Mid-month February statistics on the 40th anniversary of blizzards

It has been a cold and wet first half of February for many of us however there have been a few isolated milder days and plenty of sunshine between the bands of rain.

It’s been rather unsettled, with most of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and south-western fringes of Scotland having already had more than half of their full-month average rainfall, with a few places getting close to the average rainfall for the whole month such as Suffolk with 77%, Anglesey with 79%, Antrim 86%, Armagh 83% and Wigtownshire 101%.  Elsewhere some other parts of Scotland have been drier than average such Fife with 30% of rainfall, Clackmannanshire 28% and Orkney 29%.

 February 1 – 15   Precipitation    Sunshine
 Actual mm  Anomaly % (81-10) Actual hrs    Anomaly % (81-10)
UK 49.3 56 44.2 63
England 35.9 59 46.1 62
Wales 68.0 61 40.0 57
Scotland 63.5 49 41.0 65
N Ireland 66.5 79 50.5 76

Although it has been colder than average so far this month, with temperatures a degree or more below average in most areas, there have been no exceptionally low temperatures anywhere, the lowest being  -11.0 °C at Bewcastle, Cumbria, on the morning of February 7th.

Cold Februaries have not been common in the last 20 years – with 2013 having been rather colder than average in south-eastern areas, and 2010 having been rather cold more widely and especially in the north. The years 1996, 1994 and 1991 were also cold, as was February  1986.

  February 1 -15 Maximum temperature    Minimum temperature
 Actual  degC  Anomaly  degC (81-10) Actual  degC    Anomaly  degC      (81-10)
UK 5.2 -1.4 -0.5 -1.2
England 5.7 -1.5 -0.2 -1.2
Wales 5.7 -1.2 0.1 -1.0
Scotland 4.1 -1.4 -1.2 -1.1
N Ireland 5.8 -1.5 -0.2 -1.4

Blizzards devastated the South West 40 years ago 

It is the 40th anniversary of the start of what was one of the worst blizzards to have affected the United Kingdom in the last 100 years. It affected South West England and south Wales for five days from 15th to 19th February 1978 before milder weather edged in bringing a general thaw.

The cold air initially moved into the UK from the east around the 7th, and was further enhanced by a cold pool of air moving in from central Europe between the 10th and 14th .

The weather set up, with a huge contrast in air-masses either side of a weather front, led to considerable snowfall for the South West on the 15th and 16th and this was followed on the 18th and 19th by an unusually severe blizzard which extended to south Wales.

Snow accumulated to depths of about 60cm in places on Dartmoor and Exmoor and to 85cm at Nettlecombe (Bird’s Hill) in Somerset, but drifts of at least 6m were reported over a wide area which included Dorset and Wiltshire.

The exceptional weather cut communications and caused severe hardship, and although milder weather soon reached the south-west, several towns and villages were isolated by snowdrifts for some days and it was reported that there was still snow on the ground in early July.

Snow depths at 9am on 20th February:

Devon, Somerset, and Devon

85cm Nettlecombe, Birds Hill

60cm Princetown Prison

39cm Bovey Tracey Yarner Wood

38cm Crewkerne

40cm Winfrith (near Dorchester)

30cm Poole

South Wales:

39cm Rhoose

38cm Bridgend

You can subscribe to email alerts for our weather warnings and storm names and you can follow the Met Office on Facebook or Twitter for the latest weather updates or download the Met Office App

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BBC and Met Office: an enduring partnership

Today the BBC has stopped taking most of its weather information from the Met Office, here Phil Evans, our Chief Operating Officer gives his perspective

You will know us as the UK’s National Weather Service and also as the people behind the weather forecasts that feature on TV, online and on your phone – keeping you in touch with our ever changing weather. We are also trusted to help protect the Nation through our warnings of severe weather, our armed forces rely on us as they plan missions around the weather; and we help keep technology safe with our space weather forecasts. We support the economy and vital global transport networks. For example, we advise energy and retail sectors of weather that might affect consumer trends and help airlines reduce costs, and run safely and on schedule.

No one knows Britain’s weather better than the Met Office – the UK’s national weather service, official source of weather forecasts, warnings and statistics. Everything we do is based on world-leading science and enhanced by the close working relationships we have with partner organisations in the UK and around the globe. We collect and make sense of massive amounts of data every day, for the benefit of mankind – and our planet.

So it is not surprising that the public are puzzled and have asked us why the BBC have changed their supplier of weather information. This was a decision for the BBC to make and a question we can’t answer. Our work supporting businesses continually demonstrates that we provide value for money services with a real impact. Our technology is cutting edge – we have installed the world’s most powerful supercomputer dedicated to weather and climate on time and under budget. We are leaders in innovation just look at our stunning graphics package which drives our broadcasts and those of our partners on ITV, STV, Channel 5, UTV and S4C  

Some have also asked what will happen to our popular weather presenters and it comes as no surprise to me that the BBC have adopted them as their own. Our Met Office college trains meteorologists and presenters from all over the world and ensures a talent pipeline for our own and partner channels into the future.

Now, up to the minute weather information is available through a huge diversity of channels – TV and radio, online, through smart phone apps and in print media. The public should be reassured that the Met Office and its partners will be providing its trusted weather information through all of these channels, while the UK’s official National Severe Weather Warnings will continue to be seen and heard on the BBC. So our partnership continues. To be sure you are viewing an official forecast from the trusted source in UK weather, just look for the Met Office name and logo.

I’d like to offer the BBC and MeteoGroup our best wishes with their new partnership. Everyone can be assured that, as the home of weather in the UK, the Met Office will continue to provide the public and our partners around the world with our forecasts, warnings and advice wherever they are, at the touch of a button, click of a mouse or the tap or swipe of a fingertip. You can receive our video forecasts and weather news direct from the Met Office studios on our YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Should the Met Office have named last night’s storm?


It’s been a complex meteorological picture over the last few days with a number of weather warnings in force across the UK.

A low pressure system crossed the UK last night (Wednesday into Thursday) bringing strong winds to many areas, in particular to East Anglia and Lincolnshire. This system was forecast as much as a week in advance with Met Office National Severe Weather Warnings being first issued for wind and snow on Monday to allow everyone plenty of time to prepare for it.

Because of the way the system developed there was a degree of uncertainty over the strength of the expected winds and precisely which areas would see the greatest impacts, about which we gave regular updates on our website and social media channels through the week.

News release issued Monday 15 January 2018

News release issued Wednesday 17 January 2018

The warnings were constantly under review to ensure they reflected the expected level of impacts and also whether the low pressure system would meet our storm naming criteria, which in this case it didn’t.

What was easier to forecast was that the system would develop further as it moved off the east coast of the UK into the North Sea and bring very strong winds to north east France and northern Europe. For this reason the French meteorological service, Meteo France, named the system Storm David. Indeed, as Storm David has moved across the near continent it is reported to have led to at least four deaths. Under international naming conventions once the depression had been named by another national meteorological organisation we then also adopt that name.

There are still a number of National Severe Weather Warnings in place for snow and ice, keep up to date with our warnings page on our website for the latest. Further snow showers will affect Northern Ireland, western Scotland and north west England through Thursday and Friday. There is also a risk of ice forming in north east England, Wales and south west England overnight.

By Saturday a ridge of high pressure will move in bringing much brighter and drier conditions to much of the UK before a further front moves in from the south west on Sunday heralding milder temperatures for the start of next week.

Why do we name storms?

We first introduced the scheme to name storms in partnership with Met Éireann in the winter of 2015/16 in a move aimed at helping improve communication of the possible impacts of up and coming severe weather through the media and government agencies. The idea is to ensure the public have the information they need to keep themselves, their property and businesses safe.

The criteria we use is based on our National Severe Weather Warnings service and takes into account both the impact the weather may have, and the likelihood of those impacts occurring.

A storm will, in the main, be named when it has the potential to cause an amber or red  warning. When the criteria are met, either the Met Office or Met Éireann can name a storm.

The system has worked so well that other European countries are now following suit and Meteo France have joined with met services in Portugal and Spain to introduce a naming convention of their own hence the naming of the storm last night by them Storm David.

We are really pleased that storm naming has captured the imagination of, and been embraced by the press, media and the public, but it is important that we don’t enter into the world of speculation around when storms will be named. More often than not the impacts from the weather systems affecting the UK will be within the norm for the time of year so it is important that names are used in the right context.

Storms are only ever named by the Met Office, Met Éireann or our partners in Europe. You can subscribe to email alerts for our weather warnings and storm names and you can follow the Met Office on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates.


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Review of the year – 2017 UK weather

2017 saw named storms and heatwaves affect the UK, but perhaps the most memorable day was October 16 when the 30th anniversary of the 1987 Great Storm was marked by an ex-hurricane generating headlines as the sky and the sun turned red.

Here’s a brief look back at some of the UK weather highlights for 2017:


The year started on a dry note with below average rainfall for the month in most areas, especially the north where well below half of the month’s average rainfall fell. It was sunny too, the 10th sunniest January across the UK in records going back to 1929

There was a cold snap between the 11th and 14th with snow for most places and, although lying snow tended to be short-lived on low ground 18cm of snow was recorded at Tulloch Bridge, Inverness-shire.

Icy conditions were a feature towards the end of the month which, combined with freezing fog, cause transport problems on the roads and airports across the south of England


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 14.2 °C Achfary (Sutherland) and Plockton (Wester Ross) 25th
Lowest temperature -10.1 °C Braemar (Aberdeenshire) 30th
Wettest day 53.6 mm Cluanie Inn  (Inverness-shire) 14th
Strongest wind 93 mph High Bradfield (South Yorkshire) 11th


The month was generally mild and unsettled with wet and windy weather sweeping northeast across the UK at regular intervals.

Storm Doris was the most notable feature of the months weather for the UK, bringing damaging winds to parts of England and Wales on the 23rd and heavy snow to parts of Scotland.

Tragically there were two reported deaths as a result of Storm Doris as it caused major travel disruption, damage to buildings and left thousands of homes and businesses without power across Wales and the southern half of England. Snow caused significant disruption in parts of central Scotland, with the M80 closed completely for a time during the morning rush hour.


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 18.3 °C Northolt and Kew Gardens (Greater London) 20th
Lowest temperature -9.8 °C Altnaharra (Sutherland) 11th
Wettest day 50.2 mm Cluanie Inn  (Inverness-shire) 21st
Strongest wind 94 mph Capel Curig (Conwy) 23rd


Mild west or south-westerly winds dominated the weather for much of March bringing generally changeable conditions, and just a couple of colder spells which brought snow to some northern areas.

The UK’s mean temperature was 7.3 °C, some 1.8 °C above the long term average and making it the 5th warmest March on records that go back to 1910. It was particularly warm in southeast England where the county of Essex had its warmest March on record with a mean temperature of 9.4 °C

Snow resulted in travel disruption around the 21st of the month, causing road accidents and closing some higher routes in northern England and Scotland. The dry weather led to a marked increase in mountain grass fires in south Wales towards the end of the month. In 24 hours Mid and West Wales Fire Service dealt with over 27 separate grass fire incidents.

What How much Where On
Highest temperature 22.1 °C Gravesend (Kent) 30th
Lowest temperature -8.6 °C Dalwhinnie (Inverness-shire) 22nd
Wettest day 75.0 mm Trassey Slievenaman (County Down) 3rd
Strongest wind 77 mph Fair Isle and Lerwick (Shetland) 14th


A quiet month with high pressure dominating the weather for much of the time, giving a dry month in many areas.

It was the UK’s 10th driest April on records going back to 1910 with parts of south-east England, and around Lothian and Fife having less than 5 mm of rain during the month.

What How much Where On
Highest temperature 25.5 °C Cambridge (Cambridgeshire) 9th
Lowest temperature -6.2 °C Cromdale (Moray) 18th
Wettest day 58.8 mm Achfary (Sutherland) 10th
Strongest wind 77 mph Sella Ness (Shetland) 25th


A month of two halves, with the first half being dominated by high pressure, fine weather and easterly winds and the second half seeing a return to changeable conditions and the first of the years notable thundery spells.

It was the second warmest May on record (records back to 1910) with a UK mean temperature of 12.1 °C. There was a marked contrast in rainfall across the UK with the north and west having below average totals while the south and east were quite wet in places.

Thunderstorms between the 27th and 29th saw  Cornwall and Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Services reporting a number of callouts due to lightning strikes.


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 29.4 °C Lossiemouth (Moray) 26th
Lowest temperature -5.1 °C Shap (Cumbria) 9th
Wettest day 66 mm Capel Curig (Conwy) 15th
Strongest wind 62 mph Culdrose (Cornwall) 25th


After a very unsettled start the UK experienced a spell of hot, sunny weather in June 2017 associated with high pressure drawing very warm air from the near-continent. The temperature exceeded 30 °C somewhere in the UK every day from 17th to 21st and the hottest day of the year was recorded at Heathrow (Greater London) on 21st when the temperature reached 34.5 °C, the UK’s highest June temperature since 1976.

Despite the heatwave it was a wet month, Scotland had its was the wettest June in a series since 1910 (157 mm) and the UK overall its sixth wettest June (113.7 mm)


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 34.5 °C Heathrow (Greater London) 21st
Lowest temperature -2.3 °C Altnaharra (Sutherland) 8th
Wettest day 112.4 mm Torwinny (Moray) 6th
Strongest wind 69 mph Inverbervie (Kincardineshire) 7th


A generally unsettled month with rain at times and only a few brief fine spells.

Thunderstorms and torrential downpours moved north across southern England during the evening of 18th and overnight into the 19th. The worst affected location was the village of Coverack on the eastern side of the Lizard peninsula where flash flooding damaged about 50 properties and roads became impassable.


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 32.2 °C Heathrow (Greater London) 6th
Lowest temperature 0.1 °C Altnaharra (Sutherland) 1st
Wettest day 79 mm Okehampton (Devon) 30th
Strongest wind 71 mph Needles (Isle of Wight) 28th


The period 1st-13th August was the coldest such period for Central Southern & South-East England since 1987

The 22nd to 25th saw heavy rain over Northern Ireland and much of northern Scotland.  There was widespread flooding across north-western parts of Northern Ireland with damage to properties and infrastructure, and over a hundred people were rescued after becoming trapped in homes and cars by overnight flooding.


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 29.3 °C Frittenden (Kent) 29th
Lowest temperature 0.5 °C Katesbridge (County Down) 13th
Wettest day 76.4 mm South Uist (Western Isles) 22nd
Strongest wind 66 mph Needles (Isle of Wight) 18th


Another unsettled month with the first named storm of the 2017/18 winter season Storm Aileen passing over the UK on the 12th and 13th. The most significant September storm since ex-hurricane Katrina in 2011, Storm Aileen gave winds gusting 50 – 55 mph widely across southern England and Wales and as high as 70 mph in some exposed locations.

Aileen brought significant transport disruption to road and rail with difficult driving conditions and trains delayed or cancelled due to debris and fallen branches. Power outages were reported to have affected 60,000 homes in Wales and 7,000 homes in north-east England. A number of trees (in full leaf at this time of year) were blown over during the night.


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 24.0 °C Hawarden (Clwyd) 4th
Lowest temperature -1.2 °C Altnaharra (Sutherland) 22nd
Wettest day 64 mm Cullen Bay (Moray) 12th
Strongest wind 83 mph Needles (Isle of Wight) 12th


Most of the month was dominated by warm, moist south-westerly winds, and there were some unusually high temperatures at times, notably on the 16th associated with ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  It was often cloudy, but generally dry away from the northwest with rainfall amounts in southern and eastern areas particularly small.

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia moved past the UK on the 16th bringing gusts of wind of 70 – 80 mph to western parts of the UK.  The most severe impacts were across the Republic of Ireland, where three people died from falling trees. There was also significant disruption across western parts of the UK, with power cuts affecting thousands of homes and businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition to this Ophelia draw Saharan dust and wildfire smoke from Spain and Portugal north across the UK, giving a spectacular red sky and sun.

What How much Where On
Highest temperature 23.5 °C Manston (Kent) 16th
Lowest temperature -5.0°C Tulloch Bridge (Inverness-shire) 30th
Wettest day 90.4 mm Alltdearg House (Skye) 10th
Strongest wind 90 mph Aberdaron (Gwynedd) & Capel Curig (Conwy) 12th


Unsettled weather continued through November, although short periods of northerly winds saw widespread overnight frosts, and snow showers in northern and eastern areas.

Heavy rain on 22nd saw 73.6 mm being recorded at Hazelrigg (Lancashire), making it the wettest day on record for the station.

In Glencoe, the 28th was the first official day of the new ski season with skiers flocking to the slopes following heavy snowfalls over the mountains in the preceding days.


What How much Where On
Highest temperature 16.8 °C Chivenor (Devon) 2nd
Lowest temperature -6.9°C Bewcastle (Cumbria) 30th
Wettest day 73.6 mm Hazelrigg (Lancashire) 22nd
Strongest wind 84 mph Capel Curig (Conwy) 22nd


Another unsettled month but with some markedly cold periods which lead to widespread frosts and snow.

Storm Caroline affected the UK on 7 December, bringing very strong winds and transport disruption to the north of Scotland and especially the Western and Northern Isles.

Heavy snow fell across Wales, central and southern England on 10th, with 12 cm of snow settling at High Wycombe (Bucks), and 31 cm at Sennybridge (Powys). Snowiest in lowland England since March 2013. This was the most significant snow fall in terms of depths and extent across Wales and lowland England since March 2013 and brought widespread travel disruption to air, road and rail transport. Hundreds of schools were closed on Monday 11th across England and Wales, and power cuts affected several thousands homes.

What How much Where On
Highest temperature 15.2 °C Cassley ( Sutherland) 18th
Lowest temperature -13.0 °C Shawbury (Shropshire)

Dalwhinnie (Inverness-shire)



Wettest day 71 mm Achnagart (Ross & Cromarty) 6th
Strongest wind 93 mph Fair Isle (Shetland) 7th

There are more details about the weather around the UK in 2017 on the climate pages on our website

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90 years ago parts of England were getting buried in snow

You might be disappointed that you haven’t had a White Christmas, but in 1927 parts of England saw some very disruptive weather with rain turning to snow later in the day, resulting in huge accumulations and causing disruption.

In the weeks before Christmas, Arctic conditions had dominated over the whole of England with a predominantly north-easterly flow. The maximum temperature recorded at St James Park in London on the  19th was -1.1 oC and in Oxford just -2.6 oC with temperatures getting down to between -5°C and -8°C at night.

A large area of low pressure developed over the Atlantic south of Greenland and then rapidly moved towards the UK and tracked over Cornwall and north west France on Christmas Day and Boxing Day as shown in the synoptic charts. This system brought a strong polar wind from the north east and the boundary between this system and the high pressure to the north fuelled the blizzard. Christmas Day itself saw fairly typical December temperatures with heavy rain, 41.7 mm was recorded at Hampstead.

By 6pm this rain started to turn to snow for central and southern England with the heaviest snow falling at the boundary between the colder air to the north and milder air over France to the south. The snow continued through the night and for some areas through much of Boxing Day, temperatures fell away and large snow accumulations built up, particularly over higher ground.

Average snow depth exceeded 1 foot on higher ground such as Dartmoor over a very large area. A strong north-easterly wind resulted in huge snow drifts, with 20 foot depths reported on Salisbury Plain. Hundreds of sheep were buried in the snow on Dartmoor, with most of them were dug out over subsequent days and survived.

Villages were cut off for days, some until the New Year. There are stories that in Kent food and other necessities were distributed by skiers and in Hampshire food parcels were dropped by aeroplane. For inland areas of southern England it became one of our most significant snow events on record. It was most severe on Dartmoor where Princetown was inaccessible for a week.

The meteorological set up was actually startlingly similar to the conditions that bought heavy snow to Wales and central England on 10 December this year. A battle ground was formed where warm air from the south bumped into cold air to the north that had been in place for several days. The limited technology in 1927 made it very hard for forecasters to predict this severe weather, in contrast with the technology that the Met Office now uses which helped meteorologists forecast the snow on 10 December nearly six days ahead and issue warnings well in advance of any impacts.

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What does the temperature of the Atlantic tell us about summer rainfall?

This week, researchers from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading published a paper suggesting that summer seasonal weather forecasting in the UK could become more accurate thanks to new research.  This result is the latest in a long history of work on the links between Atlantic Ocean sea-surface temperatures and the jet stream since early work by the American researcher Jerome Namias in the 1960s and Met Office research by Ratcliffe and Murray in the 1970s. The research also extends earlier results on summer predictability from the Atlantic Ocean state (Colman and Davey, 1999).

An Argo float

A global network of marine bouys and floats is providing valuable information on temperatures at the sea surface and down to a depth of up to two kilometres.

Commenting on this new research Professor Adam Scaife (Head of Monthly to Decadal Prediction at the Met Office) said:  “Statistical empirical forecasts, like this, are an important tool in our goal of improved weather forecasting.  Our computer models need to reproduce these important relationships so that they can integrate them with everything else going in the climate system to give the best weather and climate predictions.  This avoids over reliance on a single effect and gives physically-based predictions in situations that we have not encountered in the historical record.”

This new research will help the Met Office and its university collaborators define an important area of focus for testing computer models used for prediction, and we have already been examining its role in our long-range predictions.

Professor Scaife concluded: “We’ve made great progress in long-range forecasting for winter, and this result highlights an exciting way forward to break into the long-range forecast problem for summer.”

Citation: Osso, A., Sutton, R., Shaffrey, L., and Dong, B. Observational evidence of European summer weather patterns predictable from spring. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (2017).



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Where wildlife teems in the bleak midwinter

When the English poet Christina Rossetti penned her classic ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, she may have had a certain image in mind. To some this impression may ring true, but those who study nature will recognise a different reality. Our countryside teems with wildlife in winter if you know where to look.

Blue tit in the frost

Small-bodied birds, like this blue tit, need to feed almost continually during cold weather as they lose a lot of energy through heat loss. Photo: Grahame Madge

Matthew Oates, nature specialist for the National Trust, said, “Winter presents us with an array of iconic wildlife, as long as we make the effort to go searching for it. Of course, conditions are much, much tougher for many creatures, while others hibernate or migrate from UK shores. But that doesn’t mean our wildlife has disappeared entirely!

“There are opportunities to spot wildfowl, owls and other birds such as redwings and fieldfares. If it snows, you may stumble across deer tracks, or those of an otter. Hair ice fungi, also known as frost beard, forms on deadwood after a sharp drop in temperature, while the festive season shines a light on holly, ivy and mistletoe.”

Millions of birds, including ducks, swans, geese and wading birds, that nest on an arc from Arctic Canada to Siberia, are lured north in the Arctic summer by near continual daylight and an abundance of midges. However, these same birds are forced to escape the extreme cold and darkness of the Arctic winter. Over the last few weeks our marshes, estuaries and other wetland areas have been filling up with the arrival of millions of birds that will spend the winter on our shores, often in densely-packed flocks.

Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge is also a keen naturalist. He said: “If anyone remains to be convinced of the excitement of wildlife spectacles in the UK, they haven’t stood on the coast of the Wash in Norfolk and watched skeins of pink-footed geese passing overhead on a winter’s dawn. It’s so awe-inspiring that you instantly forget the pain of the frost nipping at your fingers and toes.”

Winter is a season of sheer survival and, sadly, some species struggle in harder weather. Small-bodied birds like wrens, along with kingfishers and barn owls, can suffer heavily during extreme periods of cold. Grahame Madge added: “The cruel winter of 1963 caused a high mortality of these birds and the national populations plummeted as a result. But enough individuals survived to replenish their numbers and all of these birds are currently doing well.”


In the coldest spells birds like the nuthatch will be enouraged to visit gardens in search of food. Photo: Grahame Madge

As species are mostly focussing on day-to-day survival, many partly overcome natural shyness and can be observed at closer range. Two notable birds to look out for when temperatures drop are the redwing and fieldfare. Known to some as Viking thrushes, these songbirds nest in Scandinavia and spend the winter in the UK, feasting on hedgerow fruits. However, any snow or frost may encourage these birds, and other birds such as the nuthatch, to visit gardens to find food.

In very hard winters, some exotic wildlife can be tempted into gardens and even wetland birds like the snipe and bittern have been sighted trying to eke out an easy meal.

The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and the RSPB all have great nature reserves to spot wildlife this winter. For those who want a taste of winter wildlife beamed to their living rooms the BBC’s Winterwatch will broadcast from the National Trust’s Sherborne Park Estate in Gloucestershire for four days in January.

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New eye in the sky to help UK weather forecasts

A new weather satellite is circling the earth. The JPSS-1 satellite, launched this weekend (18 November 2017) will provide a huge array of observational, near real-time, data which will be shared with US national and international partners including the Met Office.

An artist impression of JPSS-1 in orbit.

An artist impression of JPSS-1 in orbit. Image courtesy of NOAA.

As well as gathering day to day weather data the satellite will monitor a wide range of events such as wildfires, snow cover, sea-surface temperature and aerosol detection, important in air quality monitoring. In addition, the satellite will measure the radiation coming from the earth and atmosphere, vital information for weather forecasting models such as those run by the Met Office.

Weather satellites perform a largely unseen but nevertheless essential role and their impact on our daily weather forecasts cannot be overestimated. The launching of this new satellite from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California comes closely on the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Great Storm of October 1987. Many of us remember the devastation the storm bought to the southern half of the UK. Back in 1987 the Met Office was receiving very few daily observations from satellites. Today most of the 215 billion observations received daily by the Met Office are from satellites, these provide 65% of the observations used in the Met Office’s Global Numerical Weather Prediction model. Satellite data is behind major improvements in forecasting model accuracy levels over recent years, on a scale that former generations of weather forecasters could only imagine.

Dr Simon Keogh, who leads the satellite data, products and systems team for the Met Office, said: “The value we all get from satellites is simply enormous. Earth observations are an essential foundation on which Met Office services are built. They will help us deliver an expected overall £30bn socio-economic benefit over the coming decade, a 14 fold return on investment in the organisation, and will help us ensure the protection of people, property, businesses and critical national infrastructure.”

Portugal wildfires in June 2017.

Wildfires burning in Portugal on 20 June 2017. False colour image from the VIIRS imager on the Suomi NPP satellite. Image courtesy of NASA.

This new satellite provides a valuable US contribution to the Global Observing System that will complement the data provided to the Met Office by our work with European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

In addition to operating satellites, EUMETSAT also runs a satellite-reception station in Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic, an essential part of the network to get the vast quantities of data gathered by satellites to the organisations that use it. At this latitude the station will receive information bursts from the new JPSS-1 up to 14 times per day.

Svalbard satellite receiving station in Norway.

Svalbard satellite receiving station in Norway. Image courtesy of EUMETSAT.

Dr Keogh concluded: “The new data will help drive our numerical weather prediction models and it will provide products for a wide range of earth observation applications from weather forecasting to oceanography.”

For more information and educational resources about JPSS-1 please visit the NOAA JPSS website.


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Met Office in the News – BBC weather service update

You may have seen reports in the media that the Met Office has signed a new contract with the BBC to supply their weather services until March 2018. It’s been pleasing to see the public support and response to this, thank you all.

It is important to us as the UKs National Weather Service that the UK public have the weather information they need to make informed decisions every day. This could be through our work with the emergency responders, directly on TV and radio or increasingly on the move on apps and mobile.

No matter who provides weather data to the BBC in the future, Met Office National Severe Weather Warnings will continue to be aired across all BBC channels, ensuring the UK public have access to vital warnings information and advice at times of severe weather.

We are also proud to be partners, recognised as providing great value for money, with ITV, Sky, Channel 5, STV, S4C and BFBS, as well as online news outlets such as the Guardian, Sun, Mirror and Daily Telegraph. We also supply Independent Radio News (IRN) with forecast scripts and warnings, reaching 27 million adult listeners per week (RAJAR, Q1 2017).

Following the awarding of the new weather contract to the Met Office, Michael Jermey, ITV’s Director of News and Current Affairs, said: “We are pleased to be extending our established working relationship with the Met Office, who continue to provide the highest quality and most accurate weather forecasts for our audiences.”

Over the last few years we have continued to demonstrate our world leading credentials in technology and innovation:

    • We have successfully procured and made operational the biggest weather and climate supercomputer in the world, within budget and ahead of schedule
    • Our popular weather app features video forecasts and has had nearly 4 million downloads and has ratings of 4.5* on Apple iOS and 4.3* on Android
    • Our new award winning Alexa Skill sees us enter the virtual assistant world delivering daily regional weather briefings to your home

This continues the proud Met Office history of being at the forefront of delivering weather services to the world — we issued the first newspaper forecast in 1861, the first radio forecast in 1922, and the first TV forecast in 1954. We are now bringing our expert forecasts to new channels, millions more users and younger audiences on Snapchat and Instagram at the tap or swipe of a fingertip, and thanks to ever advancing technology there are sure to be more innovations to come.

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Did You Know? We’re testing new weather balloons: from Cornwall to Antarctica!

The Met Office launches over 4300 balloons every year from 6 locations across the UK and is involved in launching thousands more around the globe.  These are not party balloons; they are weather balloons that take a small weather observation device, called a radiosonde, up through the atmosphere to the very edges of space.

Radiosondes take highly accurate temperature, moisture, wind and atmospheric measurements, which provide vital observations for weather forecasters, as well as data that helps monitor climate change. This data is then transmitted to a receiver on the ground to be fed into the starting conditions of our weather forecast model, along with thousands of other pieces of information.

Not only do these instruments need to work reliably in extremely challenging and varied conditions but they also need to be extremely light and, as they can’t be reused, they need to be cheap.

The Met Office has just completed trials for a new radiosonde as the one that’s been used since 2005 is being retired this year. Testing radiosondes isn’t straightforward – the atmosphere is constantly changing and a sonde can typically reach heights of 35 km, and travel many miles, before the balloon bursts and falls back to earth.  However stable, consistent measurements are vital for the climate record and we need to ensure that there are no breaks in data and that the data itself is not adversely affected by a change in technology.

A new radiosonde has been chosen and, to maintain continuity in the climate record, we are now launching both the old and new sondes at three trial sites for the next year – Rothera (Antarctica), St Helena (Atlantic Ocean) and Camborne (Cornwall). These sites represent a good spread of climate conditions and environments and allow us to continue long-standing climate records. Camborne alone has been flying radiosondes every day since the 1950s. Staff at the Met Office will analyse the data to ensure that the new radiosonde continues to operate as we expect, and that the vital climate data collected is stable.

Radiosonde trials at Rothera, Antartica (Credit Paul Samways, British Antarctic Survey) and Cambourne, Cornwall

The new radiosonde, the Vaisala RS41, has a few advantages over the sonde we have used for the past few years. It’s lighter which means we need less gas (we use helium) to lift it. Not only does this save money, it reduces our use of a valuable resource as well. At the same time, the new instruments are much easier to use. Before a launch, radiosondes have to be calibrated to ensure that the readings they take in the atmosphere are correct. They also have to undergo checks to ensure that they operate properly – we don’t want to waste money and resources launching an instrument that won’t give us any data. The RS41 allows these ground checks to take place incredibly quickly and easy, so the whole process is more efficient. The data is extremely consistent and stable, which means we can be confident in the information that we receive back and used by our forecasters and in our models.

To find out more about the 100’s of thousands of observations we receive each day and how they are a key part in the forecasting process, visit our learning pages on our website.

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