Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Frequency of severe weather in Edinburgh

Like many organisations, public and private, Edinburgh Council is putting its mind to how best it can prepare for future winter emergencies.  The Policy and Strategy Committee has set up a project to undertake a fundamental review of  preparedness, policies and practices.  The project is to report in Summer 2011 and is expected to cost between £50,000 and £100,000

It has identified twenty five issues for consideration and right at the top is
"What is the likelihood of more frequent severe weather (to be analysed using data from government sources)?"
 After the winter emergency of 2009/10 Edinburgh council commissioned a "lessons learned" report which considered a significant upgrading of equipment to increase road treatment upon threat of severe weather.  A January 2011 report noted these measures were rejected in the lessons learned report of May 2010.
"This view was clearly strongly influenced by the expert advice at the time which suggested
that such extreme conditions were unlikely to be repeated in the near future. As
stated earlier, these expectations are now being adjusted" (my emphasis).
The UK Government had also commissioned the Quarmby Report after 2009/10 winter. David Quarmby asked the question Edinburgh Council's winter emergency project are still asking.  Quarmby's reply from the Met Office advice he had received was:
"the probability of the next winter being severe is virtually unrelated to the fact of just having experienced two severe winters, and is still 1 in 20"
So we have now had three 'severe winters'. On that 1 in 20 basis the Met Office calculates the chance of three 'severe winters' in a row as being 1 in 8000!  Yet we have struck unlucky and the 1 in 8000 has befallen us.  In case you are wondering the chance of FOUR severe winters in a row, according to the Met Office,  is 1 in 160,000!

The Met Office had just spent a lot of money on a supercomputer to improve standard weather forecasting and climate change predictions. And it is asking for more as is shown in this 2011 submission to parliament:
"19. The extent and speed of this development (better forecasting) is of course dependent on the availability of resources – particularly in supercomputing power to enable modelling to incorporate new science and understanding."
The Met Office has form for predicting warmer temperatures than we experience as shown in this post last December.

Memo to Edinburgh Council's winter preparedness review:
"Don't spend too much time on that first question about the likelihood of more frequent severe weather.  At least not from the Government's Met Office!"

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