Get your barbie ready – we're in for a sizzler

The Met Office put its neck on the line and forecasts a hot, dry summer
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After two summers of sodden misery, Britain can look forward to a hot dry summer this year, the Met Office said yesterday in an unusually confident long-range forecast.

Announcing that it was "odds-on for a barbecue summer", the Met Office's chief meteorologist, Ewen McCallum, said that the period from June to August was likely to see prolonged spells of hot weather, some when temperatures would be above 30 Celsius or 86 Fahrenheit – something that happened in 2008 on one day only.

Although occasional heavy downpours could not be ruled out, a repeat of the washout weather of 2007 and 2008 was very unlikely, Mr McCallum said, adding: "We do not see the London bus syndrome of three wet summers coming in a row. The likelihood of that happening is extremely small."

Officially, the new forecast predicts that a great swathe of northern Europe, with Britain at its centre, will experience "above average" temperatures and "near or below average" rainfall during the summer to come. Although the forecast is an exercise in probability, the probability is regarded as high – about 65 to 35 that 2009 will be remembered for its hot, dry days.

"The signal of temperatures being above normal and rainfall being below normal is quite strong," Mr McCallum said at a press conference which was called specially to highlight the forecast – partly, he said, "because we felt that this year especially with all the bad news around, we've got a good news story."

The summers of 2007 and 2008 "hit the pits of the misery index" with their record rainfall, and cloudy, windy and cool weather, he said, and after the cold winter which had followed, people probably felt that "enough was enough."

The Met Office is not specifically predicting that summer 2009 will be as warm as the two recent hot summers of 2003 (when the UK air temperature of 38.5C/101.3F was set) or 2006 (when July was the hottest single month ever recorded in Britain) – nor can it predict what the highest temperature this year will be.

"But if we're right, there will be several episodes when the temperature will go above 30 Celsius, and from the health point of view, once we go above temperatures of around 33 Celsius, which is getting close to the 90s Fahrenheit, then we do have issues with health," Mr McCallum said.

One of the reasons the Met Office scientists are so confident is the growing understanding that weather in Europe is affected by other meteorological happenings across the world, especially the two related phenomena of El Niño and La Niña – when great volumes of water in the eastern tropical Pacific, off the coast of South America, turn respectively warm or cold. The last two years have seen a strong La Niña event, and this cooling is thought to be partly responsible for the poor summers of 2007 and 2008 – but the La Niña is now fading, Mr McCallum said.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes have cut their odds on the chances of 2009 being a record or near-record hot summer. Odds on the UK temperature exceeding the record of 38.5 C/101.3F were cut from 6/1 to 5/1, while odds on the UK temperature hitting hit 37.8C/100F were shortened from 4/1 to 7/2.