(TEL) UK Met Office 'Kept Winter Forecast Secret From Public



Met Office 'Kept Winter Forecast Secret From Public'
2011-01-04 06:14:32.353 GMT

Steven Swinford
Jan. 4 (Telegraph) -- The Met Office knew that Britain was
facing an early and exceptionally cold winter but failed to warn
the public, hampering preparations for some of the coldest
weather on record.
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.
The Met Office eventually issued a public warning about the
early onset of winter a month later, just days before snow and
ice covered much of Britain and temperatures plummeted to the
lowest on record.
Motoring organisations and passenger groups said yesterday
that the delay hampered preparations for winter.
It has also been disclosed that the BBC is so concerned
about the accuracy of the Met Office's predictions that it has
decided to publish independent assessments of the forecasters'
performance on its website.
Roger Harrabin, an environment analyst at the BBC, told the
Radio Times: "The trouble is that we simply don't know how much
to trust the Met Office. How often does it get the weather right
and wrong. And we don't know how it compares with other,
independent forecasters.
"Can we rely on them if we are planning a garden party at
the weekend? Or want to know if we should take a brolly with us
tomorrow? Or planning a holiday next week?
"In a few year's time hopefully we'll all have a better idea
of whom to trust. By then the Met Office might have recovered
enough confidence to share with us its winter prediction of
whether to buy a plane ticket or a toboggan."
The decision to publish the assessment was welcomed by rival
Piers Corbyn, the owner of WeatherAction, an independent
forecaster, said: "This is a step in the right direction. The Met
Office has got it repeatedly and yet it remains the public
service forecaster. There needs to be greater competition. I hope
this will encourage but it is vital that the assessors and their
measurements are independent and objective."
The Met Office stopped making its long-term forecasts public
in March after a series of major gaffes.
In 2009 a predicted "barbecue summer" became a washout,
while a subsequent forecast of a "mild winter" turned out to be
one of the coldest in 30 years.
This winter, however, its seasonal forecast proved more
accurate. Mr Harrabin said: "Why didn't the Met Office tell us
that Greenland was about to swap weather with Godalming? The
truth is it [The Met Office] did suspect we were in for an
exceptionally cold early winter, and told the Cabinet Office so
in October. But we weren't let in on the secret.
"The reason? The Met Office no longer publishes its seasonal
forecasts because of the ridicule it suffered for predicting a
barbecue summer in 2009 – the summer that campers floated around
in their tents."
Edmund King, President of the AA, said the Met Office had a
"public duty" to publish its seasonal forecasts. He said that
according to a recent AA survey of 20,000 of its members only 3%
of motorists bought winter tyres.
He said: "The Met Office has a public duty to tell us its
forecasts so that we can prepare for adverse weather. As it was
many motorists were caught out."
A spokesman for the Met Office said: "In late October we
informed the Cabinet office that there were early indications of
a cold start to winter. Following public research we were told
that a monthly outlook would be of more use which is why we now
have the 6-15 day and 16-30 day forecast on our website."

-0- Jan/04/2011 06:14 GMT