15 August 2001
Weather men deny incompetence

By Tom Allen-Stevens

THE Met Office has denied that recent forecasting blunders are due to slipping standards or cutbacks.

Rainfall on Sunday (12 August) was much heavier than predicted, which frustrated many growers battling to harvest their wheat.

“We heard it was going to be a good day on Sunday, so packed up relatively early,” said Bedfordshire grower John Errington.

“As it was, it threw it down all day. If wed been warned we would have continued through the night.”

He received 18mm of rain on Sunday, which followed 35mm on the Thursday before. Such heavy storms have fuelled worries about wheat quality.

“Were all looking for a good harvest to put us back on course again,” he said.

But the conditions are far from unseasonal, according to Met Office forecaster Eddy Carroll.

“You very often find that the heaviest rain comes in July and August. These are months when flash-flooding and thunderstorms are quite prevalent.”

He confirms that current unsettled conditions have made reliable forecasting tricky, but claims accuracy, currently 86%, is as good as ever.

“We rely on computer models to provide predictions, based on past experience and current observations,” he explains.

“But the with much of the UKs weather coming off the Atlantic, where there are few observational points, there is bound to be an element of inaccuracy.”

He shrugs off accusations that the Met Office has cut back on the number of weather balloons sent up to measure atmospheric conditions.

“We receive fewer manual reports from UK-based stations, but this is more than compensated by the increased radar and satellite data we process.”

He advises farmers to base their decisions on weather services that provide a probabilistic forecast, for example those that predict a 70% chance of rain.

“Thats the future for those whose businesses are tied up with the weather.”