UK energy consumers unlikely to get lucky with winter weather

Unseasonably warm October is not expected to be followed by a mild winter

The Met Office said the chances of a cold British winter were higher than usual. PA
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Britain is unlikely to enjoy favourable winter weather as Russia’s gas cuts usher in an expensive heating season, forecasters said on Monday.

The prediction comes despite an unusually warm October that has eased energy costs in parts of Europe.

Austria and Switzerland on Monday reported their hottest October on record, after Germany’s gas use plunged during a warm spell.

But the weather in the months to come will determine how bad the crisis gets, whether power cuts become necessary, and how much Europe's gas stocks are depleted by the spring.

The weather in Ukraine is also being closely watched for signs of how snow, mud and ice will affect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops.

The impact of Russia’s energy games on the rest of Europe will depend not just on the heat but the wind, which can produce more than half the UK’s electricity on a gusty day.

However, a three-month forecast released by the Met Office on Monday said neither the temperature nor the wind is likely to play in Britain’s favour.

The chance of an unusually cold season is 30 per cent higher than normal, whereas a mild winter is less likely than usual.

Meanwhile, a windy season is 50 per cent less likely than usual, with November and December expected to be unusually calm.

“For the whole country, the likelihood of impacts from strong winds is decreased as compared to typical risks for the season,” the Met Office said.

“With chances of a cold season being greater than a mild one, impacts from wintry weather are more likely than seen in recent years.”

Unlike many European countries, Britain has held back from urging its citizens to save energy this winter.

Energy bills are rising by about 27 per cent under a guaranteed price scheme that expires in April.

In Germany, where ministers are stepping in with up to €200 billion ($199bn) of subsidies, an energy-saving drive has paid off in a warm autumn.

Household gas use was down by 40 per cent in the most recent weekly figures, exceeding a Europe-wide target of 15 per cent.

It came as German temperatures were 2.5ºC higher than normal in the third week of October.

Switzerland said on Monday that its October weather was the warmest in 158 years of records and 3.7ºC above the average from 1991 to 2020.

The Alpine city of Chur recorded a temperature of 25.4ºC on Sunday, while many places in Britain reached 20ºC or more at the weekend.

In Austria, the mountain weather was the warmest since records began in 1853, while the lowlands had their hottest October since 1795.

Parts of southern Spain saw 35ºC weather this month, and France was 4ºC above average for nine straight days.

The warm spell was credited with reducing European gas prices from their summer peak.

A spokesman for Austrian company Energie Steiermark told broadcasters that energy costs were down an estimated 50 per cent in October.

Storage tanks being filled earlier than expected — with Germany’s already at 98 per cent of capacity — has also calmed markets.

Environmentalists have been quick to say that a warm October is nothing to celebrate because it reflects a warming planet.

The Met Office said its predictions were affected by climate change reducing the likelihood of a very cold winter.

Nonetheless, when one member of the European Parliament described the autumn heat as typically spooky for the month, Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany’s power grid regulator said: “But it helps to save energy.”

Challenged on how this squared with Germany’s climate goals, he said: “Just saying the truth.”

Updated: October 31, 2022, 2:12 PM