Weather

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

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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  • Comment number 98. Posted by QuaesoVeritas

    on 26 Nov 2012 08:14

    #97. - ashleyhr wrote:
    "Re my last comment. Actually what the Express were predicting was the coldest winter since the last winter that was COLDER than 1962-63 - whenever that was, and we can't really be certain."

    I suspect that the "coldest winter for 100 years" claim was based on the extent of the UKMO temperature data series which goes back to 1911 in the case of winter temperatures, since 62/63 was the coldest winter in that series and the only one with a negative temp.

    However, the CET series goes back to 1659, and according to that series, 62/63 was ranked 3rd with a figure of -0.33c, with 1739/40 2nd, at -0.4c and 1683/4 1st, at -1.17c.

    So if the Express was saying that this winter would be colder than 62/63 but not colder than 1739/40, they could presumably have said that it would be the coldest winter for over 270 years, based on CET.

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  • Comment number 97. Posted by ashleyhr

    on 25 Nov 2012 23:27

    Re my last comment. Actually what the Express were predicting was the coldest winter since the last winter that was COLDER than 1962-63 - whenever that was, and we can't really be certain.

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  • Comment number 96. Posted by greensand

    on 25 Nov 2012 21:39

    91. QuaesoVeritas wrote:

    “Was the above based on an actual numeric projection?”

    Sort of, but without much quality control, just stuck a flat +0.518C into my spreadsheet through to 2020.

    “I have calculated the 30 year trend based on a flat 0.5c monthly HadCRUT3 between now and 2020, then a flat 0.4c until 2030, and the 30 year trend rises to about 0.16c/decade by 2014, then falls to about 0.12c/decade by 2020.
    If the 50 year trend is to approximately follow the 60 year cycle, then the 30 year trend will need to be zero by 2030.”

    Well if and it is a big unknown if, it stays at a flat +0.5C through to 2030 then the 30 year trend will be zero.

    Clues will come from shorter term trends, if the 20, 15, 10 year trends remain below the 30 year trend it can only reduce. If any of the shorter terms rise up through the 30 year change it may signal a change, until then the 30 year trend will continue to reduce.

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  • Comment number 95. Posted by ukpahonta

    on 25 Nov 2012 20:27

    A difference of opinion.
    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/french-meteo-forecast-for-nov-30-it-aint-pretty/
    Is this within range of accurate forecast?

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  • Comment number 94. Posted by ashleyhr

    on 25 Nov 2012 19:51

    Just noticed. Technically the Express headline on 17 November was 'Coldest winter IN 100 years on way'. That is they - and ONLY they not even the amateur forecasters they routinely consult for alarmist soundbites - were saying it would be colder than December 1962-February 1963, the coldest recorded since 1910. So the actual prediction is 'Coldest winter for 50 years on way'.

    I think this November 2012 flooding event is probably as bad meteorologically speaking as autumn 2000. But we seem better prepared now and I suspect there have been less flooded homes and less human casualties.

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  • Comment number 93. Posted by John Marshall

    on 25 Nov 2012 12:40

    Trends and anomalies assume that climate never changes but it certainly does. Any particular climate at any time will have its temperature band, max to min, that is correct for that climate and that climate will be trended into and out of as the climate cycles change.
    Too much is focused on trends and anomalies because these do not mean a lot to the planet as a whole only those whose income depends on the alarmism to generate more income.

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  • Comment number 92. Posted by QuaesoVeritas

    on 25 Nov 2012 11:36

    #90. - chris wrote:
    "And what of HadCRUT4? . . . let the musers muse."

    And what of HadCRUT4?
    Don't tease us!

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  • Comment number 91. Posted by QuaesoVeritas

    on 25 Nov 2012 11:33

    #88. - greensand wrote:
    "If the future remains flat the 30 year will rise for awhile, not sure about 4 years but, as I stated earlier, should rise through 2013 & 12 after that it will depend mostly on the future numbers as the past data starts to fall again."

    Was the above based on an actual numeric projection?

    I have calculated the 30 year trend based on a flat 0.5c monthly HadCRUT3 between now and 2020, then a flat 0.4c until 2030, and the 30 year trend rises to about 0.16c/decade by 2014, then falls to about 0.12c/decade by 2020.
    If the 50 year trend is to approximately follow the 60 year cycle, then the 30 year trend will need to be zero by 2030.

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  • Comment number 90. Posted by waikuku

    on 25 Nov 2012 11:32

    #89

    The media's thirst for sales drives their sensationalism - see my earlier post #23 first paragraph.

    Sadly they don't need to use the "100" to make a point in the minds (if they have one) of their readership. They could have simply chosen to describe the current low pressure as producing "storm force winds". Such a description would have been consistent with the Beaufort scale - ie storm force gusts to 60mph (52 kt) and portrayed the "little bugger" now off the Lincs coast - without the need to re-invent terminology.

    During my ten years with Met Office such weather was always exciting and this one is no different. Strong easterly until the early hours, almost calm as centre passed followed by the WNW back end as surface pressure rises "70". (7mb in 3 hours). Of course, the days of "falling 100+" were/are even better.

    GFS (as stated at #23) has been consistent with the cold theme for end Nov beginning of Dec but then it struggles with the warm air/cold air battle. The 850mb temperature is key to form of ppn at or below -5c more likely solid.

    And what of HadCRUT4? . . . let the musers muse.

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  • Comment number 89. Posted by Mark

    on 24 Nov 2012 21:02

    I see the Express have been persisting with the scaremongering tactics in Friday's and today's paper. " 100 mph gales " was the headline yesterday and it was that other well known amateur, Jonathan Powell from Vantage Weather services who suggested we would see those winds. I don't think so Jonathan, 70 or 80mph will be the top values and yes they will cause damage, but I suppose a headline of "70 mph gales to hit Britain" is not as eyecatching.

    In todays, paper we are back to the winter theme with " Now for the big freeze".
    Yet another misleading headline which states we'll see temperatures of -15C, which again is misleading. Further on in the article Jonathan Powell is quoted as saying it will feel like -15C, well thats not the same is it ?
    There are so many inaccuracies I haven't got the time or patience to mention them all.

    However having just looked at the latest 16 day GFS forecasts, there is scope for some colder conditions than of late but even up to the 10th December the lowest thickness values over Lincolnshire are only 521 Dm and the lowest min temp -3C, which is nothing out of the ordinary.

    I've also managed to aquire a copy of Exacta weather's winter forecast from a friend and if true, it spells the end of civilisation as we know it, but as Paul said Mr Madden was quoting a similar story last year. I suppose he might be correct one winter, lets hope it's not this one !

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