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Met Office accurately predicts winter weather a year in advance

Tue 18 Oct 2016

Snow London

The UK’s Met Office has revealed new seasonal forecasting capabilities which enable the weather service to predict winter climate changes up to a year in advance.

According to the Met Office, the development has been made possible thanks to supercomputer technology granted by the UK Government in 2014. The £97 million high-performance computing facility has allowed researchers to increase the resolution of climate models and to test the retrospective skill of forecasts over a 35-year period starting from 1980.

In the study paper entitled, Skilful predictions of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation one year ahead, the forecast researchers claim that new supercomputer-powered techniques have helped them develop a system to accurately predict North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) – the climatic phenomenon which heavily impacts winters in the UK.

NAO is formed when low pressure gathers over Iceland and high pressure above the Azores archipelago. A big difference in pressure increases westerly winds, resulting in cooler summers and mild, wet winters. However, when the pressure variation is small, winds drop and the UK sees much colder winters.

The Met Office now believes it has a better way of tracking and predicting the phenomenon with its supercomputing calculations. Using a ‘hindcasting’ technique, the researchers discovered that since 1980 the supercomputer would have been able to predict winter weather a year in advance with 62% accuracy.

The Met Office has often faced criticism for inaccurate forecasting and negligence in reporting severe conditions. In 1987, the service failed to indicate the violence of the ‘Great Storm’, which killed 22 people and cost the country £2 billion (approx. £5.07 billion today) in damages.

More recently the Met Office was accused of failing to warn the UK population of bitter temperatures in the winter of 2009-2010, which led to major traffic disruptions, school closures, power failures and 25 fatalities.

Lead researcher Nick Dunstone commented that the ability to now understand and predict the NAO could have significant economic benefits for a range of sectors, including transport, energy, water management, and the insurance industry.

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