Amateur weather sleuths join the Met by predicting a long, hot summer (probably)

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Never mind if it is a cloudy Easter, stock up now on suntan lotion, T-shirts and sandals. Britain will have a hotter than average summer, say two of the UK's diminishing band of amateur weathermen.

Never mind if it is a cloudy Easter, stock up now on suntan lotion, T-shirts and sandals. Britain will have a hotter than average summer, say two of the UK's diminishing band of amateur weathermen.

Bill Tanton from Devon and Harry Kershaw from Manchester, who have between them more than half a century's experience of reading the weather runes, reckon summer 2005 will be a sunfest.

They may be right, they may be wrong, but it it is interesting that at present the UK Meteorological Office is backing them. The Met Office's seasonal forecast, which looks ahead six months, says the period from June to August is likely to have above-average temperatures over most of Britain.

Furthermore, the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, which looks at the world, predicts that 2005 will be the second-hottest year in the global temperature register exceeded only by the record-busting 1998.

In these days of weather and climate prediction by supercomputer, the amateur weatherman, once beloved of local newspapers, appears to be a vanishing figure. And it certainly seemed like the end of an era when the doyen of them all, Yorkshire's Bill Foggitt, died last October at the age of 91.

The nationally famous Mr Foggitt based his forecasts on two things: the belief that all weather is cyclical (he believed a severe winter came every 15 years and a very hot summer every 22), and the old countryside lore of plants and animal behaviour as weather indicators. Rooks nesting higher in the trees were an indicator of warm times to come; pine-cone closing meant rain was on the way.

He was sometimes spectacularly right, and sometimes spectacularly wrong. He correctly predicted the end of a cold spell in 1985, for example, after seeing a mole poking its nose through the snow, but did not foresee the soaking summer of 1993 - one of the wettest on record in Britain - and received abusive letters for his neglect.

Foggitt's methods seem to have died with him. Amateur forecasters such as Mr Tanton and Mr Kershaw prefer to predict the future by looking very closely at detailed Met Office records and at prevailing weather patterns.

Mr Tanton, a former farmer now aged 77 from St Giles in the Wood near Torrington, has just finished his forecast for the period to 24 June, and will be presenting it to listeners on Radio Devon on Monday; but he gave The Independent an exclusive preview. He said a southerly airstream would govern the spring months, "and this means we shall be getting a warm time, a very warm spring".

Mr Kershaw, 78, a former engineer, from Sale, Greater Manchester, will not complete his next forecast for a fortnight, after which it will be presented on Manchester's GMR Radio and Radio Humberside. But he said that, based on his analysis of earlier records, two key early indicators suggested the summer will be very warm.

One was high winds in the first week of January, and the other was that the rainfall in December, January and February had been well below average. "These are both pointers for a good summer," he said.

Mr Kershaw said his method, known as similarity forecasting or analogy forecasting, had been used with success by the German army during the Second World War. It was based on finding a period in the past very similar to the three months just gone, and looking at what had followed.

Mr Tanton looks at the weather systems in place at the start of any given season and calculates how they will govern the weather patterns over the succeeding months.

Both men claim to have been right far more often than they have been wrong.

Despite their opinions being supported by the Met Office it should be remembered that Britain's official forecasters surround their six-month forecast with caveats, and stress on their website: "Skill for these long-range outlooks is substantially lower than for the more familiar shorter-range predictions, and the techniques used here for seasonal forecasting are still at an early stage of development."

Yes, why not buy the suntan lotion, T-shirts and sandals? But Britain's weather being as changeable as it is, it's still possible that summer 2005 will be rain-soaked, gale-lashed, chilly and sunless.

... AND HOSEPIPE BAN LIKELY

Hosepipe and sprinkler bans are already looking likely in much of southern England this summer after one of the driest winters on record.

In the past four months less than half the expected rain has fallen in the south: in the Thames Water area, for example, only 133mm (5.24in) of rain fell from November to February compared with an average of 274mm. Across the country the winter has been the third driest since records began in 1883.

Reservoirs that would usually be 95 per cent full are in some cases less than 60 per cent full, and as it would take up to a month of continuous rain to bring the levels back up, some water companies have already warned of likely restrictions. Gardeners are being advised to buy drought-tolerant plants, rather than blooms that may die during summer.

The affected area is likely to stretch from Cornwall to Kent, and across central England from Herefordshire to Norfolk. A very hot summer will make things worse, as rain that does fall will be more likely to evaporate rather than sink into subterranean aquifers.

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