Image: Rain in London
Alastair Grant  /  AP
Britain has seen a soggy summer, including this scene at a nearly deserted Covent Garden plaza in London.
updated 8/10/2009 1:21:06 PM ET 2009-08-10T17:21:06

It's the phrase that haunts Britain's weather forecasters — "barbecue summer."

It was used in April by the country's chief weather forecasting body when it predicted the summer would be warm and sunny.

After a soggy July, Britons are miffed. Meteorologists have been forced to defend their science — and their bonuses. The government-funded Met Office has paid more than $1.7 million in annual bonuses to staffers for meeting targets, including the accuracy of forecasts.

"That was for last year," Met Office spokeswoman Sarah Holland said Monday.

The Met Office's April forecast said there was a 65 percent chance the summer would be warmer and sunnier than average.

"Odds on for a barbecue summer," it said in an ill-advised phrase that was repeated endlessly by the media.

Britain suffered through miserable summers in 2007 and 2008, so predictions that this year would be drier were greeted with joy.

At first, the signs were good. June's Wimbledon tennis tournament took place under sunny skies.

But soon afterward it started to rain. More than 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) fell in July, double the monthly average.

Office revises forecasts
Two weeks ago, the Met Office revised its forecast — August will see average or above-average rainfall. Rather defensively, the agency insisted that "at no time did the Met Office state that summer 2009 would be hot and dry throughout or forecast a 'scorcher.'"

"July wasn't as nice as we'd hoped," Holland conceded. "But June was a very nice month — and we've just had a nice weekend as well."

But Daily Telegraph columnist Benedict Brogan scoffed on his blog that one senior forecaster had said he felt "in his bones" that the weather would improve in September.

"The Met Office gets about 83 million pounds ($138 million) a year from you and me," wrote Brogan. "We're paying 83 million pounds for bone-based weather detection?"

In London — overcast Monday, with a chance of showers — opinion about the weather ranged from disappointment to resignation.

"I'm absolutely gutted," said Scott Bishop, 32, an Australian software engineer. "I flew in from Australia for five days, but we had more sun in Melbourne in the middle of winter."

John McAndy, 72, a retiree from notoriously rainy Manchester in northern England, was more philosophical.

"Whoever is silly enough to go on a summer holiday to England is asking for it, really," he said.

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