Public warning of big freeze deliberately delayed to spare Met Office 'embarrassment'

The Met Office warned the Government that the start of this winter would be "exceptionally cold" but did not immediately inform the public.

It advised Cabinet Office planners in October that Britain was likely to be in for freezing conditions.

But it only issued a public alert a month before December's hugely disruptive snow storms after changing its policy on releasing seasonal forecasts.

The BBC's environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, said the Met Office did not publish its warning of bad weather because of the embarrassment caused by its mistaken prediction that the UK would bask in a "barbecue summer" in 2009.

He wrote in the Radio Times: "Why didn't the Met Office tell us that Greenland was about to swap weather with Godalming?

"The truth is it did suspect we were in for an exceptionally cold early winter, and told the Cabinet Office so in October. But we weren't let in on the secret.

"The reason? The Met Office no longer publishes its seasonal forecasts because of the ridicule it suffered for predicting a barbecue summer in 2009 - the summer that campers floated around in their tents."

The Met Office stopped issuing seasonal forecasts to the public in March last year, and now provides a rolling forecast for the next 30 days on its website.

A spokeswoman for the agency denied that it withheld the warning about this winter's freezing weather out of embarrassment over the "barbecue summer" forecast.

She said: "We did advise them (the Cabinet Office) that the start of winter would be exceptionally cold back in October.

"We withdrew from making public our forecasts for the season because the public said they didn't want them.

"We always said they're useful for other people - obviously that includes the Cabinet Office and contingency planners.

"We did research at the start of last year and the public said a monthly forecast was far more useful than seasonal forecasts."