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?
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.