Government vs Met Office forecast row heats up

The saga of the ‘private’ Met Office forecast to the Cabinet Office for early winter has taken a new twist.

Many people have submitted Freedom of Information requests concerning the Met Office forecast supplied to the Cabinet Office in October 2010, looking ahead to the winter, after the Met Office published temperature probability maps showing they believed the winter would be warmer than average. The Met Office, via Roger Harrabin, put out its side of the story just after New Year with Harrabin stating 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.

However, this claim seems overblown when compared with the Cabinet Office’s view of the forecast. The Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, has responded to a Parliamentary question about the forecast with a written answer published on Friday. The question and answer read:

Chris Heaton-Harris: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what account his Department took of the October 2010 Met Office forecast of a mild winter in preparations across Government for the winter of 2010.

Mr Maude: The Met Office provide the Government with regular updates throughout the year to inform short, medium and longer term planning. In late October, the Met Office advised that temperatures during November and December were likely to be average or colder. This information was shared with Departments as part of a wider review of winter preparedness.

‘…were likely to be average or colder.’  That in no way reflects the Harrabin claim that the Met Office predicted it was likely Britain would face ‘an extremely cold winter’.

The Freedom of Information responses to the public and the media are still pending. But the parliamentary answer shows the government and the Met Office are peddling different stories and that only the full release of the unredacted forecast will determine who is telling the truth.  In the meantime, get comfy and reach for the popcorn while the rats scuffle in their sack.

13 Responses to “Government vs Met Office forecast row heats up”


  1. 1 Barry 17/01/2011 at 1:09 pm

    “That in no way reflects the Harrabin claim that the Met Office predicted it was likely Britain would face ‘an extremely cold winter’.”

    Unfortunately it doesn’t help either. It’s amazing how much webspace has been taken up by ambiguity.

    Paul Hudson’s recent interjection prompted a commenter here to suggest that the Met produced an aggregate forecast based on the predictions of themselves and others – a synopsis of the forecast ‘market’ if you like.

    We still haven’t had an unequivocal definition from anyone involved of what gets provided to the Cabinet Office by the Met Office. It could be their own or a best guess based on several other agencies as well as themselves. The evidence Paul Hudson provided is hinting at the latter. If that is the case either other forecasters predicted extremely cold forecasts or the Met Office don’t put much weight on their own output.

    This could turn out to be a case of either Harrabin misunderstanding what the Met Office provide to the Government or the Met themselves being unhelpfully vague with their terminology.

  2. 2 mark 17/01/2011 at 1:18 pm

    How can the word “average” be included in a prediction? If the MO predicts the average for the Temp for the next 100 years the actual Temp may never be that of the average.I don’t require a super computer to say in the winter it will be “average or colder” and in the summer it will be average or warmer.

  3. 3 James P 17/01/2011 at 2:13 pm

    If I was told (especially by an expensively funded outfit with more computer horsepower than the Pentagon) that the weather was going to be ‘average or colder’, I think it would be reasonable to ask which!

    It’s roughly equivalent to Deep Thought’s answer of 42 – it might have taken a lot of effort, but it’s not very helpful…

  4. 4 Mike Spilligan 17/01/2011 at 5:02 pm

    As someone who likes to be methodical in anything I undertake, I long ago banned the word “average” because it is, at its most innocuous, likely to confuse while in the extreme it’s likely to mislead – either accidentally, or as we are in the realms of climate science, deliberately.
    How we come to have scientists and senior politicians using this word shows how shallow are these peoples regard for a matter on which they may have principal roles in determining the expenditure of vast sums of the nations “wealth”. It would be better to use the word “typical” together with a definition of the parameters of what constituted that in the given conditions and objectives.
    By the way, AM, my thanks to you for keeping many of us alert to these matters.

  5. 5 Joseph A Olson, PE 17/01/2011 at 5:53 pm

    The MET, like us all have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. To eliminate the ‘ambiguity’ of all future forecasts, I make the following recommendation. First, make a ‘prediction’ of every possible future weather condition. Then seal these ‘predictions’ in a mayonise jar entrusted to the saints of the Royal Society.

    Then when ‘weather’ happens, the RS faithful servants can open the maynoise jar, find the appropriate ‘forecast’ letter and proclaim the MET has again proven 100% prediction accuracy. The public, then knowing the integrity of the science and the wise investment of their tax monies, can go back to sleep. That coma like sleep induced by BBC programing.

  6. 6 LDLAS 17/01/2011 at 6:22 pm

    Now lets see.
    Wich base period did the Mess-office take?

  7. 7 Cassandra King 18/01/2011 at 6:00 pm

    You can imagine the outrage if a structural engineer claimed his bridge would take the average amount of load or possibly a bit more or less or a doctor prescribing the average amount or possibly a bit more of drugs for a patient.

    The met office costs us hundreds of millions of pounds a year to run, it uses the most advanced computers available today, it has enough scientists to sink a battleship and still the best they can do is that? I could have written a far better forecast based on actual data and I dont know an isobar from a marsbar.

    You have to laugh until you realise that peoples lives depend on these self serving arrogant fools.

  8. 8 ken dickman 01/02/2011 at 12:41 am

    The Met office has too many Rocket Scientists & Weather Prediction ” ISN’T ” Rocket Science but ” CYCLE ” Science & I don’t mean ” Tour De France ” ! .

    All I do is get out my calculater ( that’s because it’s more than 10 numbers ) & go back 12 years & then add 6 weeks , it works for me , but then that’s ” observance ” not science .


  1. 1 The Met office and the BBC- caught cold | Watts Up With That? Trackback on 29/01/2011 at 4:49 am
  2. 2 Eye on Britain (2) Trackback on 30/01/2011 at 1:14 pm
  3. 3 Why is the Met Office lying to us? « Peter Gelardi – Getting Warm Trackback on 31/01/2011 at 9:20 am
  4. 4 Marginalized Action Dinosaur » UK Met Office has some explaining to do Trackback on 31/01/2011 at 8:24 pm
  5. 5 The Met office and the BBC- caught cold | Probe International Trackback on 07/03/2011 at 3:54 pm
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