its wider communities.

The work of our STEM Ambassadors varies hugely – from visits to local schools to talk about science or careers to running climate science workshops to weather balloon launches and code clubs. Ambassadors also take part in national events such as The Big Bang and work with other organisations engaged in STEM outreach.

Met Office Science Camp

In the summer of 2013, the Met Office ran a series of pilot events, providing an educational science night for young people aged 11–12 at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter.

These Met Office Science Camps have proved to be a great success. Over four events, 176 children from local schools and scout/guide groups got hands-on with STEM at the Met Office. They camped overnight in onsite conference rooms, helped along by a team of over 100 staff volunteers who represented almost every area of the Met Office’s work.

The feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive; saying they would recommend Met Office Science Camps to a friend. The feedback from staff was equally positive, saying that they would recommend volunteering to colleagues and would take part and help organise future events again.

Building on the success of Met Office Science Camp 2013 we will run four events over the summer of 2014, endeavouring to make each one bigger, louder and more fun.

Interested in a career in science?

To mark World Meteorological Day, The Royal Meteorological Society is working with the Met Office, the University of Reading, the Institute of Physics and local schools, to run a Twitter session on careers in science.

They will be answering questions on the physics of the environment and meteorology. There are some great interviewees taking part including Prof Iain Stewart, scientist and broadcaster; Prof Marshall Shepherd Director, Atmospheric Sciences Program, University of Georgia and ex President of the American Meteorological Society and academics from various universities. From industry we have experts; including Dominic Sindall, Head Catastrophe Risk Analyst at Faber Global Ltd and others. The Abbey School, Reading will also be taking part.

You can join the Twitter conversation between 2pm and 4pm on Thursday 20 March. To join in, follow @rmets and use #sciencecareers. More information on how to take part can be found here.








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