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.
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.
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.
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.