What’s in store this winter? Responding to the headlines

12 11 2012

It seems that it is the time of year for colourful headlines about an impending big freeze. We had them at this time last year, which prompted our Chief Executive to write an opinion piece in The Times.

Now we have very similar stories again, with the front page of the Daily Express declaring ‘Coldest winter freeze on way’ and warning that temperatures are set to plunge as low as -15C.

There have been other stories elsewhere along similar lines, with some saying that the Met Office is briefing the Government about a cold winter ahead.

So what are the facts behind the headlines?

Some of the stories have taken a cue from parts of our current 30-day forecast. Today’s forecast for 26 November to 10 December reads as follows:

As is usual, there are uncertainties in the forecast for this period, but there are signs that the changeable conditions will continue through the start of this forecast period. There is also a signal for temperatures to be close to or just below the seasonal average. Into December, although there are no strong indications that any particular weather type is going to dominate, on balance colder, drier conditions than at present are favoured, rather than milder, wetter weather, especially across the southern half of the UK.

However, perhaps what the newspapers have failed to pick up on and report to their readers is that there is still a great deal of uncertainty about exactly what weather we will see – as there often is when looking at timescales of over five days ahead.

The science does not exist to make detailed forecasts for temperature and snowfall for the end of this month, let alone for December or even the winter as a whole.

With regards to us ‘briefing the Government on a cold winter’, this is related to our three monthly outlook for contingency planners.

This is a complex product designed to help contingency planners making long-term strategic decisions based on risk exposure. However, it’s not useful for most other people as it doesn’t give one forecast for what’s ahead – rather it outlines potential scenarios and their associated probabilities.

It’s worth noting that while contingency planners use our three month outlook to inform long-term decisions, they make their operational decisions on our five day forecasts and warnings.

These will always provide the best possible guidance on any periods of cold weather, frost or the likelihood of snow, giving detailed local information across the UK.

Ultimately, we’re heading into winter and we expect winter to be colder than the rest of the year – but it’s too early to say exactly what temperatures we can expect or where and when we might see snow.








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