My career in climate

Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of and potential solutions to climate change in a new BBC Documentary (broadcast 9pm Thurs 18 April 2019). Met Office climate scientist Professor Peter Stott appears in the programme and also supported the BBC as they researched the facts.  Here he looks back at his career and how the science of climate change has developed.

When I arrived at the Met Office in 1996, it was an exciting time to be starting climate research. Scientists were beginning to identify the fingerprints of human activities on climate. I joined a team of researchers who showed that warming temperatures were being caused not by increasing solar activity or natural climate oscillations but by the rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. By the turn of the century, the conclusions of climate science were clear.  Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would be needed to avoid the worst effects of a warming world. If this was not unexpected, being the inevitable result of basic physics, the new century brought a much more surprising revelation.

Whereas the large-scale climate trends panned out as climate models had predicted – with warming temperatures, melting ice and rising seas – I found the rapidly increasing toll of extreme weather startling and shocking. In August 2003 I travelled to Tuscany to celebrate my wedding anniversary in the hilltop town of San Gimignano. The heat that year was unprecedented. Temperatures reached 40 degrees for days on end. We could cope by keeping in the shade when the sun was up. But many others throughout Europe were not so lucky. More than 70,000 died from the heat, many of the fatalities being elderly vulnerable people unable to escape sweltering apartments in cities like Paris.

Professor Peter Stott

Returning home, I decided to investigate whether climate change could be implicated in this devastating event. My research, undertaken in collaboration with colleagues from Oxford University, showed that greenhouse gas emissions had more than doubled the risk of the extreme temperatures seen that summer

Ours was the first study to link climate change to a specific meteorological event. It showed that climate change was now no longer just a future threat, the threat was already here. It led me on to a whole new field of research, one that aims to help people cope better with heatwaves, floods and droughts by providing up-to-date information about the changing risks of such extreme weather.

While we can make efforts to adapt to our changing climate, the science shows this challenge becomes much harder if we don’t also take action to mitigate its effects by reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases. The Met Office Hadley Centre is heavily involved in providing policy relevant advice to the UK government. As part of that role, I have been to some of the major climate conferences where nations decide on collective action on climate, including last year’s COP meeting in Katowice, Poland.

There, I presented the latest data showing that the last 4 years were globally the warmest on record and I released new analysis of the extreme record breaking temperatures of last summer across Europe). I also attended an event with Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who started a mass movement of school strikes on climate. I found it very inspiring to hear her speak so articulately. Thanks to her leadership, there is now a younger generation of citizens actively involved in promoting a more sustainable future.

More and more, I realise, we need to talk more about climate change; its causes, effects and solutions. That is why I was delighted to be asked to be involved in the BBC documentary, Climate Change: The Facts. It chimes with a growing interest I have in science communication. As part of my joint position at the University of Exeter, I lead a project called Climate Stories. With a group of scientists from the Met Office and the University of Exeter, artists and local community groups, we have been writing poems, composing songs and making pictures to find new ways of talking about the work we do and connecting with wider audiences. Creating stories together has helped build new positive narratives about our changing climate.

Climate change is not an easy subject to talk about. Even though there are many possible ways to reduce our emissions it is still a challenging task. But like other difficult topics, talking about it helps. When we do, the future can look a whole lot more hopeful.

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A warm and wet March

Rain may not be the first thing you think about when reflecting on March 2019, but it was in fact the 5th wettest March on record for the UK as a whole.

Much of the rain fell during the first half of March and for many (except north west Scotland) there was a rather dry end to the month.  However, for the north and north-western areas of the UK, the rain in the first two weeks was enough to make the month overall very wet indeed.

Map shows March 2019 rainfall as a percentage of the 1981-2010 climatological average

Less than halfway through the month, Northern Ireland had already reached its average rainfall total, and by March 18th enough rain had fallen to make March 2019 the wettest March on record in NI.  A total 158.3mm of rain fell by the end of the month – two thirds more than the 95.1mm average, beating the previous wettest March record for NI from 1992 with 146.8mm.

It was the second wettest March on record for northwest England and North Wales with a total 192.3mm (182% of average) rain recorded, coming behind March 1981.

It wasn’t just a wet month though, it was also rather warm.

With a mean UK temperature of 6.8 C (1.3 C above average), March 2019 provisionally comes in 10th for the warmest March on record.

Map shows March 2019 mean temperature as a percentage of the 1981-2010 climatological average

Towards the end of the month high pressure brought settled, dry and sunnier weather, compensating for the rather wet first half to the month and allowing sunshine hours to creep up, especially in east and southeast parts of the UK.

Overall March 2019 had slightly more sunshine than average with 115.6 hours recorded, 114% of the average for the time of year.

Map shows March 2019 sunshine hours as a percentage of the 1981-2010 climatological average

Extreme weather elements for March 2019 in the UK
Element Value Site Date
Highest max 19.8C Kew Gardens (London) 30th
Highest min 11.0C Grangemouth (Stirlingshire) 21st
Lowest max 1.6C Salsburgh (Lanarkshire) 16th
Lowest min -6.9C Aboyne (Aberdeenshire) 5th
Highest daily rainfall 74.6mm Capel Curig (Gwynedd) 16th
Max gust 70kts Needles (Wight) 16th
Sunniest day 12.6hrs East Malling (Kent) 29th
Deepest snow depth 6cm Middleton (Derbyshire) & Mugdock Park (Stirlingshire) 10th & 11th
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Will we see a record-breaking spring?

There have been some headlines in the media in the last few days around predictions for a record-breaking spring in the UK.

It would appear these stories have been based, in part, on the latest Met Office three-month outlook produced for contingency planners.

This outlook is designed to help planners in business and Government assess the level of risk connected to different weather scenarios. As discussed previously, the outlook is not like a normal weather forecast. It does not identify weather for a particular day or week – so is not that useful when you want to know, for example, which spring weekend looks good for an outdoor event.

The outlook assesses global weather patterns and their potential to influence both temperature and rainfall for UK as a whole for the next three months. It is based on the more probable prevailing weather patterns and has to be used in the right context.

It is a bit like the science-equivalent of factoring the odds on a horse race and like any horse race it’s always possible the favourite won’t win.  Users of the outlook are aware of the complexities and limitations of this type of forecast, and will include those factors in their decision making processes.

What does the current outlook for April-May-June 2019 say?

The current outlook explains that ‘For both April and April-May-June, long-range prediction systems show small, but consistent signals, of an increase in the likelihood of high pressure. At this time of year, high pressure is usually associated with warmer-than-average weather. This, along with the tendency for higher UK temperatures seen in the last 10 years, leads to an increased chance of warmer-than-average conditions’.

This far from implies the UK will predominantly experience warm, dry weather, and does not mean there can’t also be some colder spells. It is important to remember that higher-than-average temperatures won’t necessarily feel like ‘good’ weather if there are spells of cloudy, windy or wet weather..

There is also a suggestion that drier-than-average conditions are slightly more likely than wetter-than-average, but the signal is small and the likelihood of extreme weather is close to normal during this period.

If you want a forecast for your area or are looking to plan up coming activities head to our forecasts pages for a detailed 7 day forecast or a 30 day look ahead at weather trends.

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 area. As noted above, it doesn’t offer us definitive forecasts but gives an assessment of risk. Influences on our weather from around the world help to steer our weather patterns, but these influences are only part of the story, as our weather patterns exhibit substantial variability of their own.      

We are continuing to work hard to develop the science of long-range forecasting, identifying new sources of predictability and building better prediction systems. We are confident that our long-range outlooks will progressively improve over time. In addition, we take into account predictions from other long-range forecasting centres around the world, so our outlooks will benefit as the science matures more widely.    

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.

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Storm Hannah or no Storm Hannah?

That is the question.

And the answer from the Met Office is no, not this weekend.  Which left many people (including us) feeling quite confused as we read headlines like “Hell storm Hannah” and “Britain to be battered by Storm Hannah” in some national and regional news.

This weekend was wet and windy and the Met Office issued several wind, rain and snow warnings for many parts of the country.  These warnings highlighted the impacts the weather would bring, such as the potential for flooding.  However there can often be a fine line between whether a storm should be named or not and on this occasion, the low-pressure system did not meet the criteria to become a named storm.

So what are the criteria for naming storms?

First, we consider the weather – how strong are the winds going to be? How much rain or snow is forecast and over how many hours?  We then look at additional factors that can influence the impacts from the weather, such as the time of day or time of year – wind gusts of 60 mph in September when trees are still in leaf may have more damaging impacts than the same wind strengths in February, when trees are bare.

The Met Office and Met Éireann started jointly naming storms in 2014 with the aim of raising awareness of the potential impacts of severe weather in Britain and Ireland.  In its fourth year running, the project has been very successful in quickly communicating the weather forecast to people, allowing them to plan and prepare for severe weather before it hits.  Especially in the age of social media, a trending storm name e.g. #StormGareth can be a very powerful tool in quickly letting people, our partners and the media know severe weather is on the way.

Every year we publish the list of storm names in advance and it is perhaps understandable that some might be tempted to ‘jump the gun’ and name a weather system ‘early’, but this can cause confusion – particularly if as in this case it turns out there is no named storm.

When the Met Office or Met Éireann officially names a storm we will announce this on twitter, highlight the storm on the homepage of our website and include it in our video broadcasts which can be viewed on our weather app.  So next time you aren’t sure whether or not a storm is on the way, please check here!

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Prestigious Award for Met Office scientist.

A Met Office Hadley Centre scientist has won a prestigious award for his pioneering research into sea level rise and its response to anthropogenic climate change.

Professor Jonathan Gregory has been given a prestigious BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (Climate Change category), together with Anny Cazenave (Director for Earth Sciences at the International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland) and Professor John Church (University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia)

The BBVA committee said the three laureates “pioneered the integration of satellite observations with in situ measurements and innovations in numerical modelling to develop an accurate and consistent depiction of sea-level change globally.”

As well as identifying the effect of human action on sea-level rise, their work has revealed that that the rate of increase is accelerating over time. It is thought that failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions could result in a sea-level rise exceeding one full metre by the end of this century, threatening the homes of around 100 million people living in coastal areas

Met Office Chief Scientist, Stephen Belcher, said; “I am delighted that Jonathan has been honoured in this way. It’s another demonstration of the fundamental role the Met Office Hadley centre and our scientists play in developing climate science.”

Jonathan Gregory’s research examined all components of sea-level change enabling better model projections for the future as well as improved understanding of the past. Professor Gregory said; “Sea levels will continue to rise for many centuries to come, because the time scale for the warming of the deep ocean is centuries or millennia. However, we can influence by how much and how fast it will happen. We can’t stop the increase, but we are not too late to do something to mitigate it and reduce its impact.”

Professor Gregory contributed as lead author to the Third, Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the chapters dealing with sea-level rise and ocean observation. Among other distinctions, he holds the FitzRoy Prize of the Royal Meteorological Society, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society and the American Geophysical Union.


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Is there another ‘Beast from the East’ on the way?

There have been many headlines in recent days proclaiming a return of the ‘Beast from the East’ and ‘triple polar vortex to trigger heavy snow’ with bookies reportedly cutting the odds that this month will end as the coldest January on record following a sudden stratospheric warming high above the Arctic.

So, just how much truth lies behind these headlines and what can we really say about the weather for the coming month? Our Deputy Chief Meteorologist Jason Kelly explains.

Well, it is true that a sudden stratospheric warming has happened. The warming started around 22 December 2018 and the winds at around 30km above the North Pole have now reversed from westerly to easterly. At ground level we know that sudden stratospheric warmings tend to weaken the UK’s prevailing mild westerly winds, increasing the chances of us seeing colder weather a couple of weeks after a sudden stratospheric warming.

However, it’s important to note that not all sudden stratospheric warmings lead to colder-than-normal conditions over the UK and there are other global weather factors that result in blocked weather patterns and possible colder weather for us. These include El Niño and the Madden-Julian Oscillation that were well signalled in our 3-month outlook as early as the end of November.

Certainly, for the first ten days of January there is no strong signal for a cold easterly flow that was associated with the ‘Beast from the East’ last winter, and it’s too early to provide detailed forecasts for what the weather will be like for the remainder of January.

Our current 6-30 day forecast points to the likelihood of more mobile conditions before the arrival of anything that might potentially be colder. Towards the end of January, however, there is an increased likelihood of a change to much colder weather generally, bringing an enhanced risk of frost, fog and snow.

This cold spell is by no means certain though, and if you are hoping for, or need to prepare for possible cold and/or snowy weather, please keep up to date on our forecast pages and by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Our app is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store.

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September statistics

Despite seeing the first two named storms of the 2018/19 season, named by the Met Office and Met Éireann, and the remnants of an ex-tropical storm, Storm Helene, September in general was a fairly average month.

Area Max act





Min act





Mean act Mean anom
UK 16.3°C -0.2°C 8.5°C -0.4°C 12.4°C -0.3°C
England 18.1°C 0.3°C 9.2°C -0.3°C 13.7°C -0.0°C
Wales 16.1°C -0.5°C 8.9°C -0.2°C 12.5°C -0.4°C
Scotland 13.6°C -0.6°C 7.2°C -0.4°C 10.4°C -0.5°C
N Ireland 15.3°C -0.7°C 7.9°C -0.8°C 11.5°C -0.8°C

The weather was predominantly unsettled, although after Storm Ali and Storm Bronagh, high pressure quickly became established giving a sunny autumnal spell from the 24th, especially over southern areas.

Provisional mean temperatures September 2018

There were some chilly nights, at times, and some early frosts in a few prone locations. The minimum temperature of -3.6C at Katesbridge on Saturday morning 29th is a new regional minimum temperature record for September in Northern Ireland – beating the previous lowest of -3.2 at Magherally, Banbridge (not far away) on the morning of September 30th 1991.

Temperatures have fluctuated, with no particularly warm spells, and are averaging out to near normal for the month as a whole.

Area Rainfall


Rainfall anom


Sun act


Sun anom


UK 103.6mm 107% 135.2hrs 108%
England 59.1mm 85% 158.2hrs 115%
Wales 131.6mm 113% 128.5hrs 101%
Scotland 178.2mm 131% 105.1hrs 100%
N Ireland 56.6mm 62% 98.7hrs 87%

Rainfall has been above average for Wales, north west England and Scotland, but rather drier than average for most of Northern Ireland, Aberdeenshire and Fife, and the south-eastern half of England.

Provisional rainfall statistics for September 2018

Eastern areas have had a reasonably bright month, however it has been slightly duller than average in some places further west with the UK as a whole seeing 108% of the whole month’s average.

Provisional sunshine statistics for September 2018

Record-breaking summer

The average September followed on from a record-breaking summer, June, July and August was one of the warmest on record for the UK.  June was the third-warmest and  July the second-warmest in our official national records dating back to 1910, summer 2018 has provisionally been named joint warmest on record  with 2006, 2003 and 1976.

Named Storms

On September 11th the Met Office and Met Éireann revealed the list of storm names for the coming season. First introduced in 2015, this is the fourth year the Met Office and Met Éireann (the meteorological service in the Irish Republic) have jointly run the ‘Name our Storms’ scheme, aimed at raising awareness of severe weather before it hits.

We saw the first named storm of the season, Storm Ali, on September 19th.  It brought widespread strong winds and heavy rains, with the strongest gusts being recorded in Ireland, Northern Ireland and western Scotland, with gusts up to 91 mph in Northern Ireland, Scotland, northern England and parts of north Wales.

Exposed areas saw even higher gusts with Cairngorm Summit recording 105 mph and the Tay Road Bridge recording a gust of 102 mph.

Storm Bronagh was the second storm, bringing gusts of up to 78 mph to parts of England and Wales. Storm Bronagh was named on 20 September with strong winds forecast particularly for the southern half of the UK. It brought widespread strong winds and heavy rain, with the strongest gusts being recorded across the hills and coasts of England and Wales.

You can keep up to date with the weather using our forecast pages and by following us on Twitter and Facebook, as well as using our new mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store.

Please note that these provisional figures, especially for rainfall and sunshine, are subject to revision. Anomalies are expressed relative to the 1981-2010 averaging period.

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An active September for Tropical Cyclones

September is usually the most active month of the year for tropical cyclones worldwide, but in 2018 there were 21 named tropical cyclones active at some point during the month – just one short of the record of 22 set in 1966.


Despite conditions in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean not being as favourable for tropical cyclone formation as in 2017, the region still saw a total of seven named storms in September, the strongest of which developed outside of the deep tropics. Florence was the most significant hurricane bringing over 750 mm rain and severe flooding to North Carolina in the USA. Gordon made landfall as a tropical Storm over southern USA and Helene remained in the eastern Atlantic and affected the UK and Republic of Ireland as a ‘post-tropical’ storm. Isaac was a weakening tropical storm as it encountered the unfavourable conditions in the Caribbean, but still brought a spell of heavy rain to some islands as did Kirk a couple of weeks later. The latter produced some severe flooding in Barbados. Joyce meandered near the Azores for a few days and as the month ended Leslie was set to move slowly over central parts of the subtropical Atlantic for several days to come.

Hurricanes Florence and Helene with Tropical Storm Isaac seen at
1345 GMT 10 September 2018 (Credit: RAMMB/CIRA).

Eastern Pacific

The eastern Pacific hurricane season in 2018 has been very active. In September Hurricanes Miriam and Norman remained far from land, but Olivia brought heavy rain and flooding to parts of Hawaii as it weakened on its journey into the central Pacific. Paul was a weak tropical storm, but as the month ended Tropical Storm Rosa, formerly a hurricane, threatened to bring flash flooding to parts of north-western Mexico, southern California and Arizona after landfall. Tropical Storm Sergio is expected to become a hurricane over open waters during early October.

Western Pacific

The month started with Typhoon Jebi bringing strong winds and rain to parts of Japan. Mangkhut developed soon after and ploughed a track across the northern Philippines as a powerful typhoon causing loss of life and severe damage from wind and flooding.  Mangkhut went on to also have severe impacts over Hong Kong. Barijat reached southern China as a weak tropical storm, but the next in line was Trami which became another powerful typhoon. After moving slowly for several days east of Taiwan, it eventually crossed the Ryukyu Islands and into the main islands of Japan at a similar location to Jebi a few weeks before. As the month ended, Typhoon Kong-rey looked set to head towards Japan or South Korea during the first week of October.

Typhoon Mangkhut seen at 0800 GMT 13 September 2018 (Credit: RAMMB/CIRA).

Elsewhere in the Globe

Walaka became the first storm to be named in the central Pacific region for two years and quickly developed into a hurricane. In the Bay of Bengal a depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Daye just before landfall and brought flooding impacts to parts of India. There was also an unusual September tropical storm in the South Pacific near the Solomon Islands named Liua.

In addition to the named tropical storms described above there were other weaker tropical depressions in the Atlantic, east and west Pacific and the south Indian Ocean. Finally, the Mediterranean saw what is often referred to as a ‘medicane’, which made landfall over Greece as a likely tropical or subtropical storm bringing severe flooding to some regions. Since this was not officially named by any tropical cyclone warning agency, it has not been included in the total of 21 named storms for the month of September.

Mediterranean Storm at 1130 GMT 29 September 2018

Further Information

Follow our Twitter feed @metofficestorms for regular information on tropical cyclones currently active worldwide.

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‘Medicane’ bringing ‘rough seas’ to Mediterranean

A strong storm developing in the Mediterranean Sea, frequently referred to as a ‘medicane’, has been making the news in the last couple of days, but what exactly is a ‘medicane’?

How is it defined?

There is actually no official meteorological definition of the term ‘medicane’, but it is often used to describe a deep area of low pressure which forms in the Mediterranean Sea and acquires characteristics of a tropical cyclone and sometimes has the appearance of a hurricane. Tropical cyclones are distinct from low pressure areas which form at higher latitudes in that: they derive their energy from the warm ocean surface; do not have warm and cold fronts associated with them; and have their strongest winds and most intense storm activity close to their centre.

So-called Medicane over the Mediterranean on 28 September 2018

Mediterranean Storm at 1115 BST 28 September 2018

Julian Heming is a tropical cyclone expert at the Met Office. He said: “The current storm over the Mediterranean Sea formed from the clash of cold air pushing south over the Balkans and warm air moving north from Africa and so was initially not considered a ‘tropical’ storm. However, as it has strengthened over the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea it is starting to acquire some characteristics of a tropical cyclone. Bands of thunderstorms are starting to wrap around the low pressure centre, although are not yet concentrated close to the centre as you might see in a fully ‘tropical’ cyclone.”

How unusual is it?

Storms in the Mediterranean Sea which exhibit some characteristics of a tropical cyclone are not particularly rare. The last example, in November 2017, produced flash flooding over parts of Greece. Similar storms also occurred in 2016 and 2014 bringing strong winds and heavy rain to Crete and Malta respectively.

Does it have a name?

Tropical cyclones are named by designated regional warning centres around the globe. Whilst the US National Hurricane Center decides when to name tropical cyclones in the Atlantic, its jurisdiction does not cover the Mediterranean Sea, so there is no official list of names for storms with tropical characteristics in this region. However, various names have been colloquially applied to the current storm in the Mediterranean Sea.

What will its impacts be?

Paul Hutcheon is a deputy chief meteorologist at the Met Office. He said: “Regardless of its definition, the storm in the Mediterranean Sea is expected to bring some major impacts to parts of southern Europe over the weekend.

“This deep area of low pressure is already producing storm force winds across parts of the Central Mediterranean, with these winds building very rough seas that could impact marine transport.

“During the weekend the storm will move east across southern Greece and into western Turkey, although the winds will slowly ease as the storm weakens. However, strong winds are still likely to affect parts of Greece, with very heavy rainfall expected from thunderstorms affecting Greece and western Turkey.

“The rainfall could result in flash flooding and landslides across parts of Greece and western Turkey this weekend, with frequent lightning expected within the thunderstorm activity.”

The animation above – produced on 28 September 2018 – shows the expected evolution of the medicane weather system. Follow our Twitter feeds @metoffice and @metofficestorms for more information on the Mediterranean storm and tropical cyclones currently active worldwide.

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A weak El Niño is likely

Consensus is growing among scientists from a range of climate centres across the world that a weak El Niño is likely to occur during the coming northern hemisphere winter.

The above diagram shows the temperature observations for the central region of the Pacific (in black) and the evolution predicted by the Met Office dynamical long-range ensemble forecast system (in red).

Professor Adam Scaife is the head of long-term to decadal climate prediction at the Met Office Hadley Centre. Commenting on the expectations of an El Niño this winter, Professor Scaife said: “There is a range of forecasts, but the most likely scenario is for the development of a weak to moderate strength El Niño event.

“This event, however, is expected to be much less intense than the joint record El Niño of 2015-16.”

El Niño is the warm phase of the so-called El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – the largest natural fluctuation in the earth’s climate system – and it stretches along the equator across the Pacific Ocean. During more extreme El Niño events, such as the event beginning in late 2015, the surface ocean temperature rose almost 3.0 °C above the long-term average: the rise in temperature in this winter’s anticipated event is expected to be far less, around 0.5-1.0 °C above normal.

The phases of ENSO have influences on weather patterns in the Pacific basin. However, they also have an influence on global climate patterns, including those affecting north-west Europe.

There has been some recent media speculation about how an El Niño may affect our weather over winter. Prof Scaife said: “Understanding the influence that the ENSO cycle can have on the world’s weather patterns is a useful tool for long-range weather forecasting, but it’s important to understand that it’s not the only factor which determines our weather here in the UK.

“An El Niño can create wetter and windier conditions in the first half of winter and it can bring a colder and drier second half, but El Niño is just one factor and others will vie to affect our winter. For example, the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO) with its 14-month pattern of alternating easterly and westerly winds along the equator can weaken or strengthen the jet stream.

“Finally, El Niño events have a marked but delayed warming effect on global temperature and we will be quantifying this in our global temperature forecast for 2019 later this year.”

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