The Met Office has been accused of damaging the UK’s tourism industry over its prediction last week that Britain faces the likelihood of a decade of soggy summers – because just three years ago it told us to prepare for repeats of the drought of 1976.
In May 2010 its climate extremes scientist Eleanor Burke warned we would roast in the summer months and be faced with tap water bans.
Yet last week yet another glimpse into the future by Met Office experts and colleagues from leading UK universities suggested rainy summers are on the cards for the foreseeable future.
A man is battered by heavy wind and rain on Southsea seafront. Three years ago The Met Office said hose pipe bans would be needed because of continually hot and dry summers
Back in 2010, Ms Burke said the nation should brace itself for a repeat of the extraordinary 16-month drought period up to August 1976 when some parts of England suffered 45 days in a row without rain, and temperatures stayed at 90F (32C).
Emphasising the need to expect the worst, Ms Burke said preparations should include ‘designing buildings to cope with the heat, putting in place emergency plans in hospitals and schools, growing heat-resistant crops and (imposing) hose pipe bans’.
Even more recently – in January 2012 – the government’s first Climate Change Risk Assessment, compiled with the help of Met Office scientists, predicted a decrease in summer rainfall over coming decades and sizzling sunshine that would persuade holidaymakers to stay at home rather than head for the Mediterranean.
But last week meteorologists at a Met Office conference into climate change in Exeter said a warmer North Atlantic meant Britain faced a higher chance of wet summers for up to ten years.
Now tourism bosses have accused the experts of driving UK holidaymakers abroad by presenting ‘academic machinations’ as reliable weather predictions.
The anger has emerged most strongly in the South West – the most popular holiday-at-home destination for Britons – where tourism leaders say a bad summer forecast wipes out £300million worth of income in Devon and Cornwall alone.
Visit Cornwall head Malcolm Bell, said: ‘I wish that these so-called experts would keep their mouths shut.
‘In recent years the Met Office got the “barbecue summer” wrong, the hosepipe ban wrong – their credibility is shot. So why not just shut up.
‘If you run a campsite or have a seaside business it’s a massive problem. People thinking of a holiday are driven abroad or simply don’t bother.
‘A bad summer forecast brings a five to ten per cent drop in business. That’s a loss of £300million to Devon and Cornwall and a lot of jobs and businesses on the line.
He added: ‘There is absolutely no certainty in long-range predictions. They are just academic machinations but when they emerge they fuel British paranoia about the weather.’
The North West, Britain’s third most popular domestic holiday destination thanks to the Lake District, is less weather-dependent.
But Ian Stephens, of Cumbria Tourism, said long and medium term forecasts had ‘real potential to damage UK tourism’.
‘Meteorological organisations need to work with the tourism industry to better understand how weather influences the tourism decision-making process.’
Last night a Met Office spokesman said: ‘New research suggests long-term Atlantic currents may be playing an important role in wet summers.
‘These are understood to operate on cycles of a decade or more, and it appears we are well into the “wet” phase of this cycle. That does not mean every summer will be a washout.
‘We have worked with the tourism industry to provide detailed forecasts for 5,000 resorts, beaches and attractions so visitors can plan their day out with confidence and make the most of the great British weather come rain or shine.’