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« BBC on the atmosphere | Main | Josh 68 »

A copy of that cold winter forecast

When the kerfuffle over the Met Office's winter forecast blew up, I wrote to the Quarmby team to see if they had actually received a copy of the Met Office's cold-winter forecast, which was apparently sent to the Cabinet Office. It is alleged that the forecast should have provided sufficient warning to the government machine to ensure that everyone was ready for what happened in December.

Today, rather later than I expected, the Quarmby team have responded and have helpfully provided a copy of the forecast:

Met Office Initial Assessment of Risk for Winter 2010/11

This covers the months of November, December and January 2010/11, this will be updated monthly through the winter and so probabilities will change.


3 in 10 chance of a mild start

3 in 10 chance of an average start

4 in 10 chance of a cold start


3 in 10 chance of a wet start

3 in 10 chance of an average start

4 in 10 chance of a dry start

Summary: There is an increased risk for a cold and wintry start to the winter season.

Looking further ahead beyond this assessment there are some indications of an increased risk of a mild end to the winter season.

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Reader Comments (79)

This is what Roger Harrabin wrote in the Radio Times

“Why didn’t the Met Office tell us that Greenland was about to swap weather with Godalming? The truth is it did suspect we were in for an exceptionally cold early winter, and told the Cabinet Office so in October. But we weren’t let in on the secret. The reason? The Met Office no longer publishes its seasonal forecasts because of the ridicule it suffered for predicting a barbecue summer in 2009 – the summer that campers floated around in their tents.”

What the Quarmby team sent does not in any way line up with "suspect we were in for an exceptionally cold early winter". For Roger to be right there must be another, more detailed forecast. Unless it's all hidden in that word 'suspect'. You go to bed, you have a nightmare of exceptional cold, you never write it down but later you tell the BBC's correspondent that you 'suspected' something like this might happen. Is that it?

Jan 21, 2011 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Is this what you get for £70 million a year?

No its not, spend £170M and that's what you get ;), Piers and a Laptop can do it for £1700 if the Laptop is brand new and top spec LOL.

Jan 21, 2011 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of fresh air

I backtested my Magic 8 ball which I use for climate and weather forecasting and got the same results as the $37 million supercomputer. You're all welcome to try your hand at predicting future weather patterns as the Magic 8 Ball has a good chance of outperforming the Met computer from what I've seen. If you're the type that prefers simpler methodology coin flipping also provides a good chance to beat the Met forecast. (sarc off)

Jan 21, 2011 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSundance

Was this an authentic forecast, or was it an adjusted forecast?

Jan 21, 2011 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrCrinum

"there are some indications of an increased risk of a mild end to the winter season."

Oh dear oh dear - now mild winters also pose a risk?

We shouldn't be allowed out of our homes, if everything is a risk, according to the Met Office ...

Jan 21, 2011 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

"there are some indications of an increased risk of a mild end to the winter season."

Oh dear oh dear - now mild winters also pose a risk?

We shouldn't be allowed out of our homes, if everything is a risk, according to the Met Office ...

Jan 21, 2011 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

Let's see if I have this right. The Warmists are now claiming that the massive snow falls in the northern hemisphere over the last two winters are to be expected under AGW assumptions, as warming leads to more moisture in the air etc. etc.

Have I got that right so far?

However, now the MET tells us that it was actually drier this December. It's just the ~10:1 ratio of snow to rain in inches that made it seem like there was more precipitation. So how does AGW=more evaporation=more precipitation explain the start of this winter?

Jan 21, 2011 at 7:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Bromige

News Flash!!!

MET Office predicts it will be dark until morning.....

Jan 21, 2011 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

You don't appreciate that this is the latest thing in meteorology, the Maximum Entropy Forecast!

Jan 21, 2011 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

I have tried to make this point before, but I will say it again. If you choose a two outcome case then the maximum entropy state of the probabilities is 0.5 / 0.5. This system is NOT predictable and the outcome is random, like tossing a coin.

In a 3 state case like the Met office forecasts the maximum entropy state is when the three probabilities are each 1/3. To make predictions where the probabilities for the 3 states are 0.3 / 0.3 / 0.4 is so close to the maximum entropy state as to be virtually useless and is completely unsuitable for any planning purpose. Also the categories are too vague - how wide is the band encompassing "average" temperatures? Is it +/- 0.1 degrees, +/- 1.0 degrees or +/- 10 degrees?

In my view these are basically "don't knows" dressed up to look like predictions and in some ways they are worse than useless for planning purposes becasue they may lead "customers" to believe that the forecast has some reliability when it does not. They would be far better planning for each winter by adopting one of the following strategies:

(a) Assume the next winter will be the same as the previous one (eg you will only get caught out by the first year of a run of three years of bad winters) or
(b) You plan only for the rolling (say) 10 year average winter. This is less expensive than planning for the worst case scenario winter and won't catch you out as badly at the start of a run if you have had a series of mild winters.

Jan 21, 2011 at 7:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

It is a pathetic forecast. I worked as a forecaster, and I would have been severely embarassed to present something like that, unless it was made clear from the start that we did not really have a clue, and were merely coming up with something because we'd been asked to. As a taxpayer, I would now add the word 'disgraceful' to such a forecast, one which was clearly providing, with hindsight and with foresight, extremely poor guidance for practical planning. Unlike the forecast from Piers Corbyn, which I understand used a rather less expensive computer. I am therefore not at all surprised that the Met Office kept their 'forecast' secret, and issued different, even more misleading, guidance to the public. What a mess the Met Office is in. Torn between the workaday and useful job of weather forecasting, and the political, fantasy world of AGW faith-based climate forecasting. Will Napier be asked to explain it to the House? Has anyone ever spoken to him about what he does for a living?

Jan 21, 2011 at 8:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

It's happening!

Jan 21, 2011 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSmokey

As Richard Drake and AngusPangus have noted, the issue here is Roger Harrabin's spinning of this into "it's not the Met Office's fault - the government were warned".

Yes, it is a crappy forecast and - if this is what they sent, would you - as a minister in a government trying to handle a massive budget deficit - spend lots of money on preparation for snow and ice? But that doesn't help the "cause" does it - if we can't blame the weather on the government what political use is it? (sarc/off)

Jan 21, 2011 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Potter

"Less than a third of the average rainfall was recorded"

Would that be because a lot of it was snow..?

Jan 21, 2011 at 9:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

So nothing has a better than evens chance of happening. Only the Metoffice could come up with a forecast more useless than this.

Jan 21, 2011 at 10:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Adrian posted a link to the National Grid - if you didn't follow it, you really need to (also has been linked on WUWT). Once again, the link is:

In that document, the National Grid, working from the Met's website back last October, concluded as follows:

Met Office Weather Forecast

25. The Met Office have now ceased publication of their long term winter weather
forecast however their website1 continues to provide long term analyses. For the
period of December through to February the data presented suggests:

• a 60 – 80% probability of above normal temperatures
• a 20 – 40% probability of near normal temperatures
• a 0 – 20% probability of below normal temperatures

26. In terms of UK precipitation their forecasts are weighted towards above average. For
Europe average temps are typically 0.5-1.5°C above average. For North America
average temps are up to 2° above average except for a cooler west coast.

Truly alarming that the National Grid appears to be relying on the public face of the Met (though, as people here have noted, the "client-only" forecast wouldn't have been much help either).


Jan 21, 2011 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan

Call me old fashioned, but I thought the point of 'forecasting' something was that you predict a specific outcome in the future based on your analysis, previous experience etc etc? You take all the data, crunch all the numbers (or toss a coin, who cares?) and nail your colours to the mast. Then you get to look clever (if you're Piers Corbyn) or stupid (if you're the Met Office).

This is a bit like me going into the bookies, picking a 3 horse race and saying to the manager 'The chance of the first horse winning is 30%, the second 30% and the 3rd 40%. I'll put a tenner on the race and whoever wins I'll have predicted it, and my money'll be on that one. That OK with you?'

Jan 21, 2011 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJim

Oh, and for anyone who thinks the Met's predictions aren't seriously affected by their views of climate change, take a look at footnote 2, page 13 of the National Grid document:

"2. Seasonal normal weather is reviewed every 5 years. The 17-year basis is the average weather from
October 1987 to September 2004. The EP2 basis derives from the warming in climate that the Met Office
predicted as part of the EP2 project with the energy industry."

This does not strike me as an apt way to prepare for winter...

Jan 21, 2011 at 11:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan

Cheer up!! I have it on good authority that the Met Office is predicting warmer weather this spring and even warmer weather this summer. Now, if that is not definitive, what is?

And their long term forecast is for a cooling trend this coming fall, with the chance of snow and freezing weather next winter.

Isn't it wonderful what you can do with a one million pound computer and the highest paid weather computer modeling experts! Just imagine what they can do with a 10 million quid main frame. Hell, they might even come up with a prediction for the year after next!

Jan 21, 2011 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Daily Mail article 27 Aug 2009 - regarding the new £30m Met Office supercomputer, their spokesman Barry Grommett said:

"We recognise that it is big but it is also necessary.We couldn't do what we do without it."


"We would be throwing ourselves back into the dark ages of weather forecasting if we withdrew our reliance on supercomputing, it's as simple as that."

So stop being so cynical, all of you ; - )

Jan 22, 2011 at 12:12 AM | Unregistered CommentermikemUK

Don Pablo de la Sierra - the way the MO have written this 'forecast' is a cynical joke. They are thumbing their noses at all of us, thinking the joke is on us.

On the one hand the forecast is said to cover November, December and January. On the other hand meteorological 'winter' is December, January and February. Clearly they cannot be saying that the 'start' and 'end' of the 'winter season' is on November 1/January 31, or December 1/February 28. So this little phrase 'winter season' is a complete con. The 'winter season' isn't fixed to dates: it starts when the weather turns cold and wintry, and it ends weather turns milder and spring. Notice that they say they put the date of the end of winter as 'beyond this assessment', i.e. after January 31. Every 'winter season' starts when it gets cold (that defines the start) and every winter season ends when it turns mild, provided it's after January, and spring arrives, whether early or late. Therefore, we can say of EVERY 'winter season' "There are indications of a cold start to the winter season, and the winter season will end after January 31 when there are indications of milder weather". That's exactly what the MO are saying, and they must take us for fools.

What a pathetic statement of the obvious. And utter charlatanism. That is really taking the mickey.

Jan 22, 2011 at 12:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

Jan 22, 2011 at 12:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobuk

They're a propaganda mill, not a governement service. What did you expect for your £200 million a year, something useful?

Jan 22, 2011 at 1:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

@Scientistfortruth - "They are thumbing their noses ".

Yes, this is a passive-aggressive riposte to all the heat they have been taking.

Sorry I have missed it, but has anyone got a link to an actual Corbyn forecast, made contemporaneously?

Jan 22, 2011 at 3:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterTomFP

This is weird. First they say:


3 in 10 chance of a mild start
3 in 10 chance of an average start
4 in 10 chance of a cold start

Which represents a 60% chance of the winter being average or mild. Then from their own probabilities they amazingly deduce:

Summary: There is an increased risk for a cold and wintry start to the winter season.

An increased risk for "cold and wintry" over what, the average? If so the had only just said the opposite above where they allocated only a 40% chance of that. Perhaps things fall better into place if we infer that in the first quote, they are comparing to the normal and in the second quote, they are comparing to their Global Warming models. Otherwise, they would seem to have a problem with primary school arithmetic. Whichever, it is delusional to propose their very conservative forecast as providing any warning of a brutal winter. Either way, they show they didn't have a clue.

Jan 22, 2011 at 3:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterSean McHugh

piers got December, especially the temperatures, spot on.The front page summery of that forecast is available on his website for free.Here in the East of England, his January forecast has been a bust. But when he makes a forecast, he sticks with it. The met office only now-cast.Watch their 3 -5 day forecast, changes all the time

Jan 22, 2011 at 8:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterstephen parker

Clearly the results of a Kray Supercomputer build by Ron 'n Reg!

Jan 24, 2011 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterCraigo

It must have taken enormous restraint by His Grace not to chime in at some point in all these comments and reveal that no, Quarmby does not write to him, no, the Met Office did not write this. This was a fine piece, a few months too early. It could have been a truly great hoax if it could have waited until April. Ecclesiastical humour at its finest.

Jan 26, 2011 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered Commentermichel

Facking useloss munch of twankers!

Jan 28, 2011 at 9:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn BC

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