What's behind the 'coldest winter for 100 years' headline?

Monday 19 November 2012, 15:16

Paul Hudson Paul Hudson

Those of us with a keen interest in the weather can't fail to have noticed yet another headline in the Express this weekend, claiming this winter would be the coldest in 100 years, which you can see here.

Wherever I went this weekend, I've been stopped in the street by people asking me when the awful weather is likely to hit, whether they should buy winter tyres for the car, or go ahead with a planned visit to relatives at Christmas.

The headline in the Express came courtesy of little known 'Exacta Weather', a tiny private weather company, which bases its forecasts on, amongst other things, variations in solar output.

But the headline this weekend is almost identical to the one from this time last year, in which the same 'Exacta Weather' forecasted severe wintry conditions throughout last winter, leading to yet another front page headline in the Express.



In the end, last winter was milder than average.

Exacta Weather is by no means the only company to issue such forecasts.

The headline in the Express is one of over twenty in the newspaper in recent times, all claiming severe or extreme conditions were about to befall us, each one of them the result of press releases from small, private weather companies, and most of which turned out to be wrong or exaggerated.

So what's going on?

When I worked at the Met Office some years ago, I remember the press office contacted a tabloid newspaper to ask why they continued to print such weather stories which invariably turned out to be wrong.

Their answer was very honest, straightforward and unapologetic.

Weather sells newspapers they said; admitting that each and every time they had a front page story on extreme weather, their circulation went up by around 10%.

Whether the forecast was right or wrong didn't seem a concern, after all, the newspaper was only reporting on what was being forecast by the weather company in question. How did they know whether it would turn out to be right or wrong?

And one would assume that any small private weather company, in a difficult completely un-regulated sector which is dominated by the state-funded Met Office, is happy to get some free, valuable publicity.

So it's a mutually beneficial process.

The losers, of course, are the readers, and more importantly the whole weather industry itself, which gets tarred with the same brush as those who issue extreme, sensationalist forecasts, which rarely bare any resemblance to reality.

So will it be the coldest winter in 100 Years?

It's extremely unlikely and if it were to happen it would be a huge turn up for the books.

Of course, if it were to happen, the many, many misleading headlines based on questionable forecasts that have appeared in recent years would quickly be forgotten.

Follow me on twitter @Hudsonweather

Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    They produce a headline and then when it doesn't come true the Met Office gets the blame.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    So we can safely wait until next summer before we buy a snow shovel when the price comes down then Paul :) with the savings might be able to buy Christa a pot of tea with a Cup Cake

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Yes, one of these years, they will get it rignt and tell everyone, but if not, just keep quiet about it.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Good news is in fact no news and when the myth becomes legend---print the legend. So what's the success of the MO then in relation to Bar B Q summers and children not knowing what snow will be like or forecast droughts and floods? Much of last May was cold, but the last week did not conform with Piers Corbyn's predictions. Both James Madden's and Piers Corbyn early predictions for severe weather last winter did not turn out as they suggested, but the cool October this year was predicted correctly as was the very severe weather of December of 2010. There are no perfect angels in the weather predicting business; private or state.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    @3 QV wrote:

    "Yes, one of these years, they will get it rignt and tell everyone, but if not, just keep quiet about it."

    Yup, that sums it up!

    BTW in the MO news blog on this issue:-

    “Responding to more ‘winter weather’ headlines”

    http://metofficenews.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/responding-to-more-winter-weather-headlines/

    I thought I had found the MO’s elusive 30 day forecast as they give the following link

    “a look at “our current 30 day forecast“ provides perhaps a more measured assessment”

    But it appears to link to their 5 day forecast?:-

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/forecast/

    Hey ho!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    You flatter Exacta by calling it a 'company'. Isn't it one young guy (not a meteorologist), a laptop, and some singular suppositions?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Greensand

    DW's theme on the reducing influence of TSI could be something to do with this:
    http://nextgrandminimum.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/russians-scientist-the-next-grand-minimum/

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    speaking of forecasting legends . . . it's time to report on the Hollybush.
    With a couple of weeks left before the xmas decorations go up, there are only a few berries left this year. Now, contrary to conventional wisdom and common sense, let's see if last year's successful winter 'prediction' can be duplicated.
    Hollybush predicts that we are three weeks or so (around the 10th) from some significant cold. That this will bring UK wide snowfall that will last a week or so and we'll have slush on the roads leading up to Christmas. After that, a week of milder weather before the cold returns with a vengeance. Jan 5th - 20th will be our winter, and after that - nothing much to talk about except localised floods caused by relatively normal precipitation events falling on waterlogged land.

    PLEASE NOTE: THE HOLLYBUSH FORECAST HAS NO SKILL. IT IS FOR 'DARTBOARD' COMPARISON ONLY.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    @8.lateintheday

    Timely release, Hollybush forecast should make the a-wipe front pages tomorrow!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    BOM latest “ENSO Wrap-Up

    “Pacific Ocean likely to remain ENSO neutral”

    Issued on Wednesday 20 November

    “El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) indicators in the tropical Pacific remain at neutral levels. As ENSO events are usually well established by the end of the southern spring, the current neutral pattern is likely to persist at least until the end of the year.

    Although being below El Niño levels, tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures remain warmer than average. Atmospheric indicators, such as the Southern Oscillation Index, trade winds and tropical cloud patterns, have all remained at neutral levels through the winter and spring.

    Climate models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology suggest tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures are likely to remain neutral, but warmer than average, until at least early 2013….”

    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/

    Met Office GloSea Enso model forecast for November still not available:-

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/climate/seasonal-to-decadal/gpc-outlooks/el-nino-la-nina

    Is it getting later each month? Always seems to be later than the other forecasts.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    #5. - greensand wrote:
    "But it appears to link to their 5 day forecast?:-"

    Interesting.

    The one I got was the 5 day forecast for Wadebridge, but I don't know if that would be the same for everyone.

    I have e-mailed the MO asking for a link to the real 30 day forecast, given that the link in the blog is obviously wrong.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    #5. - greensand wrote:

    "But it appears to link to their 5 day forecast?:-"

    Apparently, in order to get to the 30 day forecast, you have to click on "text forecast", then "UK forecast day 6 to 30".

    The links to the various tabs are all the same, I don't know why or how that works in html terms.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    and further to the discussion on the last thread between Greensand and newdwr54 regarding the PDO/ENSO relationship, can I request that our host Paul Hudson puts up a post describing the PDO/ENSO in plain english.
    I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that every time I see a comment (or a paper) referring to the PDO, Bob Tisdale pops up and tells them they've got it wrong.

    My latest understanding is that the PDO is an after effect (or side effect) of a 30year (ish) ENSO cycle. So for example, after an El Nino event, leftover warm water backwashes into the North West Pacific. During a 30 year period of dominating El Ninos, (and subsequent backwashes) the NW Pacific gradually accumulates more and more warmer than average water. This would be the Positive phase of the PDO.
    The negative phase would see slightly cooler than average water backwashing into the NW Pacific.
    The PDO phase itself, does not determine the dominance of El Nino or La Nina, it simply reflects it and to some extent, amplifies the ENSO effect on global temperatures by extending the geographical area and ocean lag influence of warmer or cooler water.

    No doubt, Bob Tisdale (or somebody here) will put me right.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    Firstly, Exacta Weather is very pleased that this blog and Paul emphasised on the HEADLINE of the newspaper from Saturday about the "coldest winter in 100 years".

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/paulhudson/2012/11/whats-behind-the-coldest-winte.shtml

    This was also corrected on our Facebook page, dated blog, and our loyal followers were also alerted with tweets on twitter. We also absolutely agree that headlines sell newspapers, but unfortunately we do not write or have any influence on the headlines that sell them. We personally can't see many people rushing out to buy a copy of something that was less appealing in nature.

    Our forecast actually states and always has since earlier this year (23rd June 2012 - First Issued) that: There is the potential for some of the coldest and snowiest conditions in at least a century AT TIMES during the upcoming winter (most likely to occur in the December to January period).

    Somewhat different to the COLDEST WINTER IN 100 YEARS!

    Our recently released private forecast from the 9th November 2012 also states:

    There is also the potential for some of the coldest and snowiest conditions in at least a century AT TIMES to be recorded in the December to January period of the upcoming winter. The January period is also slightly more favourable to experience the worst of the winter conditions in terms of snowfall and temperatures.

    We also expect February to be much milder after a potentially cold and snowy start to the month, which is also an official month of the meteorological winter.

    As for Mr Hudson’s comments about "little known Exacta Weather" and "a tiny private weather company", people are free to judge this for themselves in the following links below:

    http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2010/12/08/voluntary-forecaster-proves-the-met-office-wrong-again-61634-27786536/

    http://www.exactaweather.com/Accuracy.html

    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/exactaweather.com#

    Last year’s forecast may have contained unusually low accuracy in comparison to our usual success rate, but this is something that we have quite openly admitted to on many occasions. However, we certainly was correct about the winds that the Met Office failed to miss and also send out a relevant warning for

    http://www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/scotland/forecast-is-grim-for-the-met-office-but-are-they-at-fault-for-missing-big-gail-1-2043601

    For the others who have decided to contact us about the glorious summer that never happened

    http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/321080/Glorious-summer-is-on-way

    Fortunately, this had nothing to do with us and we played no part in the production of this forecast or the headline, but it is funny how we get the blame and constantly reminded about this too (it works both ways Mr Hudson).

    However, a more accurate piece from early summer dated the 15th June 2012 actually stated:

    “James Madden, of Exacta Weather, said the rest of the summer would be “unsettled” as long as the jet stream – which is responsible for the washout – refuses to budge.” (Exactly what happened)

    http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/326685/Summer-starts-in-September

    James Madden - From little known Exacta Weather & a tiny private weather company that has consistently proven the Met Office wrong on many occasions with their incorrect long range forecasts of mild winters and BBQ summers!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    13. lateintheday wrote:

    "can I request that our host Paul Hudson puts up a post describing the PDO/ENSO in plain english."

    Excellent suggestion LITD! Whilst I am aware that ENSO events are part of the PDO cycle it is my understanding that there are other variations, which along with ENSO result in a "positive" or "negative" PDO. However once established the phase then “intensify” of “diminish” the subsequent relevant ENSO events.

    Most of my understanding came from reading articles many years ago, one such:-

    “… El Niño and La Niña, which may occur every 3 to 7 years and last from 6 to 18 months, the PDO can remain in the same phase for 20 to 30 years. The shift in the PDO can have significant implications for global climate, affecting Pacific and Atlantic hurricane activity, droughts and flooding around the Pacific basin, the productivity of marine ecosystems, and global land temperature patterns. #8220;This multi-year Pacific Decadal Oscillation ‘cool’ trend can intensify La Niña or diminish El Niño impacts around the Pacific basin,” said Bill Patzert, an oceanographer and climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “The persistence of this large-scale pattern [in 2008] tells us there is much more than an isolated La Niña occurring in the Pacific Ocean…..”

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8703

    However “our” understanding may have developed further since then, so do hope our host takes up your suggestion.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    As regards ENSO I have put forward a novel suggestion previously.

    Due to the clouds of the ITCZ being on average north of the equator there is a difference in the amount of solar energy able to enter the oceans on each side of the equator.

    Over time the discrepancy builds up as extra warmth in the southern oceans and periodically it reaches a level whereby it can surge across the equator into the northern oceans.

    Then there is the phase change every 20 or 30 years whereby for a few decades El Nino dominates over La Nina then vice versa. The cause of that is not known at present.

    Then there is a longer term variability whereby each successive warming or cooling phase becomes stronger than the previous one to give upward or downward temperature 'stepping' over centuries.

    It is that last component that I put down to solar influences such that one would expect to see downward stepping from MWP to LIA and upward stepping from LIA to date.

    My hypothesis is that solar changes alter global cloudiness via mechanisms that I have described elsewhere so as to change the amount of solar energy able to enter the oceans. That change in energy input skews the balance of each successive positive phase in favour of El Nino or each successive negative phase in favour of La Nina, in each case for up to 500 years at a time.

    The tropospheric air temperatures just go along for the ride.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    @12 QV

    Thanks, found my way through!

    UK Outlook for Sunday 25 Nov 2012 to Tuesday 4 Dec 2012:

    "…..on balance, colder than average conditions are favoured, with an increased risk of frost and fog, and some wintry showers."

    UK Outlook for Wednesday 5 Dec 2012 to Wednesday 19 Dec 2012:

    "…..on balance, colder than average conditions are favoured, with an increased risk of frost and fog, as well as some wintry showers."

    Issued at: 0330 on Tue 20 Nov 2012

    Sort of what you would expect this time of the year?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    Both James Madden and Piers Corbyn charge for their services and if they fail consistently they will simply go out of business. However often the Met Office gets it wrong they keep getting large amounts of public money thrown at them.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    #17. - greensand wrote:
    "Sort of what you would expect this time of the year?"

    It depends on which "average" they are talking about, which I don't think is clear.

    I will have another look at it and might ask the question.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    Paul,
    "When I worked at the Met Office some years ago"
    Was that before or after they warned us to plant Mediterranean species?

 

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Hello, I’m Paul Hudson, weather presenter and climate correspondent for BBC Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. 

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I worked as a forecaster with the Met Office for nearly 15 years locally and at the international unit, after graduating with first class honours in Geophysics and Planetary physics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1992. I then joined the BBC in October 2007, where I divide my time between forecasting and reporting on stories about climate change and its implications for people's everyday lives.

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