Seen elsewhere
The calendar

Click to buy!

Support

 

Twitter
Buy

Click images for more details

Recent posts
Recent comments
Currently discussing
Links

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace
« Licensed to thrill - Josh 195 | Main | By applying inappropriate techniques, Bob Ward can prove that right is wrong »
Thursday
Jan172013

The weirdest year ever?

Roger Harrabin takes a look at the recent furore over the Met Office's climate predictions and finds that some within the Met Office are none to happy with the organisation's PR performance.

The damage to Met Office credibility, though, was exacerbated by a couple of blunders in its own communication.

The first was to put the decadal report on its website on Christmas Eve - the traditional date for burying stories that the authorities don't want publicised. I was initially suspicious. But the Met Office since explained that the scientist responsible was due to finish the work by end of year and was about to go on holiday. That sounds plausible.

The second error was in the caption to a graph comparing the new temperature forecast with one from the past. It was badly-worded and led bloggers to conclude that the Met Office were trying to cover up the disparity between forecasts. (They seem to have accepted later that this is not the case).

Interesting stuff. The article also includes the remarkable claim that this has been the UK's "weirdest year of weather".

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments (128)

I thought Harrabin *was* the Met's PR department.

Jan 17, 2013 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered Commentercui bono

It seems the Met Office didn't exactly shine in their rainfall predictions last year.

http://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/rainfall/

When they get it right, is it skill or just luck?

Jan 17, 2013 at 9:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJulian

Since when is 'was about to go on holiday' a valid excuse for anything?

"I would have filed my taxes, but 'was about to go on holiday', and made a few mistakes in my favour. Roger Harrabin says that this is fine (and he knows everything about the climate, light entertainment, and taxation)."

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

the thing is you can make the same claim of any year if you dig deep enough for the evidence you want to use to back up your claim.

Mailman

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:08 PM | Unregistered Commentermailman

"...When the team said the forecasts were pretty good they meant that they were scientifically good given the extreme difficulty of the challenge. I accept that from the point of view of people deciding where to take their holiday they were actually pretty useless. We have learned a lesson from that."

Hmmm. So who pays their wages, or do the MO live in some splendid isolation? Learned a lesson? Shouldn't it be bleedin' obvious?

If this was a listed company and they issued similarily wrong/poor/weak "shareholder info", there would be fines, penalties and prosecutions.

FFS, it is called the Met Office, not the "Fanny around with big toys seeing what we can make" Office.

Strange statements...

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

On hearing of the “December deliverable”, cynical No1 son, who is an avid, but semi logical member of the all things CO2 are demonic belief, put forward the intriguing suggestion that “December deliverable” could mean it was part of a bonus/merit award system?

I could not possibly comment!

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:15 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Has Harrabin ever explained his claim:

"The truth is it 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."

http://autonomousmind.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/the-met-office-winter-forecast-lie-is-finally-nailed/

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Mailman: "the thing is you can make the same claim of any year if you dig deep enough for the evidence you want to use to back up your claim."

Exactly - Paul Homewood demonstrated this in his excellent post from 2011 on the weather extremes of 1971:
http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/is-our-climate-becoming-more-extreme/

He writes:

Our memory of events from years ago tends to blur into the mists of time. Furthermore the global nature of today’s news media often brings to our attention stories which we would not have even known about if they had happened decades ago. I have therefore put together the following record of extreme weather events from 1971, which I hope will provide a certain amount of perspective when looking at what is happening today. Why 1971? Quite simply it is 40 years ago, a nice round number, and of course, before the gradual rise in global temperatures began a few years later.

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

NY Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra's famous quote, "Prediction is very hard, especially about the future" quote seems to apply here.

Actually the number of Berra quotes that seem to apply to Climateers is awe inspiring.

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/quoberra.shtml

Perhaps my favourite: "It ain't the heat, it's the humility."

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

weirdest = most weird:

Etymology (weird)

From Middle English werde, wierde, wirde, wyrede, wurde, from Old English wyrd, wurd (“that which happens, fate, chance, fortune, destiny, Fate, the Fates, Providence, event, phenomenon,...bla bla bla

So that would be weather that happens by chance then :-)

(and of course you can't comment on the beeb site - I think they had 28 scientists say that the proles views don't count)

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Quite a good article by Harrabin. Interesting bit about some staff fuming that despite being under scrutiny they are still messing up. Good that he picked up the misleading caption - presumably this was the hindcasts labelled as previous predictions.

They should get us to check their press releases.

They cant say they werent aware of the problem. I wrote to them a few months ago complaining about a misleading press release , from my uni email. I didnt get any reply.

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:30 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

"The first was to put the decadal report on its website on Christmas Eve - the traditional date for burying stories that the authorities don't want publicised. I was initially suspicious. But the Met Office since explained that the scientist responsible was due to finish the work by end of year and was about to go on holiday. That sounds plausible."
----------------------------------------
They did not only do that. They placed it on an obscure branch of their website and did not tell anybody about it, let alone arrange a press conference. That sounds NOT plausible.

Jan 17, 2013 at 11:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterManfred

' the Met Office since explained that the scientist responsible was due to finish the work by end of year and was about to go on holiday. That sounds plausible.'

Roger is kidding no one , contrast this with the way the MET pushed out 'stories ' with maximum effort when they thought they would 'help ' the cause . I wonder is Roger is sillier for more 'consultancy' work , has it will now be a lot harder to pull of another '28' meeting now people are watching .

Jan 17, 2013 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

The climate issues pale into insignificance beside Harrabin's new crowning achievement -- the Weirdosity Scale. I expect to see it widely used soon as a parameter for assessing cat videos, Kardashian marriages and Creationist Theories.

"I make that own-goal a ten on the Harrabin Scale, Brian, what about you?"

Jan 17, 2013 at 11:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJon Jermey

Harrabin is a Weasel in true Dilbert fashion.

'To err is human. To cover it up is Weasel' is the subtitle of Scott Adams' book 'Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel'.

In this hilariously (and hauntingly) accurate book, Scott Adams examines The Way of the Weasel, a concept that alludes to the devious tactics of humans. Adams introduces The Weasel Zone: The giant gray area between good moral behavior and outright criminality. It’s where your co-workers, bosses, salespeople, CEOs, human resource executives, hotel clerks, home repair people, family and loved ones reside. In 27 compelling, illustrated chapters, Scott Adams reveals the secrets of these slippery characters: how to recognize them, how they operate, how to stop them in their tracks — and how you, too, can become a weasel.

Harrabin is definitely in the Weasel Zone in his article.

http://thedilbertstore.com/products/65162-dilbert-and-the-way-of-the-weasel

Jan 17, 2013 at 11:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

I find it implausible that the scientist responsible for completing this work was also responsible for authoring the press release and posting it on the Met Office website CMS. And did so all on Christmas Eve.

However, I'm anything but surprised that Harrabin would willingly soak up this bizarre excuse.

Jan 17, 2013 at 11:30 PM | Registered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

The first comment on this thread explains all, however I would add a chronological correction:-

Harrabin *is* the Met's PR department

Jan 17, 2013 at 11:47 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

My vote goes to 1947. Or maybe 1963. Now I think about it 1976 was weirder with the heatwave. No doubt Roger's linear scale of weirdness is properly documented and peer-reviewed. Perhaps he could come on here and enlighten us.

Jan 17, 2013 at 11:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

THE NEW YORK TIMES
STRANGE WEATHER HAS SWEPT OVER THE WORLD; THE TERROR OF THE SKIES
By E.E. FREE.

August 25, 1929, Section Arts & Leisure, Page X12

Jan 18, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

1967 for me:-

"Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,
Waiting to take you away.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,
And you're gone."

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"

Lennon–McCartney

Jan 18, 2013 at 12:06 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

it's easy to beat up on the Met Office for bad predictions. Isn't the answert to ask them to make properly worded predictions, with all the uncertainties? Piers Corbyn gets away with his crap because, once every year he gets something almost right but he is not omnipresent in the public eye.Just check back in a quantitative way on Corbyn's predictions for the snow and ice in the UK and check against reality.....

Jan 18, 2013 at 12:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

"The second error was in the caption to a graph comparing the new temperature forecast with one from the past. It was badly-worded and led bloggers to conclude that the Met Office were trying to cover up the disparity between forecasts. (They seem to have accepted later that this is not the case)."

Why does he have to use "badly worded" as a euphemism for misleading? "Previous predictions . . . are shown as white lines" when the actual previous prediction (the forecast which had expected warming, and was being replaced) had simply vanished without a trace.

Incidentally, the term has now been replaced with "Retrospective predictions".

Jan 18, 2013 at 12:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterHK

@HK

""Retrospective predictions""

I did ask Richard Betts on an earlier thread if that perfect oxymoron of a phrase actually meant "hindcast"

He said YES

Jan 18, 2013 at 12:53 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

The damage to Met Office credibility

Excuse me, how is it possible to "damage" something, an institution, that is so damaged: it is irreparably beyond salvage.

Jan 18, 2013 at 12:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

In Africa, drought continues for the sixth consecutive year, adding terribly to the toll of famine victims. During 1972 record rains in parts of the U.S., Pakistan and Japan caused some of the worst flooding in centuries. In Canada's wheat belt, a particularly chilly and rainy spring has delayed planting and may well bring a disappointingly small harvest. Rainy Britain, on the other hand, has suffered from uncharacteristic dry spells the past few springs.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,944914,00.html

Jan 18, 2013 at 1:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn M

I was going to quote mine this one too, but heck, I'd have to cut and paste the whole thing.

http://denisdutton.com/cooling_world.htm

Jan 18, 2013 at 1:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn M

I know it's not a big deal, but blimey, surely it's Harrabin's job to follow this stuff - and he can't even get basic facts right.

"The second error was in the caption to a graph comparing the new temperature forecast with one from the past."

No, it was the caption to a graph showing the new forecast and some hindcasts.

"It was badly-worded and led bloggers to conclude that the Met Office were trying to cover up the disparity between forecasts."

No, they were covering up the disparity by simply removing all traces of the old forecast.

"(They seem to have accepted later that this is not the case)."

Who exactly has accepted what? Given that Harrabin doesn't seem to have much idea what's going on, I'm not sure what to make of his expert analysis of what "bloggers" have accepted.

Is he dull, or just not paying attention?

Jan 18, 2013 at 1:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

Harrabin's explanations of Met Office staff behaviour are entirely typical of my experience. Bureaucracies! - particularly biggish ones like the Met Office have little control over what staff actually do, and much encouraged lateral thinking leads to all sorts of strange happenstances in the absence of constant effective supervision - and senior staff normally have other things to do.

It is up to our political managers who decide whether the bureaucracy the Met Office is is an appropriate form of organization to provide the public with these cxxx-ups as well as for such successes as they do manage from time to time.

In the Met Office case, alternatives to the current bureaucracy do not seem obvious to me - but maybe that's because schooling and a bureaucratic career have successfully removed my imagination, and others lacking comparable handicaps may be able to think of something. However, it is safe generality that some sort of commercial structure will perform better: hence the privatizations of most public services. My experience, however, of transformations from bureaucracy to trading organization shows that potential benefits are quite often not achieved because staff, whether through their contracts of employment or because of organizational timidity, retain the immunity to disciplinary procedures they enjoyed as bureaucrats.

So let's have some practical suggestions for reform rather than the carping that, if it achieves anything, will merely make Met Office staff sigh, feel uncomfortable or laugh according to temperament.

What about an inside view from Richard Betts?

Jan 18, 2013 at 3:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

Forgive me as a layman for over-generalizing, but it seems to me that the idea that trained climatological experts can predict climate is ridiculous. That's been the pretense for over a decade now and it's time to let it go. Everyone knows how predicting the weather becomes more uncertain after a week passes. Predicting climate months, years, or decades out by its very nature has to be even more dubious. They thought they had a driver in CO2 that allowed them to assume the climate would respond in such a way, and that now has been disproven or at least very much in doubt. There are obviously other factors at work, potentially unlimited numbers of other factors all working in a chaotic system. How can you predict anything in such a system? How can you base policy on such predictions?

I suppose it's refreshing to see someone like Harrabin expressing skepticism, but really, why did he buy the whole idea in the first place? He's supposed to be a journalist. Indeed, why did the scientists buy into it lacking as they did compelling empirical evidence?

Jan 18, 2013 at 4:03 AM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Jan 18, 2013 at 4:03 AM | theduke

"...why did the scientists buy into it lacking as they did compelling empirical evidence?"

Funding, scientists throughout history have bought into anything that will bring funding. Sad I know, but as a one time funder I can assert this with some authority.

Jan 18, 2013 at 5:30 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Sounds as though the relationship of BBC and the MET Office is going through a bad patch. Perhaps the realisation has dawned that their roles are completly different and sharing each others beds only adds to the confusion.

Jan 18, 2013 at 5:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Harrabin says

'Yet at the same time there's a relentless spread of climate confusion in parts of the media.'

Yet another new phrase...'climate confusion' to add to 'climate denial' and 'climate disinformation'.

But note how it is being watered down. Denial (definite, deliberate, bad) to disinformation (vague, deliberate, bad) to confusion (vague, woolly, soft).

Slowly the retreat is being planned. Whereas it would be completely unthinkable for a once true believer to join the 'denialists', it's not too hard for them to say 'The science is giving us mixed messages and I am now as confused as they are'

Jan 18, 2013 at 7:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

What is it with Harrabin and the World Bank? Does he think they are full of the highest paid and best "climate scientists", on big bonuses to get it right?

Jan 18, 2013 at 7:25 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

2 inches of global warming in my part of Suffolk this morning. I understand that some parts of Britain have had even more (Yes, I know weather isn't climate). The Met Office has done quite well with the snow forecasts and are extremely good at the here and now and the immediate past.

Jan 18, 2013 at 7:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Just to remind Gareth at 10.27pm that it wasn't 28 scientists telling the BBC what to say, it was three scientists, none of whom, if I remember correctly, were involved with climate, and 25 or maybe 27 other people of a green and warmist persuasion.

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

It seems a bit rich of Harrabin to complain about scientists simplifying their message. Its a skill they've doubtless learnt from journalists like him who, being in the infotainment business, don't want complex stories with lots of qualifying statements, just simple stuff like "if we carry on as we are we'll destroy the earth, experts say" - headline + brief interview of an expert, 30 second news slot neatly filled up, well done everyone. So now the scientists are pre-simplifying their messages, to make life easier for lazy and ignorant journalists, and reduce the risk of journalists simplifying it completely wrongly,.and Harrabbin is moaning about that?

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterbill

Oh, Oh, Oh anecdotal evidence.

When I went to school in winter for the whole of my secondary school years it snowed each winter, now CAGW has set in it doesn't snow at all according to the EMT office, oh wait.

Well at least our kids will know what snow is or did I get this backwards?

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Friday Funnnny, read it and laugh your socks off, from 2000.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Diogenes said

"it's easy to beat up on the Met Office for bad predictions." and " Piers Corbyn gets away with his crap "

Piers Corbyn does not get paid £200M out of the public purse.

Is the Met Office worth this money?

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Are they really complaining that once they've shown themselves to be a bunch of crooks, people look askance at their every word? Then they should have been more frugal with the porky pies, shouldn't they?

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Steve Jones

not quite. we had a dump of snow that caused traffic disruption as it occurred at rush hour. Paul Hudson, BBC Look North, did have the courage to admit that it had not been forecast 24 hours earlier. The cloud had apparently thickened more than expected. Weather is tricky. Climate impossible.

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterDolphinhead

Harabin is what harabin is but the MO they are something else. With all the lessons they have supposedly learned over the past few years they ought to be geniuses. They quite clearly are not.

Jan 18, 2013 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

So where did they forecast the snow currently falling along the west country and as low as 50 ft asl round Bristol, though to be fair the forecast is for the 19th and today is the 18th?

Is this forecast any use to anyone?

UK Outlook for Saturday 19 Jan 2013 to Monday 28 Jan 2013:

Some uncertainty in the details of the forecast, however through the weekend there should be a good deal of dry and bright weather, but with the risk of snow showers in the east and southeast. More unsettled in the west with spells of rain and snow, which may spread further east on Sunday. Cold or very cold with widespread frost, and the risk of ice. Probably turning more unsettled thereafter, with spells of rain, heavy at times in the west and southwest, and some hill snow, which could fall to lower levels at times in the north and east. Best of drier weather in eastern areas. Frost overnight, and most areas staying cold or rather cold, although perhaps occasionally near normal in the west and southwest.

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterDenier666

"We help save lives.
We benefit the Government, in monetary terms, by much more than we cost.
We provide more than £300 million of services to the public."
(Met Office Publicity)

The £300M comes from a study commissioned by (who else?) the Met Office.

It assigns values to "casualities avoided/lives saved due accurate weather forecasts" etc.

But they completely forgot to include casualties resulting/lives lost due to inaccurate weather forecasts.

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:07 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

it's easy to beat up on the Met Office for bad predictions. Isn't the answert to ask them to make properly worded predictions, with all the uncertainties? Piers Corbyn gets away with his crap because, once every year he gets something almost right but he is not omnipresent in the public eye.Just check back in a quantitative way on Corbyn's predictions for the snow and ice in the UK and check against reality.....

Jan 18, 2013 at 12:06 AM | diogenes


Government worker? you. You do not understand reality do you? Corbyn sells his forecasts. Have you bought one or maybe a years worth in order to make that statement?

Corbyn has to sell his forecasts donc bad forecasts no employment. MO, Bad forecast oh look, even more money, more people, more computer.

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Ancient shamanic practice requires evoking fear and guilt about 'Weather Weirding'. 'Global Warming' and 'Climate Change' are no longer evoking the desired responses. Ironically and tragically James Hansen sacrifices his own grandchildren to these ancient scruples.
====================

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Did anyone save the old version of

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/climate/seasonal-to-decadal/long-range/decadal-fc

so we can see what has changed?

BTW, my retrospective forecasts of the last 4 general election results are spot-on.

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:20 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

You know when we all laughed, when 'retrospective forecasts' was suggested to replace 'previous predictions..

well they have only gone and done it..

"Retrospective predictions starting from June 1960, 1965, ..., 2005 are shown as white curves"

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/climate/seasonal-to-decadal/long-range/decadal-fc


Swap everything they have done with 'economists' doing the same..
too busy laughing at how clueless they are at PR.

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

To be fair to the Met Office it seems their models are going in the right direction, as this shows they predicted the snowfalls but couldn't predict exactly where they would occur. It seems they have many models so which ones do they choose?

Met Office 3-month Outlook
Period: January 2013 – March 2013 Issue date: 20.12.12

Some model scenarios suggest that during January the UK could be the
battleground between cold air of Scandinavian or Russian origins, and
mild Atlantic air, meaning that substantial changes in weather type are
quite possible, although equally one or other type could prevail. Some
heavy snow can be expected at the boundary between the warm and cold
air, although whether that would be over the UK is far from clear. As we
move into February and March mild westerly or southwesterly winds
become more likely, although cold outbreaks are still possible.

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Kerton

No time to chat today I'm afraid, but some quick responses:

Simon Hopkinson: there was no press release, that's what caused all the fuss. It was on our research pages, which are written and updated by the scientists.

It is absolutely true that my colleagues had this as a deliverable (ie: something we are contracted to do) by the end of December, same as in previous years. The decadal forecast is always updated in December, and "delivery" includes putting it on the same place in the website as it always goes. The deliverable date was 31st Dec, but the colleague with final responsibility was going off on leave so completed it before he went away.

Since he knows that changes on 5-year timescales are dominated by natural variability and are of little relevance to long-term warming trends, it never occurred to him that this might be misunderstood as saying something about AGW, so it he didn't give the press office a heads-up about this. On reflection, he should have done, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Green Sand: Roger Harrabin is not connected with the Met Office at all.

Diogenes (12:06 AM), Yes, I agree, Piers Corbyn gets away with it because of not being in the public eye so much. I've never seen a proper, systematic, ongoing evaluation of his forecast skill, but the Met Office does do this for its own forecasts, see here.

I think the wording of the 2012 Decadal forecast itself was good, it did quantify the uncertainties - although I also agree that "previous predictions" was not correct.

Ecclesiastical Uncle (3:09 AM), your insight is remarkable, clearly you are a very wise man.

Sorry I can't stick around, got my own deliverables for end of Jan coming up fast....!

Jan 18, 2013 at 9:32 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>