The PJ Tatler

The UK Met Office: "Oops!"

Meteorology is the engineering of climate science: while climate scientists try to understand the underlying processes that determine climate, meteorologists are expected to use that understanding to predict the short term variation in climate — what we call “weather”.

Like all engineering, meteorologists are judged on results: if you get the predictions wrong too often, or by too much, you’re not doing your job.  So when the Meteorological Office in the UK predicted “another warm winter” for this year, and got instead the coldest snowiest winter in perhaps as much as a thousand years, it was a bit of a scandal, and difficult to explain.

A Met Office source leaked an explanation to Roger Harrabin at the Telegraph: there was a secret report to the government that had predicted the cold winter, so it wasn’t the Met Office’s fault if Government hadn’t done enough.

Which raises another couple of questions: why are they making different predictions in secret than they are to the public, and when and how did this secret report get transmitted and what exactly did it say?

Intrepid bloggers in the UK extracted information with Freedom of Information requests, including this sentence: ‘The Met Office seasonal outlook for the period November to January is showing no clear signals for the winter’. What they had instead was two models that disagreed — one predicted cold (but only mild cold) and the other predicted warm. The secret government report said “we dunno” and the public report chose the “warm” prediction.

I hope to write more about this later today, but in the mean time, it’s worth having a look at Anthony Watts’ blog, and the two UK blogs that broke the story, Autonomous Mind and Katabasis.