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Tuesday 5 January 2010

Broadsheet Watch – 5

Another day, another public body in the crosshairs of the Maily Telegraph: today, their target is the Met Office, and more specifically its chief executive John Hirst, who has received a pay rise of a size which the Maily Telegraph considers inappropriate. The article says that the pay rise comes “despite a series of widely criticised forecasts”, thereby showing that the Telegraph footsoldiers have no sounder grasp of meteorology than their “Comment Star” Christopher Booker, whose cheap attack on the chair of the IPCC I considered recently.

The UK sits on the boundary between a very large expanse of ocean and an equally large continental land mass – added to which is the effect of ocean currents on sea temperature. With this mix of influences, weather forecasting is inevitably a less than totally certain art, and if there is one golden rule to follow, it is that forecasting the weather for more than 24 hours in advance is, more often than not, difficult.

So what use is the Met Office? Well, their computer power enables us to pick out trends in the weather, and gives us the best estimate – perhaps the “best worst” one – of how weather patterns are developing. It gives us better notice of extreme weather events than any number of whingeing hacks can ever do. If it were as bad as is made out, farmers, aviators and sailors would not trust its utterances. That they do should tell us something.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph article goes into Phil Space mode by banging on about low stocks of grit and salt, overrunning engineering works near London’s Liverpool Street terminus, and industrial action on Virgin Trains, as if these are somehow connected to John Hirst’s remuneration. It does manage a quote, but wrongly attributes the usual froth from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance to “campaigners”. The TPA is an Astroturf lobby group and should be labelled thus.

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