Seasonal Forecasting and the 2018 European Heatwave

By Len Shaffrey

The summer of 2018 has been one of the warmest on record in the UK and Europe. Warm temperatures over the summer led to impacts on agriculture, water resources and human health. One interesting question is how predictable was the 2018 European summer heatwave?

The skill of wintertime seasonal forecasts has dramatically improved in the past few years, especially for forecasts of the wintertime North Atlantic Oscillation (e.g. Scaife et al. 2014, Baker et al. 2018). However, there is much less skill for summertime seasonal forecasts for Europe. Interestingly, there was a substantial degree of convergence in the seasonal forecasts for summer 2018, with most forecast systems predicting warmer than average European temperatures. Figure 1 shows the multi-model mean seasonal forecasts of 2018 July-August-September(JAS) 2m temperature anomalies (forecasts were initialised around the 1 June 2018). The seasonal forecasts were predicting temperature anomalies of approx 1C over Eastern Europe. This led the Met Office to make the unusual step of issuing a statement on this summer’s forecast, which was picked up by the media.

Figure 1. Multi-model mean seasonal forecast of 2018 JAS 2m temperature anomalies from the Copernicus C3S seasonal forecast service.

It’s not yet clear why the summer of 2018 was more predictable than usual. This is an active research area which is being addressed in NERC projects such as SUMMERTIME and IMPETUS. Recent studies have highlighted how springtime North Atlantic seas surface temperature drive summertime European atmospheric circulation (Osso et al. 2018), the relationship between springtime Tropical Atlantic rainfall anomalies and summertime circulation over the North Atlantic (Wulff et al. 2017) and suggested that some seasonal forecasting systems can capture interannual variations in European summertime rainfall (Dunstone et al. 2018). Overall, these studies have suggested that there might be much more seasonal predictability for summertime European climate than previously thought. The studies also raise the possibility that deeper understanding of these processes may lead to substantially improved seasonal forecasts of summertime European climate.


Baker, L. H., Shaffrey, L. C., Sutton, R. T., Weisheimer, A. and Scaife, A. A, 2018: An intercomparison of skill and overconfidence/underconfidence of the wintertime North Atlantic Oscillation in multimodel seasonal forecasts. Geophysical Research Letters, 45 (15), 7808-7817.

Dunstone, N., Smith, D., Scaife, A., Hermanson, L., Fereday, D., O’Reilly, C., et al. 2018:. Skilful seasonal predictions of summer European rainfall. Geophysical Research Letters, 45, 3246–3254,

Osso, A., Sutton, R., Shaffrey, L. and Dong, B. 2018: Observational evidence of European summer weather patterns predictable from spring. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115, 59-63. 

Scaife, A. A., et al. 2014: Skillful long‐range prediction of European and North American winters. Geophys. Res. Lett.,41, 2514–2519. doi: 10.1002/2014GL059637

Wulff, C. O., Greatbatch, R. J., Domeisen, D. I. V., Gollan, G., & Hansen, F. 2017:. Tropical forcing of the Summer East Atlantic pattern. Geophysical Research Letters, 44, 11,166–11,173.

This entry was posted in Atlantic, Atmospheric circulation, Climate, Climate change, Climate modelling, Environmental hazards, Historical climatology, Hydrology, Numerical modelling, Seasonal forecasting, Waves. Bookmark the permalink.