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How Could The Met Office Get It So Wrong – Again?

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Adam Lee-Porter, Mail on Sunday

Met Office predicted a cool and wet month but UK is on course for the driest July since records began in 1910

It seemed to be the duffest weather forecast since 1987 when poor old Michael Fish told TV viewers: ‘Hurricane? What hurricane?’ – or words to that effect. 

After a summit to discuss unusual weather patterns, it was widely reported that we could be locked in a decade of soaking wet summers. We should have known better. Our forecasters are even less reliable than our weather.

More recent predictions said we would suffer a ‘colder-than-average’ July. The reality has so far proved very different, with the longest heatwave for seven years set to continue.

Cold front: Mail on Sunday reporter Adam Lee-Potter tried to convince Professor Stephen Belcher, at his Reading base, that summer is finally here

Cold front: Mail on Sunday reporter Adam Lee-Potter tried to convince Professor Stephen Belcher, at his Reading base, that summer is finally here

Meteorologists had predicted that Britain is set for a decade of soaking wet summers after a climate summit

Meteorologists had predicted that Britain is set for a decade of soaking wet summers after a climate summit

And despite there being standing room only on beaches, and our  gardens – as well as our throats – being parched, one Met Office expert was still insisting this weekend that the summer could yet be a washout – and this spell of hot weather could be ‘a blip’.

But these are the facts:

* Temperatures are set to soar again to 90F (32C) tomorrow in many areas of Britain.

* In Northern Ireland yesterday it was hotter than Mexico.

* There have been grass fires in London, mountain blazes in the Welsh valleys and forest fires in the Scottish town of Fife.

* The heatwave is believed to have caused up to 760 premature deaths.

* A&Es have been overwhelmed with half-a-million people attending departments last week.

* Snow gritters were in action in Hampshire yesterday to stop the county’s roads from melting. But rather than salt, they were spraying a fine stone dust over warping roads where the asphalt hit 102F.

Police and fire services have also warned people to be careful when swimming in open water following several deaths in recent weeks, including that of a 69-year-old woman in the sea off Skegness, Lincolnshire, on Friday.

So how could our forecasters have got it so wrong? 

Reports of a gloomy forecast came after a climate summit at the Met Office HQ in Exeter last month, when Professor Stephen Belcher, head of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for climate research, said the country may be involved in ‘a cycle of wetter summers’.

A week later, the Met Office’s June 27 forecast predicted a cool and wet month – despite the fact that we are now, happily, on course for the driest July since records began in 1910. The Met Office said the comments had been misinterpreted and denied that there had been a prediction. So on Friday I managed to catch up with Prof Belcher at Reading University to seek an explanation.

Prof Belcher, who heads the university’s meteorology department was doing his best to enjoy the heatwave, rolling up his shirt sleeves, and wearing slacks and trainers. Living on the edge, he even opened his window.

Perhaps it was my Hawaiian shirt, lobster-red forehead and flip-flops but he was beyond tight-lipped when I offered him a courtesy sombrero and beachball. 

Our other gift – a Zoom lolly – might have lured him but sadly it had long since melted into a sticky mess.

‘No,’ he said tersely, as I invited him to embrace summer with The Mail on Sunday, before escaping to the shadows behind the university bike shed.

Even though temperatures are forecast to touch 95F this week, scientists and weathermen still fear our summers could be   doomed – blaming the rain on warmer North Atlantic sea temperatures.

Professor Belcher’s colleague Dr Peter Stott – a leading climate change expert who also took part in June’s meeting – said he still believed 2013 could prove to be a washout.

He said: ‘There is a difference between climate and weather. This heatwave could just be a blip and will soon be over in any case – in about two weeks. And if we have a really wet August, this could still go down as a wet summer.’

But he added: ‘There are other factors involved so it’s very hard to predict. Land temperatures are – because of climate change – generally rising (sic).’

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