Met Office steps in it again

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From Autonomous mind, a public relations train wreck:

A Freedom of Information request submitted to the Met Office by Autonomous Mind reveals the Met Office did not tell the truth when it said it had scrapped its seasonal forecast.

Despite repeatedly trailing the line that the Met Office no longer issues seasonal forecasts because the public says they are not of use (a separate blog post on that public view later today, with some new information that has come to light… Update: part two can now be read here), the reality is that the department’s Chief Executive, John Hirst, engaged in a smoke and mirrors exercise in an attempt at reputation management.

At a Board meeting of the Met Office on 26 January 2010, (original Minutes extract received under FOI: 0012014 AM Attachment) a recommendation was tabled by Hirst to rename the forecasts and locate them in a different part of the department’s website, and that Hirst:

‘… proposed to the board the changes the Met Office was considering to manage the presentation of these longer range forecasts.’

This is clearly not a decision to stop seasonal forecasting, merely a tweek to its presentation – presumably to allow the Met Office the ability to deny a forecast when weather events show it to be inaccurate.  It is equivalent to the EU’s renaming of its proposed constitution without changing the substance of the content so it could be ratified as a treaty without referenda being held.  A change in presentation does not change the substance of the content.

The Met Office logic is that although it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck it is actually a horse.  This explains the weak attempt to disown the seasonal temperature probability map that the department published in October.  But Hirst’s actions now reveal the map is a forecast after all, in everything but name.   The details from the Minutes are shown in the blue highlighted section in the screenshot below (click to enlarge):

The words ‘forecast’ and ‘forecasts’ appear seven times in that section, which seems quote a lot when talking about something the Met Office deny is a forecast.  The FOI response comes just one day after the Met Office was seemingly caught out in another lie, when it told Andrew Orlowski of The Register this week that it:

‘… never suggested that we warned cabinet office of an ‘exceptionally cold early winter’

although a Met Office spokeswoman was quoted in the Daily Mail on 4 January as saying:

‘We did brief the Cabinet Office in October on what we believed would be an exceptionally cold and long winter,’

The Met Office employs a large number of very good, honest and dedicated people.  This and my other blog posts on the subject are no criticism of them.

But the department is being run by an unreliable group of executives who have been exposed as dishonest in the course of their efforts to underpin and further a politicised agenda (climate change) and secure even more public money for additional supercomputing power.  At the head of this group is John Hirst.  Suspiciously his executives remained silent about the story published by Roger Harrabin, only denying they had warned of an ‘exceptionally cold early winter’ after Katabasis‘ FOI request revealed the claim was not true.

The unpleasant whiff of deceit and clumsy spin continues to emanate from the Met Office and there now absolutely must be a formal investigation into its management and its executive.  The public deserves and is entitled to much better for its money.

Update: The excellent Katabasis is on the case and builds on this post over at his place. Definitely a must read.

Part two of this blog post is now live…

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February 1, 2011 8:49 am

My model says that the CO2 = Weather models are flaming out faster than a Scottish heat wave.

February 1, 2011 9:08 am

I have to wonder what this does to the confidence of the people at the MET office. The smart people there have got to be fed up with idiots at the top that continue to be hyper political and incompetent.
Certainly it is hard to justify the expense when the results are always so wrong. That is really the problem with “forcing” a bias into projections and forecasts. The bias quickly converts to egg on your face.
John Kehr

February 1, 2011 9:17 am

“The Met Office has never suggested that we warned cabinet office of an ‘exceptionally cold early winter’. The forecasts said that there was ‘an increased risk for a cold and wintry start to the winter season’. The Met Office provided a forecast to the cabinet office that showed that there was an increased risk of an average or cold start to winter over an average or mild winter. This along with a verbal briefing and the text that highlighted a ‘increased risk of a cold start to the winter season’ all provided useful guidance to the cabinet office.”
I think it is fair to disagree with the MET’s position of how is presents or does not present its finding to the public. But it is not reasonable to twist small sematic differences in its statements into a dark conspiracy.

February 1, 2011 9:17 am

Building more on the monthly forecast – updating the monthly forecast every two weeks……
……but it’s no longer a forecast
Keep your eye on the pea……………..

Scott B
February 1, 2011 9:19 am

This whole argument seems completely pointless to me. Catching an organization spinning something for PR reasons? That not very shocking. Management should be trying to improve PR. I’d care if this pointed to forecasts being manipulated but there’s nothing about that here. Someone lying or not knowing about warning the cabinet office of a cold winter seems like one of the least damaging lies I can think of.
Also, if they public thinks season forecasts are worthless, I’d argue they are wrong in the long term. As of now they don’t help much. Some markets can slightly benefit but it’s at the edge of meteorological science and is very uncertain. The same was true of 7-14 day forecasts not too long ago though. The only way longer term forecasts will become more reliable is if they are done, compared to actual weather, and improved based on its performance.

Nigel S
February 1, 2011 9:22 am

Readers not familiar with ‘Mystic Meg’, a much loved TV astrology act over here in UK, might like to look her up on Wiki to get the excellent ‘Mystic Met’ joke in the links which makes a good companion to the dart board illustration often used here.

February 1, 2011 9:30 am

Sounds like they are trying to disseminate data on a more regular basis similar to our Climate Prediction Center here:
On a side note, it is funny how the CPC seems to have correctly predicted a dry as all get out winter for Denver but missed the near record snow accumulations in the mountains/ski resorts.

February 1, 2011 9:39 am

when you don’t blow the whistle on fraudulent practices in your organization you lose the right to be called good, honest and dedicated … sorry but those dogs have fleas too …

February 1, 2011 10:00 am

The Met Office logic is that although it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck it is actually a horse.
LOL. No, it is a camel. 🙂

February 1, 2011 11:43 am

Scott B says:
February 1, 2011 at 9:19 am
“The only way longer term forecasts will become more reliable is if they are done, compared to actual weather, and improved based on its performance.”
Nobody forced the Met Office to stop issuing long range forecasts; they announced that out of their own free will, and said they would stop making long range forecasts, which turns out to be a lie. Nobody forced them to lie. They could have gone on issuing them but telling the public that it is still an unreliable and experimental thing, or they could have said: We do make these forecasts but as nobody can rely on them, we don’t make them public.
So, many possibilities to avoid lying.
There is a reason they did issue the infamous BBQ summer forecasts without telling anybody that it’s an unreliable forecast: They are strong believers in AGW and strong believers in the need to convince the public of AGW, and they thought they had a save bet.

stephen richards
February 1, 2011 11:57 am

Scott B says:
February 1, 2011 at 9:19 am
What are you on? The MetOff is a WEATHER FORECASTING INSTITUTION RUN BY THE MINISTRY OF DEFENSE NOT A PR COMPANY. When it forecasts weather it just has to say what it WILL do not create an advert to put on TV or billboards.

stephen richards
February 1, 2011 12:00 pm

oh and by the way, if a forecast is wrong it’s USELESS. Tomorrow will be sunny and warm ! oh good I’ll go for a picnic,, Much Thunder and lightening later, oh jolly good they were wrong but oh Scott says that’s OK. Yes very useful that!!

February 1, 2011 12:27 pm

If there was an integrity left in the UK Parliament, heads would roll. But I do not expect them to.

Edward Bancroft
February 1, 2011 12:34 pm

Their method is:
– Start with a UK seasonal projection (buried in a world report)
– Update at monthly intervals (thereby making this actually a monthly projection)
– End with updates to the monthly projection at two week intervals (actually making it a fortnightly report)
Should be enough latitude there for anything. The conclusion from this is that the only forecasts that the Met Office have confidence in are in reality only up to two weeks ahead. They could try explaining this, but I expect that it might dent their carefully constructed aura of meteorological supremacy.

February 1, 2011 1:31 pm

I particularly like the comment in item 17:
“The science remains groundbreaking with the Met Office being leaders in the filed[sic]”
Real world interpretation:
We think we are the best in the world, but we can’t spell and don’t pay attention to details.

February 1, 2011 3:16 pm

When I was at school I seriously considered joining the Met Office.
I’m glad I didn’t!

P Wilson
February 1, 2011 10:26 pm

Just a few words (to Sligo, Hirst, et al)
Hope you are reading.
why are you continuing this charade of climate consensus?
Charades occur when an assessment is known, but whose veracity has to be suppressed.
it occurs to me that you know fully, perhaps only in private, that global warming and Anthropogenic warming are popular fictions.
Now we all know that Star Trek, and sci fi generally costs a lot to make, but makes a lot in return. If the fiction/fantasy wasn’t there, there would be no investment or return.

February 1, 2011 11:14 pm

The MO’s big lie is that they can make forecasts for months or seasons ahead:
they are lying to themselves. The UK public see through it because the MO only
has the one long-term forecast: “above average temperatures”.

February 1, 2011 11:54 pm

Note the change of wording
no longer issues seasonal forecasts
This is clearly not a decision to stop seasonal forecasting,
merely a tweek to its presentation
Here is how I interpret this:
The met office in the past makes medium term forecasts and publishes them as “official” pronouncements.
Most people treat them as being of similar accuracy as the short range forecasts and don’t understand the added uncertaintly. Instead of blaming themselves when things go wrong they blame the met office.
So the met still makes the forecasts. But it no longer publishes them as “official” to discourage from reading too much into them.
Along come comes the ever ambitious Autonomous Mind who likes to elevate himself by standing on someone else’s face.

David Wells
February 2, 2011 1:59 am

Seems to be that some bright spark at the MET saw the benefits to their pension fund and salary if they indulged themselves in the “science” rather than the pragmatic business of make “weather forecasts” there is no hype in forecasting but presenting yourselves as “world leaders” in climate science is the climatic equivalent of searching for the “Holy Grail”. Thats fine except they really started to believe their own hype and once they had the Tiger by the tail they had to stay with the program otherwise extreme loss of face and the salary, status, 4X4s and pensions would start to implode. Now with the tide turning against them it is ever more necessary for extensive PR activity and re-branding in order to spin their way out of the pit that they dug for themselves. All of humanity is corrupt in one way or the other these guys just saw their opportunity to live life in the celebrity fast lane and went for it, live by the sword and die by the sword, at some time and it may take some more bitterly cold weather and we will see the fag end of AGW unfortunately some time after that twerp Chris Huhne has spent £300 billion of our cash on wind turbines to generate 1000 uk “Green” jobs. We can never get away from the Peter principle “people elevating themselves to the level of their own incompetence”. The real problem with AGW is that too many people those fore and against would have very little to do in their lives if the issue went away so both sides have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth. You cant really criticise the MET unless you look at yourself in the mirror and recognise that you are no different they just get paid better so get a science degree and work for the MET, nice salary, nice pension, big 4×4, happy days!!!

February 2, 2011 7:25 am

LazyTeenager says:
February 1, 2011 at 11:54 pm
Here is how I interpret this:

How you interpret it is immaterial to the facts on the table. Perhaps you can send the Met Office your interpretation so they can consider you for their PR officer in the future. However, that will only cloud the future, not change the past.

February 2, 2011 5:18 pm

Reading this post and the FOI minutes helps us to understand the background of the fundamental lack of professionalism and management skills…….at BP.

David Falkner
February 2, 2011 8:05 pm

I came across this dredging up links for another post. I wonder if they are using this?
Since the TAR, it has been shown that climate models can be integrated as weather prediction models if they are initialised appropriately (Phillips et al., 2004). This advance appears to be due to: (i) improvements in the forecast model analyses and (ii) increases in the climate model spatial resolution. An advantage of testing a model’s ability to predict weather is that some of the sub-grid scale physical processes that are parametrized in models (e.g., cloud formation, convection) can be evaluated on time scales characteristic of those processes, without the complication of feedbacks from these processes altering the underlying state of the atmosphere (Pope and Stratton, 2002; Boyle et al., 2005; Williamson et al., 2005; Martin et al., 2006).
That would certainly explain their hesitancy to release more predictions.

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