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.