Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 18:37 UK

Will the UK get a sizzling summer?

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Sausages on a barbecue (Image: BBC)
Is the UK set for a sizzling summer of barbecues?

The Met Office is forecasting a barbecue summer after two summers of rain.

Given the shortcomings in past summer forecasts, how much credence should we give this one?

Remember the summer of 2007? On 11 April of that year, the Met Office chirped: "The summer is yet again likely to be warmer than normal. There are no indications of a particularly wet summer."

We, the consumers of British weather, got downpours and floods.

When assessing that summer's stats, the forecasters concluded: "The UK mean temperature was average. It was the wettest summer for England and Wales since 1912. Temperatures were below average."

A couple sunbathing on a beach
Sun worshippers may get more joy on UK beaches than last year

In April 2008, the Met Office projected: "Summer temperatures are likely to be warmer than average and rainfall near or above average."

That didn't prepare people for one of the wettest summers on record, with high winds and low sunshine.

In both instances, meteorologists failed to predict the movements of the jet stream - the high-level wind that races round the world 10km above the Earth's surface.

For the past two years, it was stuck above the UK, locking a low pressure system in place that, in turn, brought misery and rain.

Temperatures in both years were dragged down by the Pacific La Nina effect, which makes it four times more likely that we will suffer a bad summer in Europe.

Sunny outlook

La Nina has now ended and the Met Office is forecasting that we'll at last be able to get the barbecues out.

BBC weather presenter Simon King's long-range summer forecast

They say it'll be warmer than usual, with rainfall average or below average.

Chief meteorologist Ewen McCallum said: "We can expect times when temperatures will be above 30C (86F) - something we hardly saw last year."

The information released to the media did not mention the previous years' forecasting failures, but did hint at a slight increase in modesty.

The Met Office's head of forecasting, Brian Goulding, said: "Seasonal forecasting is a difficult thing to do and this places some limitations on our forecasts.

"Our predictions for last autumn, winter and spring have all given accurate advice, giving more confidence in our latest summer forecast."

Mr McCallum admitted in a news conference that seasonal forecasting is still in its infancy - a cross between climate change prediction and tomorrow's weather forecast.

But he said normal forecasting had massively improved, with the four-day forecast now as good as the one-day forecast when the Met office started more than 30 years ago.

Seasonal forecasting would improve, too, he said.

His cheery optimism about the coming months comes with a reluctant warning.

There is still a 35% chance that we'll get a rainy summer that'll leave the barbecue gathering rust.

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