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  1. ITV Report

Long-range forecasting - beware the headlines

Snowfall in north Yorkshire in February. Photo: John Giles/PA Wire

By Becky Mantin, ITV Weather Presenter

We’d all love to be able to look ahead and know exactly what the season holds for us – or indeed whether a ‘white Christmas’ bet might be worth a punt.

The reality is, however, that looking beyond five days still should be treated with a large degree of caution.

In fact, even a five day forecast on occasion comes with a degree of uncertainty if the forecast is particularly hard to pin down.

Weather forecasting, despite the incredible technological advances and some of sciences best brains working year in, year out, remains an imperfect science.

Grumbling about the forecast is a favourite - and affectionately received - national pastime and, as a weather presenter, this just comes with the territory; but frustrations can arise on all sides when messages are lost in translation.

Councils use long-term forecasts to help predict if they will need to use gritters. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Today the Met Office released it’s quarterly contingency outlook – advice for those designed for long-term planners such as local councils discussing probable requirements with gritting yards - who make decisions based on risk.

I say released – as part of the Civil Service, all findings must be released into the public domain – but if you go onto their website you will see that it’s been published in an appropriate part of their website and not issued by the press office.

This report is not a ‘seasonal forecast’ designed for public consumption – indeed, I’m not sure what most of us would take from this extract: “For November-December-January above-average UK-mean temperatures are more likely than below-average” or “Latest predictions for UK-mean precipitation favour near- or above-average rainfall for November-December-January”.

A red top may shout ‘WARNING! WARM, WET WINTER!” but bearing in mind the official outlook is a representation of the whole of the UK over the next three months, this sensationalist summing up is, neither helpful to the public, nor fair to the extremely dedicated and talented scientists behind the report.

Of course, there is every possibility that the weather will largely move along the expected trends, but it still makes this report a long way from the detailed, location based, short range forecasts as we know it.

Five day forecasts or at longest 30 day forecasts which contain indications of confidence levels, are designed for public consumption and though they may not make such sensational reading, are a far more useful predictor of our day to day weather.