‘Dry Winter’: Could Met Office Have Been More Wrong?

  • Date: 21/02/14
  • Tamara Cohen, Daily Mail

The Met Office made serious errors in its three month forecast provided to councils and the Environment Agency and said in November that the country could expect ‘drier than usual’ conditions this winter – especially in the West Country.

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The Met Office’s ‘pitiful’ forecasts were under fire last night after it was revealed it told councils in November to expect ‘drier than usual’ conditions this winter.

In the worst weather prediction since Michael Fish reassured the nation in October 1987 that there was no hurricane on the way, forecasters said the Somerset Levels – still under water after more than two months of flooding – and the rest of the West Country would be especially dry.

Last night, it was confirmed the UK had instead suffered the wettest winter since records began.

The three-month forecast, which a Met Office spokesman conceded was ‘experimental to some extent’, was given to councils, the Environment Agency and other contingency planners to tell them what they could expect from December to the end of this month.

The forecasters – using ‘cutting-edge science’ – assured councils there would be a ‘significant reduction in precipitation compared to average’ for most of the country, adding that there was only a 15 per cent chance the winter would fall into the ‘wettest category’.

It will have been of little assistance to the many local authorities facing some of the most severe flooding Britain has seen in decades. Swathes of the country are still underwater, the Army is still helping to pump out deluged homes and thousands of people have nowhere to live.

An aerial shot of Moorland in the flooded Somerset Levels which according to the Met Office was going to enjoy a dry winter

An aerial shot of Moorland in the flooded Somerset Levels which according to the Met Office was going to enjoy a dry winter

Last night it was confirmed that the past 90 days have seen the heaviest rainfall in more than a century.

The Met Office said the UK had been drenched in 19.2in of rain since December, making it the wettest winter since records began in 1910.

It had, it said, been ‘unexpectedly’ wet in the South West, South East, central Southern England and across Wales.

MPs and environmental planners yesterday said the long-term forecast had been a ‘mistake which could have cost Britain dearly’ and questioned whether the forecasting methods were fit for purpose.

Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris said: ‘The Met Office is very good at predicting the weather it can see is coming; but beyond that, its track record is pitiful.

‘Many government agencies and some government policies are dependent on these Met Office predictions and so these mistakes potentially are costing us dearly.’

Environmental planner Martin Parr said of the forecast: ‘It was a load of poppycock. I don’t know how they could have produced it and circulated it to emergency planners. There was no way that was going to be the case.

‘It was known in November there were changes in the jet stream coming through. It was speeding up, there was more oscillation, that means strong winds were going to be prevalent, and it was going to be a wet winter.

‘These forecasts affect decisions the authorities take, having the correct.’ The Met Office stopped publishing its long-range forecasts for the public to see in 2010, after its disastrous prediction of a ‘barbeque summer’ in 2009 – which ended in washouts throughout July and August.

The three-month forecasts are now sent only to contingency planners, such as councils, government departments, and insurance companies. The 90-day forecast was issued at the end of November, and makes clear planners should also consult the forecasts released 30 and 15 days ahead which are more accurate.

Using the Met Office’s super-computer, which can perform 100trillion calculations a second, experts in November predicted there would be high-pressure weather systems across Britain ‘with a slight signal for below average precipitation’.

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