A review of our long-range outlook for the recent cold snap

Various media reports have been commenting on our longer-range warnings in the run-up to the recent cold snap.

This period of severe weather was very well predicted and the first signs appeared around one month before the start, when we were able to offer broader advice about the likelihood of a cold signal. Our advice to government and the public ramped up in confidence and detail starting from the early signs in late January as events became clearer in our forecasts:

  • 26 January: The first indications of a possible cold spell were given in our one-to-three month outlook for contingency planners. On 26 January we said:
    ‘For February, below-average temperatures are more likely than above-average temperatures. The likelihood of impacts from cold weather during February is greater than normal.’

    Note: that this public outlook is always updated a week later (2nd February), leaving only the three-month view. The one-month outlook reverts to the 30-day forecast at this time.
  • 30 January: we briefed transport users and energy users with this information.
  • 5 February: we emailed users of our long-range outlooks on the impending Sudden Stratospheric Warming event and increasing likelihood of wintry conditions.
  • 6 February: reports of our warnings started to appear in the media.
  • 9 February: we updated our online news release with a statement that there was now high confidence that a Sudden Stratospheric Warming was on the way.
  • 10 February: a second article appeared in the Times in response to an enquiry. Note: this article is only available to readers with a subscription.
  • 12 February: an online update was issued for the week ahead with a reminder of the Sudden Stratospheric Warming and the first yellow warnings of snow and ice.
  • 16 February: a further online update explained that the Sudden Stratospheric Warming had happened highlighting the risk of cold easterlies and snow.
  • Numerous media reports then highlighted the impending cold snap more widely.
  • The first cold weather alert for England was issued in association with Public Health England on Wednesday 21 February, valid from Friday 23 February.
  • We kept the public and key stakeholders with our online media updates on the 19th, 21st and 23rd February.
  • The first National Severe Weather Warnings were issued on 23rd February.
  • Thereafter, our shorter-range forecasts and updates gave clear warnings about the timing and location of the forecast snowfall, including:  25 February; 26 February; 27 February; 28 February; 1 March; 2 March: and 3 March.

So, in summary, the severe cold snap of late February and early March was very well predicted, even from long-range on this occasion. The Met Office provided clear and regular updates on the increasing levels of risk from late January onwards to ensure everyone was aware of how the weather would impact them and they could be prepared for it.


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6 Responses to A review of our long-range outlook for the recent cold snap

  1. charles925 says:

    Thanks for the accuracy of your long and medium range forecasts, most impressive. Kind regards Charles Dowding

  2. Martin Niemann says:

    I thought the 3 month outlook posted late Jan specifically discussed there being no evidence to suggest the onset of an SSW event whilst the US AER were suggesting otherwise ?

    Sent from my iPhone

    • By 26 January forecasts were already suggesting an increasing likelihood of colder ‘blocked’ conditions for February, as reported in the one-to-three month outlook. This is because initial signals emanated from a shift in tropical rainfall linked to the Madden-Julian Oscillation. Signals for the Sudden Stratospheric Warming and strengthening Atlantic easterlies appeared by early February.

    • As far as I am aware, the first mention by the Met Office of a probable imminent SSW event was in this video dated 7 February (BBC Weather, possibly relying on MeteoGroup input, tweeted in similar vein on the same day):

      The end of January Met Office contingency outlook suggested a cold February (it was the coldest one since 2010) but probably without an SSW ie perhaps a continuation of the cold northwesterlies seen at times in Nov, Dec and Jan. I believe the SSW happened around 12 February.

  3. xmetman says:

    The Met Office must be deluding themselves if they think the phrase “below-average temperatures are more likely than above-average temperatures” and “The likelihood of impacts from cold weather during February is greater than normal” are what constitute an early warning of severe weather.

    In my opinion the three month outlook shouldn’t be made public, it’s imprecise even for contingency planner’s, who are apparently it’s intended audience. You may have forgotten but the three month outlook for the meteorological winter that you issued on the 24 November was anticipating a cold December, followed by a mild January and February, possibly because of an early rather than a later occurrence of an SSW event. What this underlines to me is just how poor seasonal forecasting is at the moment.

    Perhaps instead of using that for evidence you should have used the extended outlook issued on your website on the 13 February, and which I referred to in this blog (http://www.xmetman.com/wp/2018/02/13/were-all-doomed/). That forecast at least did give some detail, and although short on specifics at that range, ended up not far off the mark.

    I don’t think the Met Office fully realise just how the Internet and social media has changed meteorology in the last few years. Apart from output from many national weather services across the world, there are also many armchair weather forecasters out there now, with masses of climatological, observational and forecast data at their fingertips. Some of them might not have the knowledge to make use of that data, but some do, and were watching out for this SSW event, just as intently as Adam Scaife and his team were, and just as the folks at MeteoGroup were too. The Met Office have never been under as much public scrutiny as they are now, they are not top dog any more, and this article underlines the fact that you don’t seem to like it.

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