Saturday, 6 November 2010

Forecasters got it wrong, again

If my memory serves me right it was around the middle of September when first warnings of extraordinarily harsh winter appeared in the media. According to some long-term forecasts (based of mathematical models) published round about two months ago, the coming winter would be extremely frosty and snowy in Europe.

Predictions of met offices across the world, all heralding severe cold in the coming winter were picked up by sensation-chasing media in Poland and abroad which launched out into scaremongering campaign. The fear of imminent harsh winter led to many misrepresentations, including the most widespread one, which credits Polish meteorologists with predicting the coldest winter in 1000 years on the assumption that the Gulf Stream has weakened… This shows how gossips are put about. One Polish meteorologist said the Gulf Stream held up well and did not seem to abate at all and somebody mistranslated it and sent out into the uncritical rest of the world.

Articles heralding the harsh winter give two reasons why such scenario is conceivable. Firstly, the alleged demise of the Gulf Stream, caused by the oil spill in Mexico Gulf. Not confirmed officially piece of information, disseminated by conspiracy theorists. The other cause is far more plausible, as we already experienced it last winter when most of the Europe was in the fetters of winter and during this summer’s heat wave. Those are disruptions in air circulation that may prevent the masses of warm air from getting into Europe and may draw in arctic and continental air from north and east.

I don’t remember much from the forecasts for the last summer, but according to meteorologists this September would have been cold (partly right) and rainy (right), October would have been chilly (right) and wet (wrong). The last decade of October was said to bring first snowfalls. And here forecasters parted with their luck. The last days of October brought beautiful sunshine and warmth blown in from over Sahara. Hot spell continued on the first day of November, when temperature in the afternoon hit +17C. The consecutive days were balmy – in the evenings on last weekdays temperature still hovered above +10C, yesterday day-time high hit +15C and even despite gusty wind one could feel pleasant warmth (no wind chill!). Today the weather was rather inclement, next days will probably bring gloomy and grey Polish autumn, but no winter on the horizon. But according to long-term forecasts, November would bring typical winter with snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures (at the present wide of mark). Well, those forecasts are fallible. Now let’s look at what Polish long-term predictions say about the weather in the coming months…

December – winter in overdrive, sub-zero temperatures will cause snow to linger, to boot Poland will be plagued by gales.

January – some thaws and hot spells will give us some occasional breaks between attacks of winters

February – dry and frosty, I surmise this means inflow of chilly continental air

And spring will come later than usual, will be cold and dry.

Funnily enough, German long-term forecasts predict early winter followed by… early and warm spring. I believe my western neighbours :)

According to predictions I’ve read this winter will resemble the last, 2009/2010, one, which went down in history as snowy and cool. Do two harsh winters in a row happen that often? Data for Poland do not bear out absolutely any correlation. How about past winters?

2009/2010 was remembered as cold (actually temperatures in December and Febauary were normal, January was very frosty) and snowy (not because of high precipitations, but because the snow didn’t melt).
2008/2009 was normal in terms of temperature of snowfalls.
2007/2008 was warmer than average with almost no snowfalls at all
2006/2007 was one of the warmest in the history and lasted from the third decade of January until the end of February
2005/2006 was cooler than the last winter and kept Poland in its grip until late March
2004/2005 saw a brief cold snap in late November and then proper winter hit around 20 January and refused to let up until mid-March.

First snowfalls in Warsaw were respectively on: 14 November 2007, 22 November 2008 and 14 October 2009. Winter has failed to turn up as early as in the previous year, but it seems unlikely that we’ll see Warsaw brought to a standstill by a layer of white flakes earlier than in 2007 and 2008. Time will tell. I want white Christmas and then winter may go away.

How about short-term predictions. If there are any prophets (of doom) among the readers, please mark your presence somehow. I have two questions.

1. On 9 November stocks of Warsaw Stock Exchange will be floated on… Warsaw Stock Exchange. They were offered for 43 PLN per share and after reading “The Intelligent Investor” and having done a brief research, I deemed them to be overvalued and settled on not subscribing for them. Then it turned out the demand from institutional investors had surpassed 25 times supply. What will the open price on Tuesday be? Will it fetch profits to subscribers?

Update, 10 November. Open price was 50.75 PLN (I do not regret not subscribing for GPW stocks. I still think they are much overvalued, but I'm glad the Polish treasury made a good deal on taxpayers' behalf, in the meantime I struck another, more profitable deal with use of money I would have had to freeze), close price was 54.00 PLN (ever-time high till now).

2. Bulgarian clairvoyant Baba Vanga is said to have predicted the outbreak of Third World War for 10 November 2010. Finally a prophecy that can fulfil quickly, I don’t have to wait until December 2012 :)

Update, 10 November. Not a WW3 in sight. But conspiracy theorist claim the puzzling California missile case might indicate the prophecy is fulfilling.


Paddy Ney said...

Excellent post, I enjoyed reading it. I believe the Germans too!

Pan Steeva said...

Thanks for the Polish weather site. I use Accuweather, but will compare Twojapogoda. Actually, I don't usually look beyond the next week, since it too often goes wrong after that. However, I have found Accuweather much more accurate than TVN of TVP forecasts even for the current day.