BBC – Met Office, Met Office – BBC. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which of the 58 weather forecasters who appear on TV screens around the country are Met Office employees or BBC ones. The 24 who appear on national TV are Met Office people and the rest who appear on regional BBC channels are BBC people. So, for the sake of clarity, Paul Hudson appears on BBC Look North (having previously worked for the Met Office) is a BBC employee. Clear? Good.
Hudson writes a BBC hosted blog and late this afternoon weighed in to the warmer than average/colder than average Met Office forecast fiasco with a very matter of fact post. It is such an interesting post it’s worthy of comment. After reading this analysis you could be forgiven for thinking the Met Office will probably wish Hudson had stayed out of this…
There’s been much in the news over the last week or so, regarding the issue of whether or not the Met Office did forecast a cold winter, and if so was this communicated to the government. You can read one version of events in the Independent newspaper by clicking here.
OK, that’s fine. We know this part of the story backwards by now.
Readers of this blog will know that on October 1st last year I wrote an article, called ‘Another cold winter ahead?’ which you can read by clicking here.
In it I commented ‘The Met Office don’t issue their seasonal forecast to the general public anymore, using them for internal research purposes only, but as I understand it, their forecast also suggests that the probability of a cold winter is higher than normal.’
Interesting. The Met Office don’t issue seasonal forecasts to the public any more, but Hudson at the BBC was led to understand in October that the probability of a cold winter was higher than normal. Perhaps this was chatter between old colleagues or professional courtesy. But it wasn’t something being doled out for public consumption. What is noteworthy is that Hudson was saying this on his blog at the same time as this, now widely retailed, ‘scorchio’ probability map (below) was published on the Met Office website.
It is also worth noting that Hudson’s assertion that the Met Office uses seasonal forecasts ‘for internal research purposes only’ is not true. The Met Office issues seasonal forecasts to “‘Intelligent’ customers [who] find probabilistic forecasts helpful in planning their resource deployment.’. Moving on…
On the 5th October I followed up this article with an update that you can read by clicking here.
In it I say ‘Having seen computer model output from the 3 main centres – the Met Office, the European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMWF) and the American centre (NCEP) – the conclusion is that this winter is likely on average to be dominated by High pressure, with below average rainfall and temperatures colder than average. Moreover a mild and wet winter, with West or Southwest winds, which have been such a feature of our climate for much of the last 20 years, again seems unlikely.’
So having seen the computer model output Hudson made his own forecast as a meterologist. On his BBC blog. It was not a Met Office forecast and was not, with respect to Hudson, published at a prominent location for national consumption. This is merely confirmation that the Met Office had data suggesting a colder than average winter but still made the map above visible on its website at the same time. Questions remain unanswered.
The colour map below shows the actual forecast that I obtained at the time and wrote about. It’s a Met Office winter temperature profile, and there can be no doubt that it does show that the UK and Europe could expect a cold winter.
Eagle-eyed readers will note there is a slight difference between this probabilistic map (above) ‘obtained’ by Hudson from the Met Office and the ‘scorchio’ version accessible to all on the Met Office website. Trust me, there is. Now this keeps the Met Office can of worms wide open because they have to explain why during October 2010 two dramatically conflicting probabilisitic temperature maps were being circulated. Far from doing the Met Office a favour, Hudson has just undermined them with confirmation that they tried to have the best of both worlds.
This should put an end to the ongoing discussion as to whether the Met Office forecasted a cold winter or not.
Yes it does, because no they didn’t.
Paul Hudson of the BBC forecasted a cold winter using Met Office material and other sources that he had access to. The Met Office did not put this information into the public domain. It may be this was the information shared with the Cabinet Office, as per Met Office claims, but that does not get them off the hook for failing to share this information with the public.
What Hudson also fails to take into account is that at no time in October did the Met Office refute assessments in the media of the probable winter weather, after the ‘scorchio’ map had been seen and referenced by journalists as a prediction of a warmer than average winter. In fact, far from refuting the warmer than average reports stemming from the ‘scorchio’ map, such as this report in the Daily Express covered by this blog:
The latest data comes in the form of a December to February temperature map on the Met Office’s website.
The eastern half of England, Cornwall, Scotland and Northern Ireland is in for temperatures above the 3.7C (38.6F) average, more than 2C warmer than last winter.
The map also shows a 40 per cent to 60 per cent probability that western England and Wales will be warmer than 3.7C (38.6F), with a much smaller chance of average or below-average temperatures.
this is what was reported by Nathan Reo, the Daily Express journalist:
Helen Chivers, Met Office forecaster, insisted the temperature map takes into account the influence of climate factors such as El Nino and La Nina – five-yearly climatic patterns that affect the weather – but admits this is only a “start point” for a seasonal forecast. She said: “The map shows probabilities of temperatures in months ahead compared to average temperatures over a 30-year period.
So you see, even with the information and maps Hudson had to hand and reported on his blog, and even with private forecasts being lodged with the Cabinet Office, the Met Office (not the BBC employee Hudson) was standing by the warmer than average winter forecast in public. This is a flat contradiction.
But before we go, Hudson rounds off his post by saying this:
It is worth stressing that this is an average temperature profile across winter – December, January and February. It suggests that the winter would be cold, but it doesn’t by definition give any clue as to the severity of the weather that we experienced in December – nor would it since seasonal forecasts are just that – an average for the season
With this final comment Hudson again does the Met Office no favours. Readers will recall from this blog post that the energetic Roger Harrabin reported in the Radio Times that:
In October the forecaster privately warned the Government – with whom it has a contract – that Britain was likely to face an extremely cold winter.
It kept the prediction secret, however, after facing severe criticism over the accuracy of its long-term forecasts.
Harrabin twice undermines Hudson assertions. First to fall is Hudson’s attempt to suggest the public were warned about a colder than average winter, Harrbin confirms it was kept secret (also borne out by Dave Britton the Met Office’s chief press officer); and second to collapse is the temperature map ‘obtained’ by Hudson, because while he says the Met Office was retailing an average temperature profile across winter, the Met Office – as Harrabin states – was saying privately to the Cabinet Office that Britain was likely to face an extremely cold winter.
While some commenters on Hudson’s blog may find his post reassuring and a welcome exoneration of the Met Office and a good bit of work by the BBC, I think this analysis demonstrates it is anything but.
The story so far: (in chronological order)