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Friday 2 September 2011

Forecasting – Selective Mail Memory

The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre have evidently not laid into the Met Office sufficiently of late, so today Fiona Macrae – allegedly a science correspondent – has gently ridiculed Alan Thorpe, former head of their climate change unit, for stating the obvious: that weather forecasts would benefit from being longer.

That, though – despite talking about the weather being a peculiarly British priority – is not likely to change any time soon. Even the Beeb has never been massively generous with the time given over to forecasts, and over on Channel 4, you might blink and miss it, the piece at the end of the main evening news not even having its own presenter, and given to whoever is second fiddle on the main programme.

But that doesn’t stop the Mail poring over long range forecasts from years past, and suggesting that the Met Office was caught out by the winter of 2009-10. And of course the Dacre view is that other forecasters are better at this kind of thing, the Mail’s current favourite being Positive Weather Solutions (PWS). So just how wonderful are their predictions?

Well, as relayed by Fiona Macrae – again – at the end of March, not very wonderful at all. August was going to see temperatures over 30 Celsius (wrong), June would bring flash floods (not in Crewe it didn’t), and somehow the hottest April for over a hundred years got missed off the PWS forecast.

How about last year, then? PWS were quite sure that 2010 would bring that elusive “barbecue summer”. The Mail told its readers thatthe prediction comes from a forecaster with a somewhat better record on the subject than the poor old Met Office”. 2010 brought dry weather, particularly in the south east, but the predicted “hotter than 1976” was not achieved. Not nearly.

And PWS did no better this spring, with a prediction that the latter half of May would be really hot, with the month being the “hottest for 350 years”. It wasn’t: the warm spot was in April, and they appear to have missed that. Moreover, they predicted warm weather continuing into June, but the month started cooler than usual.

Had those forecasts come from the Met Office, the Dacre hackery would have been trowelling on the abuse by now. PWS has made a nice little earner out of “not being the Met Office”, but with this less than stellar success rate, they’re going to have to up their game – or risk being found out.

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