A little white lie from the Met Office

Quite a lot of things annoy me about the Met Office as regulars readers of this blog will have no doubt picked up over the years. One of the worst traits that they have, is when talking about climate statistics for the UK, they use the following phrase:

“When records began in 1910…”

When you know full well that detailed records existed much earlier than that. What they ought to say, which is much close to the truth, is:

“We’ve only managed to digitize records back as far back as 1910, and even though we hold detailed climate records that go as far back as the early 1850’s, we can’t be bothered to do anything with because we’ve already spent the money on a big new shiny supercomputer.”

There is a classic example of that on their website today concerning the occurrence of frost in the UK during April.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office

“Detailed frost recording in the UK began in 1961”. What a shocking admission for the national weather service of a country that was established in 1854. That must mean all of the sterling work done by meteorologists before 1961 was all in vain and a complete waste of time. What happened to all the temperature records between 1854 and 1960? At random, I picked out a copy of the DWR for January 1917 just to see if there were any extreme temperatures reported back then, and unsurprisingly there they were, for thirty-three stations across the British Isles (fig 2). Of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because like today, many more climatological returns from stations remain unpublished and go straight into the archives.

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Met Office ©Crown Copyright

Absolutely no excuse

The Met Office were one of the first big users of computers and still are, here is a list of the computers that they’ve used down through the years (fig 3). I realise that looking forward with NWP model is vital, but so is looking back, and treasuring the climate data that previous generations have made since 1854. But why is it that climate records have always seemed to have been neglected, and climate data limited and inaccessible when there seems to have been no lack of one of the world’s fastest supercomputers at their disposal?

Figure 3 – Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Met Office have the resources, both in terms of staff and computing power to digitize the rainfall, temperature and sunshine records of the past and extend the gridded data series that they already have, back at least 50 years before 1910, but they have chosen to leave that wealth of old climate data untapped, and for the life of me, I just can’t understand why?

Ne’er cast a clout till May be out

Figure 1

Another touch of frost in places overnight, with air temperatures down to -1.8°C across the southeast of England this morning (fig 2). There has been a more general and sharp ground frost across most of the southern and eastern England too (fig 1), which won’t have please a lot of gardeners.

Figure 2

In fact the cold air at the moment is quite widespread across much of northern Europe and eastern Russia (fig 3), nothing exceptional, but because it comes after another relatively mild Winter and Spring so far, it’s come as a bit of a shock to some. And remember – ne’er cast a clout till May be out.

Figure 3

The driest Aprils since 1910 by region

I’ve spent a bit of time today creating an infographic of driest April’s. I’ve used the free data set maintained by the Met Office, which started in 1910 and is produced from gridded data for ten regions across the country. Hopefully one day the Met Office will extend this series to cover all the rainfall data that they inherited from the British Rainfall Organization in 1919 and just sat on for the last 98 years. I knew about the very anticyclonic and dry April of 1938 from a previous article that I had written earlier this month, but hadn’t realised that it was only driest in three out of the ten regions, even though it was the driest April in the EWP monthly series that started in 1766. The 1.0 mm in East Anglia in 2007 tops the list of driest region by region, which is something else I missed. I’ve borrowed the regional map from the Met Office, I’m sure that they won’t mind, let me know if you spot any issues.

Data courtesy of the Met Office


What’s slightly puzzling about these figures for April is why the UK value is the highest April value for all regions at 14.1 mm, when it’s made up of the value for Wales 8.8 mm, and the value for England 6.7 mm. Both values are for the same year 1938, I would have thought that the combined UK value should be some kind of mean of the two, but obviously not. It must have something to do with the gridding I suppose.

18 April – Sharp frost in north


Not a perfect radiation night across Scotland, there was always a little too much residual gradient left over from yesterday, even with a high pressure cell sat right slap bang over the country. Despite this Tulloch Bridge still recorded an overnight minimum of -5.7°C [06-06] which is not bad going for mid April (fig 2).

Liscombe top of the shop

Figure 1

It’s not very often that you’ll see Liscombe in Somerset (and not in Devon as I had always thought) as the warmest place in the British Isles, but it happened today with a temperature of 15.0°C at 15 UTC (fig 1), in fact it was a southwest one two with Exeter Airport second in the table (fig 2), but I bet you won’t hear about that on the BBC weather.

Figure 2

You can’t even call Liscombe a village in all honesty, there is a Liscombe Farm, but the AWS is a little way to the east up what looks a very lonely lane on Exmoor at a height of 348 M (fig 3), so it might be getting a little help from the northwesterly wind.

Figure 3 – Liscombe courtesy of Google Maps

Sea ice extent projections for the coming season

Figure 1

I’ve just been projecting forward the sea ice extent using the statistics the data that I download from the NSIDC. I’ve used the rate of change of the 10th percentile, and applied it from the 16th of April running forward (fig 1) to the extent on that day. If these projections are correct, I reckon that the Arctic summer minimum will be around 3.7 million square kilometres. This is the only the second time Arctic sea ice will have ever fallen under the 4 million level mark in the satellite series, that should happen at the start of September, which is what it almost managed to do last year. I’m sure a lot of people are looking at a much lower minimum, but the Arctic has put on a bit of extent this Winter, after suffering substantial losses during the run up to Christmas.

Rather more severe is the Antarctic projection for their upcoming Winter. I see the maximum at around 15.8 million square kilometres in the second week of September, the previous lowest maximum extent was 17.803 at the very start of the satellite series in 1978 (fig 2), so this figure is seriously low if it comes about. This year (the red line) will track much lower than 2017 (the black line), if anything the gap will widen between the two if anything, this is because up until the 28th of August last year the Antarctic was doing very well, with the extent slightly above average, but after that date the extent suddenly collapsed in September when it should really have been peaking. So I reckon that all eyes might be on the Antarctic this September, rather than the Arctic.

Figure 2

I will revisit these projections in September, it maybe by then, that I’ll have some serious egg to wash of my face, who knows my projections could end up being optimistic!

I will be the first to admit that what I’ve done is not scientific in any way, it’s just playing with the statistics of the last 40 years, but what the hell.

The midnight analysis

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office

I suppose that the occlusion straddled across central England in the midnight analysis (fig 1) could be classified as a ‘cold’ occlusion, because it’s certainly brought lower dew point air south and west across the UK today. The cold front that preceded it actually raised dew points as it came south yesterday evening as far as I can see. I see the occlusion/trough lying from Tiree southeastward to Lincoln as the real cold front, although there is little or no weather on it (fig 3), but it does separate the 6 to 8°C dew points in the west from the +1 to -2°C dew points further east and north (fig 2).

Figure 2

Neither the IR satellite image or the weather radar provide any good evidence of any triple point system centred over North Norfolk at midnight, with the bulk of the rain having transferred into the continent during the previous evening (figs 3 & 4).

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the Met Office

Figure 4 – Courtesy of the Met Office

Looks like I’ve lost this particular argument though, because the Deutscher Wetterdienst midnight analysis confirms the Met Office analysis (fig 4), low Peter turned out to be rather an unusual synoptic feature.

Figure 5 – Courtesy of the Deutscher Wetterdienst

April 2017 – Weather World

Figure 1 – Courtesy of Armagh Observatory

I’ve just watched another interesting installment of Weather World on the BBC and noticed from the credits that it was written by Nick Miller. He and Sarah Keith-Lucas hosted the proceedings that were centred at a number of locations in Northern Ireland:

  • Belfast International Airport – Aldergrove to you and me, and saw why weather is so important for aviation at airports.
  • Ulster Aviation Society Museum – where they looked at the history of ‘weather flights’ across the Atlantic.
  • Armagh Observatory – and saw how observations are made today, and at their long running climate recordings, which started on the 27th of December 1794.

I’ve changed some sunshine cards in my time at a number of stations across the UK, some of the locations that the recorder was sited were far from ideal, but the observatory at Armagh as a novel approach to getting around the problems of trees getting in the way, the sunshine recorder sits in a lift like device that raises and lowers the old Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder what looks like 50 foot into the air (fig 1), I hope after that platform doesn’t affect the wind speeds that they measure from the anemometer up there though. They take their weather observations very seriously at Armagh!

At a 24 hour station you could always change the sunshine card late in the evening, it seems strange to see it being changed at 09 UTC in the morning, there were times that someone forgot to change the card, or on very wet days the card almost disintegrated because it was so wet.  Seagulls also liked to attack the cards for some reason, and then there was the perilous job of checking the previous shift’s sunshine card, was that a continuous burn or not, and just when did you start or stop measuring the trace at sunrise and sunset?

I like Sean Kelly the weather observer at Armagh, he’s been doing the job for the last 18 years, and seems to have the right attitude to technology, they’ve tried automatic weather stations in the past, but found that they weren’t reliable enough. That’s what we said in the Met Office for over 30 years, we had a good run for our money but in the end we were replaced by an AWS, try getting a job as a weather observer at the Jobcentre now, Sean might well be one of the last one of us left here in the UK. Nick explained about how observations are taken each morning at 9 o’clock, “this weather ritual that has been happening for over 200 years” he said, except for last Tuesday when it looks like they had a day off (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the BBC

Given the brief from the producer, and the time constraints of the program, Nick Miller did a pretty good job in getting his story across, Sarah Keith-Lucas came across as a really nice person that I’m sure she is. Interestingly they kept it to just the two of them, and wisely in my opinion, didn’t include any input from the ubiquitous Carol Kirkwood. It’s possible that the BBC have decided to use Nick Miller for these kind of programs in favour of John Hammond from now on, and maybe that’s the reason why he decided to take an early shower.

April 2017 – Polar sea ice figures

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

There’s a lot of fear and apprehension going about on the Internet about the current state of the polar sea ice extent. I’ve always kept a close eye on how it’s performing both in the Arctic and Antarctic over the past 5 years with the help of the NSIDC, certainly in the Antarctic sea ice has fluctuated wildly in the past few years, but in the Arctic it’s been more or less just down. The latest data for the 14th of April is at a record low for this time of the year (fig 2), but it’s only slightly worse than at the same time in 2007. Perhaps the quality of the ice cap in the Arctic is thinner that it has been in the past, and maybe once it reached a critical ‘thinness’, then the extent will just crash one of these summers.

Figure 2

I’ve added a curve fitting series to both graphs, rather than just my usual linear trend which doesn’t lend itself to the Antarctic data at all well. The Antarctic curve is showing signs of taking a nose dive at the moment, because of the massive decline in the sea ice extent in the last few seasons (fig 3).

Figure 3

This graph of the Arctic sea ice volume anomaly (fig 4) does lend itself to a linear trend. Perhaps PIOMAS is a better way of looking at sea ice extent than the SII is, I don’t really know.

Figure 4 – Courtesy of the Polar Science Center

And just to give the full perspective on my earlier graph of the Arctic sea ice extent.

Latest April 2017 rainfall totals

You’re all probably all getting fed up to the back teeth hearing me prattle on about what a dry first half of April it’s been, so I’ll let the graphic do the talking.

Accumulations from available SYNOP – Data courtesy of OGIMET