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'Big freeze' predictions get better

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 17, 2012

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Forecasters at the Exeter-based Met Office say new technology means they can better predict "big freezes" and help local councils prepare for the worst.

In the past forecasters have been left red-faced after predictions of a mild winter were later dashed as freakishly harsh conditions swept in.

The winter of 2009-10 is perhaps one of the most memorable predictions of gentle conditions that failed after Arctic weather gripped the Westcountry. Similarly predictions of a barbecue summer proved to be a let-down as rain poured down.

However, Met Office chiefs now believe they can foresee similar freak winter conditions months in advance following an update in computer software.

Three years ago snow, ice and temperatures of -22C were impossible to foresee but now an upgraded forecasting system should predict what's on around the corner.

Since technology was upgraded two years ago, forecasters have accurately predicted the cold start to December 2010 and the mild winter of 2011.

A new study by the Met Office found the unexpected nature of the "deep freeze" lay in the inability of its seasonal forecasting equipment to simulate phenomena known as sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs).

These happen when the usual westerly winds in the stratosphere of 10km to 50km above the ground stop or reverse, causing a knock-on effect at surface level.

Westerly winds blowing warm air from the North Atlantic across Northern Europe are blocked, causing extended periods of very low temperatures.

The new model can produce a more accurate forecast of the cold winter, especially the bitter conditions that took hold towards the end of the season.

A Met Office spokesman said: "It's too early to predict what sort of a winter we're in for yet.

"But any very cold snaps caused by the same conditions seen during the winter of 2009/10 can now be anticipated as early as November.

"This sort of information is particularly helpful for local councils who have to decide how much grit to buy for the winter."

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  • Stuboy13  |  September 19 2012, 11:49AM

    Metoffice forecast accuracy update, day 2 (19/09/2012): Forecast of nothing but sun from the Metoffice for all time slots today. 8am - 11.47am at my place of work, largely overcast with some sunny spells. Not brilliant. Not as bad as yesterday though Metoffice (no rain at least). Go and give that barometer another tap and see how the afternoon is looking.

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  • Alan Iles Painter, Decorator & Property Maintenance  |  September 18 2012, 3:10PM

    Quote: "This sort of information is particularly helpful for local councils who have to decide how much grit to buy for the winter." You mean the local councils actually have money to spend?

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  • Stuboy13  |  September 18 2012, 11:51AM

    Today is a good example of my previous comment, The Met Office shows full sun for Exeter on Tuesday 18th. 7am-10am: Full sun. 10am-1pm: Full sun. So far at my place of work in Exeter we have had fairly extensive cloud cover with a few showers!! Junk. I see the Metoffice employees have been busy marking down negative comments against them, I'm surprised they have time in between guessing the weather and counting their cash.

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  • Big_Ger  |  September 18 2012, 9:17AM
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  • ineedtherapy  |  September 17 2012, 12:05PM

    Anybody for a Bar b Que summer ?

  • Stuboy13  |  September 17 2012, 11:52AM

    @ nicold - I'll take it! It's got to be better than the Met Office 'super-computer'. Also if you happen to have a book of old sayings such as 'red sky at night, shepherds delight', I'd be only too happy to take that off your hands as a job lot of weather forecasting tools?!

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  • nicold  |  September 17 2012, 11:01AM

    Stuboy I have some seaweed to sell if you're interested?

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  • Stuboy13  |  September 17 2012, 10:48AM

    Ha! Have to agree with the other comments on here, they often struggle to get the current weather right, leave alone predicting a 'big freeze' months in advance. Im thinking of setting up my own weather forecasting website, basing my forecasts on absolutely no scientific data whatsoever. I will simply look out the window, take into account what the weather was like the day before and make my prediction. I reckon I'll be as good if not better than the met Office.

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  • gemma561  |  September 17 2012, 10:13AM

    The Met office are a joke, they brag about all their expensive technology and very rarely get it right.

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  • nicold  |  September 17 2012, 9:40AM

    Months ahead?...they can't even get it right days ahead! LOL

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