The Met Office’s outlook for UK winter 2013-14

21 02 2014

There are some headlines in the media today discussing the Met Office long range forecast for this winter.

Firstly it’s important to remember that it’s our short and medium term forecasts that are relied on by emergency responders to help them manage the impacts of severe weather.

The Met Office’s five-day forecasts and severe weather warnings have provided excellent guidance throughout the period of exceptionally stormy and wet weather we have experienced this winter. This advice has helped everyone from the emergency services, to government organisations and the public plan ahead for the conditions we’ve seen.

The news stories are based on information taken from our three month outlook for contingency planners, issued at the end of November 2013 so, what can our three month outlooks tell us?

These outlooks are 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 for the UK as a whole; they do not mention specific areas such as the West Country or the Somerset Levels. It’s a bit like the science-equivalent of factoring the odds on a horse race.

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.

Met Office in the Mail on Sunday

15 09 2013

An article appears in the Mail on Sunday today focusing on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) which it bills this as the ‘world’s most authoritative climate study’.

It’s fair to say that AR5 is expected to be the most comprehensive review of climate change science to date. The first part of the report, from its Working Group I (WGI), has been worked on by more than 800 scientists from around the world who have assessed more than 9,000 scientific publications and taken into account more than 50,000 comments from over 1000 expert reviewers.

The WGI report is now in its final stages and the major conclusions will be finalised and released on 27 September. It is at that point that we should debate its findings and their implications.

Further parts of the report, from its Working Group II and III, as well as a final version of the whole report will be published next year.

The Mail article also discusses the recent pause in warming, which the Met Office looked at in a series of papers, released in July. Many of the issues raised in the article are addressed in those reports, which you can see on our website.

The article also goes on to mention some of the claims made in a commentary published by Nic Lewis yesterday. This is a lengthy and technical commentary covering several topics and will require time to provide as helpful a response as possible, so further comment will be released in due course.

There are a couple of points raised in the Mail story which should be addressed now, however.

The article states that the Met Office’s ‘flagship’ model (referring to our Earth System Model known as HadGEM2-ES) is too sensitive to greenhouse gases and therefore overestimates the possible temperature changes we may see by 2100.

There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. It is indeed the case that HadGEM2-ES is among the most sensitive models used by the IPCC (something the Met Office itself has discussed in a science paper published early this year), but it lies within the accepted range of climate sensitivity highlighted by the IPCC.

Equally when HadGEM2-ES is evaluated against many aspects of the observed climate, including those that are critical for determining the climate sensitivity, it has proved to be amongst the most skilful models in the world.

Finally, in our aim to provide the best possible scientific advice to the UK Government, the Met Office draws on all the scientific evidence available to us. This includes many other physically based climate models from leading research centres around the world, which provide a range of climate sensitivities and a range of potential future warming.

Setting the record straight in the Daily Mail

8 03 2013

In response to our complaint to an article by James Delingpole in the Daily Mail on 10 January 2013 the Daily Mail has now published a response from the Met Office Chairman on its letters page.

Met Office mettle

James Delingpole’s views misrepresent the Met Office’s reputation for world-class weather and climate forecasting and research (Mail). The UK can be rightly proud that the Met Office is among the world’s top two national weather forecasting services.

We’re proud that, in independent surveys, more than 90 per cent of the public regard our warnings as useful and more than 80 per cent of the UK public trust our forecasts and warnings. This respect for our professionalism and impartiality has been built over 150 years of forecasting for the nation.

We aim to use our world leading scientific expertise to protect life and property and increase prosperity and wellbeing right across the UK. We provide impartial services ranging from forecasts and warnings to the public, services to transport operators, so we can fly, drive or sail safely, and advice to the energy, retail and health sectors so we can all go about our daily lives safely and efficiently.

Our forecasts on radio, TV, mobile phone apps and newspapers are a source of daily interest as well as essential advice to the public.

Whatever a journalist’s views are about climate change – and they have a right to air them – let’s not degrade the institutions on which the public rely.


Met Office chairman, Exeter, Devon.

Although this does not fully address all the issues we had with the original article we do accept that a published letter recognises our concerns and has taken steps to resolve some of them. The Daily Mail has also offered to append this letter to the original article.

We are grateful to the Daily Mail for dealing with our objections to the inaccuracies in the original article and the efforts made to find a constructive resolution. We are, as ever, grateful for the role the Daily Mail, and other print, online and broadcast media have in bringing key forecasts, warnings, and science to the attention of the public.

Addressing the Daily Mail and James Delingpole’s ‘crazy climate change obsession’ article

10 01 2013

An article by James Delingpole appears in the Daily Mail today under the headline The crazy climate change obsession that’s made the Met Office a menace’.

This article contains a series of factual inaccuracies about the Met Office and its science, as outlined below.

Firstly, he claims the Met Office failed to predict snow in 2010, but our 5-day forecasts accurately forecast 12 out of 13 snowfall events – as you can see in this article. In addition the Press Complaints Commission has also already addressed this fallacy with the Daily Telegraph in February of last year. As a result the newspaper published a clarification that highlighted that “the Met Office did warn the public of last winter’s [2010/11] cold weather from early November 2010.” 

Mr Delingpole also says we failed to predict flooding in November last year. Once again, our 5-day forecasts gave accurate guidance and warnings throughout the period. In just one example of feedback the Met Office has received for highly accurate forecasting and guidance throughout 2012, Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton, Chair for the Local Resilience Forum for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (which was one of the areas most affected by flooding in November), said: “[I] would like to formally thank and recognise the hard work of the Met Office over the past week. The information you provided was invaluable and enabled the responders in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to prepare and respond effectively to assist our communities.”

Mr Delingpole then inaccurately states that the Met Office has conceded ‘there is no evidence that ‘global warming’ is happening’. We have not said this at any point.

In fact, we explicitly say this was not the case in an article, posted on the home page of our website and widely circulated, which was written in response to articles about updates to our decadal forecast. Professor Julia Slingo, Met Office Chief Scientist, has also provided a more in depth feature on ‘Decadal Forecasting – What is it and what does it tell us?’.

Further on in the print version of the article (although amended online), Mr Delingpole says “According to the Met, Britain is apparently experiencing more rain by volume and intensity than at any time since records began.” Although he is right in saying the Met Office has published preliminary observations which show an increase in the intensity and volume of rain, we are clear that this relates to a period from 1960 onwards – not ‘since records began’ as he claims.

He also states that the Met Office was trying to defend a narrative that the “the past ten years have been the ‘wettest decade ever’”. Again, this is not something the Met Office has ever said.

Also he quotes David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation saying that the Met Office ‘thinks weather forecasting is beneath it’ and that ‘climate change… brings in more money’.

A cursory glance at our annual report and accounts (pdf) would reveal weather forecasting represents the vast majority of the Met Office’s contractual work on behalf of the public.

There are also a number of other accusations which cannot be substantiated.

Mr Delingpole does quote Dr Whitehouse saying “when it comes to four or five day weather forecasting, the Met Office is the best in the world.”

This supports the view of the World Meterological Organization (WMO) which consistently ranks the Met Office in the top two operational forecasters in the world.

Our reputation for forecasting accuracy is based on our commitment to provide the world’s best weather and climate service which helps protect lives and property here in the UK and around the world.

Met Office in the Media: 22 February 2012

22 02 2012

There is some mild weather for the time of year on its way tomorrow with temperatures climbing to the mid teens across the UK. Some newspapers, such as The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express,  have been suggesting that the UK will be warmer than Hawaii tomorrow. Although this would be very nice, I am afraid to say this is not quite true, with temperatures in Honolulu predicted to be up to 26 deg C on Thursday.

Although it will be mild for many, it will still be mainly cloudy with further light rain in the west. Some mist and fog is also likely across western coasts and hills. The best chance of bright or sunny spells developing will be to the east of country, especially in the shelter of hills. Where the sun comes out, temperatures are likely to be very mild for late winter.

Top temperatures on Thursday are expected to be around 16 or 17 deg C in parts of central and eastern England, while  Scotland is likely to see its warmest spots in the east, where it could reach up to 15 deg C.

So, although Thursday will be a very mild day for the time of year and while some places may see some bright spells, it certainly will not be wall to wall sunshine. Unfortunately, it will also be nothing like Hawaii – more like a mild, pleasant late winter day in the UK.

The mild temperatures fall away a little as we head into Friday and the weekend as rain sinks south on Friday, with brighter, colder conditions to the north. Most places are expected to be dry on Saturday but rain is likely to return to western parts later in the day and on Sunday.

Forecast maximum temperature ranges for the next 5 days for Manchester from the Met Office beta website

Elsewhere there has been widespread coverage of the findings of the Science and Technology report on The Science of the Met Office which endorsed the trust the nation has in the Met Office to provide forecasts and warnings when it matters. Coverage has focused on the reports recommendations for additional computer resource at the Met Office. We welcome the committee’s recommendation; all witnesses highlighted the significant socio-economic benefits which could be gained from increased supercomputer capacity. Increased supercomputing resource would enable existing research findings to be used in the creation of weather and climate predictions, helping to improve the accuracy, reliability and relevance of forecasts on all timescales

However, it is important to recognise that funding for additional supercomputing resource has not been secured and the figures in the S&T committee report are purely recommendations. The Government recognises the importance and value of investment in supercomputing capacity to improve weather and climate modelling. We will continue to work closely with BIS and other stakeholders across Government, to support the development of the business case for the next generation of supercomputing capacity.

Related articles

Met Office in the Media: 14 October 2011

14 10 2011

There has been some stories in the media today about some fine weather expected over the coming weekend.  Some of these stories have suggested that we are going to see a heatwave or even that October will be warmer than summer.  This is simply not the case

  • T-shirt time! Freak heatwave to hit Britain this weekend – as forecasters say this October will be hotter than summer (Daily Mail)
  • Get ready for the last of the summer sun (The Sun)

Most of England and Wales will have a sunny day on Saturday although northwestern areas will be cloudier with rain across parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland. Temperatures will be between 16 to 18 Celsius across the UK, and although rather mild, this is far from a heatwave.  We have already seen temperatures in excess of 20 deg C every day this week and therefore the weekend looks a little cooler than previous days.  

Other reports have also suggested that forecasters are saying October will be warmer than the summer. Again, this is just not the case.  It would be correct to say that we have seen a very mild start to October with the warmest October day ever recorded on 1st October when Gravesend reached 29.9 C.  However this does not compare with the 33.1 Celsius that was recorded on 27 June 2011

We are not even half way through the month and the Met Office have not complied any national weather statistics for the month yet. It is just not possible to compare one month with the three months of Summer, especially when the month is not complete.

Elsewhere, the Economist has reported on the ground-breaking science from the Met Office that identifies a link between solar UV output and cold winters in parts of Europe and North America.

Met Office in the Media: 20 September 2011

20 09 2011

There has been widespread coverage in the media today about an impending cold winter and snow in October.  Britain faces an early big freeze in the Express and Britain to be hit by snow in October… in the Daily Mail both report that Exacta Weather forecast snow in parts of the UK as early as next month.  It should be made clear that these forecasts for the coming months are not from the Met Office. When we asked the public what types of forecasts they would like you told us that you would find a monthly forecast more useful. Currently this forecast, which is updated regularly with the latest forecast information, takes us through the first few weeks of October and says:

Temperatures are expected to be around normal for the time of year across much of the UK by day, dropping below normal at night, especially across the Midlands and southeast, leading to an increased incidence of overnight frosts. The cooler conditions at night will be mitigated by day in some parts by sunnier than normal weather, with both the far south and far north of the country favoured to see above normal amounts of sunshine, with nearer normal sunshine hours elsewhere. Rainfall amounts are correspondingly likely to be a little below average in most areas, especially in the west.

To provide some context it certainly would not be a surprise to see overnight frosts and even some snow across higher parts of Scotland in October. Historically, looking at the long term climatology, snow falls on around 3 or 4 days in a typical October across the Highlands of Scotland and on 1 or 2 days in the Southern Uplands and northern Pennines.

Therefore, it’s never too early to be prepared for winter – especially as we know from experience the types of severe weather we can see  in the UK during the winter months. 

As a result it is vital that service providers, ahead of any winter, have plans in place to respond to Met Office 1-5 day forecasts and warnings.  These provide good advice, and can be used with a relatively high degree of confidence. Therefore the Met Office has been working with service providers such as BAA and DH to help them develop robust plans and prepare for any severe weather.

It is out short term forecasts, used for example by government, local councils, train, air and road operators that can help to minimise the impacts of severe weather on you and your community.

Met Office in the Media: 23 June 2011

23 06 2011

Following a release from E-ON, using date from the Met Office website – Bognor Regis has been crowned one of the sunniest place in Britain.

After studying data from the Met Office, West Sussex has emerged as one of the UK’s sunniest places to live, with 1,902 hours of sunshine every year.  The south coast of England fairs well in the sunshine stakes and the map below highlights some of the sunniest parts of the UK.

Map showing annual sunshine hours for the UK

Map showing annual sunshine hours for the UK

Steven Norman, Renewable Energy Consultant at the Met Office, said: “The Met Office is the primary source of weather information across the UK and our figures dating back many years show that the UK is a far sunnier place than people might think.  For those wanting to find out more about whether solar energy generation would work in their area, we provide a range of services. This includes data sets and maps on solar radiation for your area.”

As both Wimbledon and Glastonbury continue, there is widespread coverage of our forecasts. Both the Daily Mail and GigWise are supporting festival goers by embedding our YouTube forecasts into their stories, ensuring that revellers have access to the latest forecast so that they can make the most of the festival.  Yesterday at Wimbledon, as expected several hours play was lost due to rain. Showers are forecast again today with a 60% risk of showers interrupting play. Of course this means there is still a 40% chance that play won’t be interrupted. Later in the evening it looks like the shower risk will decline leaving a drier end to the day.

Met Office in the Media: 14 June 2011

14 06 2011

The Met Office in partnership with NOAA continues to develop a partnership to respond to ‘space weather’ reports the Western Morning News in ‘Met Office in new move for space weather forecasting’ and the Independent in ”Controlled’ power cuts likely as Sun storm threatens national grid‘.  This followed an announcement last month by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama about the growing partnership between the Met Office and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service in working toward the delivery of space weather alerts.

The Daily Mail today report ‘Scorching summer weather set to be a washout’, in which a rather unsettled outlook is forecast by the Met Office.  This is in contrast to forecasts provided by other forecasters in early June that said we were heading for a fine June. The Met Office refuted such ‘flaming June’ predictions came from us at the time – highlighting a change to more unsettled conditions, with a mix of rain or showers, separated by drier and brighter interludes, in the Daily Mail at the very beginning of this month.

Met Office in the Media: 29 March 2011

29 03 2011

Richard Littlejohn in his Daily Mail column has inaccurately reported that a forecast for the coming summer was provided by the Met Office. This is not the case – The Met Office has not provided seasonal forecasts for over a year as was indeed correctly reported in the same paper yesterday.  The forecast the Richard Littlejohn was commenting on was provided by Positive Weather Solutions.  This has now been corrected in the online version of the column.

Commercial Insurance News have reported on the launch of the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service, a new initiative between the Met Office, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the Scottish Government. The new service aims to help residents and businesses across Scotland avoid making insurance claims following such disasters. Through the service, businesses in areas vulnerable to flooding can be given advanced warning of any potential risks.
Phil Evans, director of government services at the Met Office said: “This partnership between SEPA and the Met Office, supported by the Scottish government, will enhance flood resilience in Scotland. The Met Office and our weather forecasting team at Aberdeen are delighted to be supporting this new service.”

Farmers Weekly reports on how dry it has been through the first 3 weeks of March. Figures from the Met Office show that from 1 to 22 March, 13mm of rain fell in England and Wales – about 18% of usual the monthly average.  However the weather is now turning more unsettled across many parts of the UK which will add to the UK rainfall totals. Despite this welcome rain for many, it is very unlikely that we will see amounts pick up to reach normal.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,444 other followers

%d bloggers like this: