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Providing forecasts for national emergencies

Snow in the UK

The Met Office provides a range of services for civil contingencies. These forecasts are essentially more complex versions of our weather bulletins for the public, but designed for people who respond to emergencies that are caused, or influenced, by the weather.

When the weather takes a turn for the worst, it's our job to get accurate, targeted information out to the people who respond, as well as to those directly affected - fast.

Who makes up the civil contingencies community?

The Government's aim is to reduce the impact of emergencies so that people can go about their day to day business freely and with confidence. To achieve this, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat within the Cabinet Office works in partnership with government departments, the Devolved Administrations and regional and local planners to help them prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies.

How does the Met Office support this community?

In an emergency, the weather can be both the cause and an added challenge so it's essential to know what it may do next. Short-term forecasts in advance of severe weather help to inform what type of action is needed, such as the deployment of resources. Longer range forecasts can also be used to assess the risk of extreme conditions occurring so that plans can be put in place to keep people safe and the country moving.

Different types of forecasts provided by the Met Office:
Forecast timescalesDescription of productUse in contingency planning scenariosType of decision some of our customers make
1-2 daysAn in-depth forecast for the next two days, including detailed and timely warnings of severe weather. This product is also able to identify the likelihood of weather types such as showers and fog patches occurring.Change operational arrangements if needed.Mobilising to save life and property
Road gritting
Power generation
Aircraft de-icing
Runway clearance
Air-to-air refuelling
3-5 daysA general picture of the weather on a day-by-day basis, with the main regional variations identified. We have a good track record in advising of any significant risk of severe weather in this period.Ready to change operational arrangements if needed.Asset protection
Call-in roster planning
Maintenance schedule
Commercial hire of vessels and equipment
6-15 daysBroad description of the weather likely to be affecting the UK. Indication of likely changes of type and length of periods of severe weather such as heavy rainfall, severe gales or an extended period of high or low temperatures.Consider changing operational arrangements.
Set up planning meetings.
Plan stock, resource or staffing
Arrange contingency cover
Planning meeting for severe event recovery
16-30 daysAn indication of how the weather might change, or be different from normal, (i.e. warmer, colder, wetter, drier) across the whole UK.Consider changing operational arrangements.
Set up planning meetings.
Maintain watching brief
Bias of pre-order stocks
Provides some limited guidance on potential variance from climatology i.e. possible change from what is typical for UK weather. Users are, however, still encouraged to consult our shorter range and climatological guidance before committing resources or taking action.Watching brief only, not used to inform immediate action or for committing resources.Energy consumption planning
Highlight areas to watch
Broad indication to guide long lead-time supply chain e.g. grit stock
ClimatologyDetailed information about the climate of the UK including summaries of recent months and seasons, averages, extremes, past weather events, historic station data and descriptions of regional climates.This is historical data and useful for planning and initiating investment decisions based on risk appetite.Long-term infrastructure planning, design and operational analysis
Wind farm site advice
Building season expectation
Long-term mission planning
Resource consumption planning

When natural disasters strike, we provide around the clock information and support to the police, fire and ambulance services and local councils. Our Public Weather Service Advisors are also involved at the highest level of the emergency command structure (Gold, Silver and Bronze) and through updates to the Cabinet Office Briefing Room.

What information is provided in the 3-month outlook?

We have recently started producing a 3-month outlook based on our seasonal forecasting model and output from other modelling centres. It provides information on the possible conditions averaged over the UK for a 1-month and 3-month period and is designed to be used alongside shorter range and climatological guidance in planning decisions.

The outlook is based on our understanding of the atmosphere and how it affects seasonal predictability. There are some things it can't do - as yet, the science does not allow finer details such as the number of nights of frost, or days of rain or snow, for example. But we do know that the Sun's output and the extent of Arctic sea ice, for instance, influence weather patterns over a seasonal timescale. Civil contingency planners also have access to experts at the Met Office to talk through the 3-month outlook and its nuances to derive maximum benefit from the information.

What about longer term forecasts?

In 2008, the Government published a National Risk Register that documents the likelihood and potential impact of a range of different risks (both natural hazards and malicious threats) that may directly affect the UK. It's designed to encourage people and organisations to think about their own preparedness.

As history has shown, severe weather can take a variety of forms and at times cause significant problems and disruption to normal life. Over the coming years, we're likely to see rising temperatures and sea levels, and an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events in the UK. The main types of severe weather we need to plan for at national level include storms and gales, low temperatures and heavy snow, heatwaves and drought.

How did the Met Office contribute to the National Risk Register?

Working closely with the Civil Contingency Secretariat we defined the criteria for severe weather and developed a common language to describe the level of risk. We also worked out the average frequency of severe weather and estimated the likelihood of different events occurring in the next five years.

What is being done locally?

The floods of summer 2007, the Cumbrian floods of 2009, the 'Big Freeze' in January 2010, the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010, and the bitterly cold December 2010... Over the past few years, the UK has been hit by all manner of natural hazards, each making news headlines for its scale and impact.

These events don't respect geographic boundaries; and, as we have witnessed in the UK, can have dramatic consequences for people's lives, assets and futures. That's why alongside the National Risk Register individual sectors are now publishing their own plans containing more localised detail. For example, in Scotland the risk of storms, snow and low temperatures is higher than in other parts of the UK.

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