LONDON—The national weather service here makes a big call Monday: Will Britain’s winter be mild and wet, or cold and dry?
The U.K. Meteorological Office is poised to update its seasonal winter outlook next week. The routine report is typically fodder for weather junkies and ski resorts. Amid Europe’s energy crisis, the release is attracting a much wider audience.
A cold, dry and windless winter could drain the Continent’s natural-gas storage, which European governments scrambled to build up in recent months in an attempt to wean themselves from Russian energy.
“It’s going to be scrutinized,” said
chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, which is unrelated to the Met Office. The report’s potential economic impact “makes it more challenging than normal circumstances,” she said.
Weather has become a key factor in Europe’s pivot from its reliance on Russian gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In turn, Moscow has largely shut off the spigot. European officials say they have socked away enough gas to avoid rationing and blackouts—unless the winter is really bad.
The U.K. is more vulnerable than some other European countries. It has relatively little stored gas, and over the past decade has come to rely heavily on wind power. A period of still weather can reduce wind power and jack up demand for gas.
The monthly update expected Monday would be among the earliest seasonal outlooks from a handful of well-regarded agencies that analysts hope can give the world a better feel for how bad the winter might get.
“Once we’re in November we start to get a clearer view of the regime we’re shifting into,” said
director at The Weather Perspective, a U.K.-based consulting firm, who is a former
Bank of America Corp.
head of gas trading at Swedish utility Vattenfall, said a team of five weather analysts will pore over the U.K. forecast, along with outlooks from two other European agencies expected in November. “We look at every forecast that comes out,” he said.
While the report is focused on Britain, it has implications for the continent as a whole, in part because of the agency’s expertise in modeling something called the North Atlantic Oscillation, important for forecasting weather continentwide.
All that has raised the reputational stakes for the British weather agency, called simply the Met Office here. One of the world’s pre-eminent weather services, the 168-year-old institution has long catered to blustery Britain’s national obsession over weather.
“Despite the heightened interest at the moment in what the weather has in store for us this winter, this is very much business as usual for the Met Office,” said Will Lang, whose title at the agency is head of situational awareness.
The Met Office’s predictions underpin weather forecasts across the country and beyond. When it gets it wrong, though, Britons take it badly.
In 2009, the Met Office dangled the prospect of a “barbecue summer.” Instead, the country got rain. Critics called the agency the Wet Office for a time.
It faced a full-blown crisis in October 1987, when BBC weather presenter
told the public not to worry about the weather on the eve of Britain’s worst storm in more than two centuries.
The Met Office’s Mr. Lang said the agency’s “importance and relevance means that the times when we have been perceived to get things wrong have a long legacy.” Mr. Fish’s TV broadcast was based on “a fraction of the meteorological information that we have at our disposal today,” he said.
Mr. Fish has said he was talking about a storm approaching Florida when he told Britons not to worry, and said he did warn at the time of windy weather more generally.
The Met Office has racked up a decent record so far this winter. Its most recent long-range forecast, issued in early October, correctly foresaw mild weather this month.
The Met Office was established in 1854 by Vice Adm. Robert FitzRoy, a British naval officer and scientist more famous for commanding HMS Beagle, the ship that carried
around the world.
Later, Adm. FitzRoy put together the first widely distributed weather forecast, published in the Times of London on Aug. 1, 1861. The rudimentary guide became a sensation in Victorian Britain, drawing awe when the two-day forecast came true, and mockery when it didn’t.
Britain has more moving parts than many other regions, when it comes to weather. The island nation is subject to conditions in the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a huge continental mass on the other, making it especially changeable, according to Dr. Bentley of the Royal Meteorological Society. Even so, British forecasters can predict the weather several days ahead with good accuracy, she said.
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The Met Office’s rolling three-month outlook on Monday will provide broad-brush predictions about the coming quarter, such as whether temperatures and rainfall are likely to be above, near or below historic averages. It comes with a disclaimer that the science around long-range forecasting is still emerging.
Some businesses don’t rely on long-term forecasts precisely because of the uncertainty.
PLC, which runs the U.K.’s gas-and-power transmission networks, deploys historical weather data instead of forecasts in its outlook for how the gas system will fare over winter for that reason.
Weather has been key for big business for decades. Energy traders devour forecasts and other weather data to get an edge. Many employ meteorologists and run their own weather models.
David den Hollander,
co-founder of Dutch power-trading company DC Energy Trading, downloads hourly wind and solar forecasts before placing bids for the next day in an auction on the European Power Exchange at noon. Throughout the afternoon, he tracks changes in the forecasts. Then, a couple of hours before power is due to be dispatched, he starts downloading the data every five minutes to be ahead of the market.
“You can make a lot of money in a single hour,” Mr. den Hollander said. “Or lose it.”
Write to Denise Roland at [email protected] and Joe Wallace at [email protected]
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