Professor calls for longer forecasts

Monday 05th Sep 2011 by theWeather Club

Having a pop at weather forecasters is a bit of a national pastime. Even the first ever published forecast which appeared in 1861 courtesy of the then Captain Robert FitzRoy was greeted with derision at home, while being met with general approval from abroad. Nothing it seems has changed. In fact complaints about weather forecasts seem to be increasing. However, as is often the case, perception and reality can inhabit entirely different spaces.

Short-term weather predictions are more accurate than ever, says Professor Alan Thorpe, former head of the Met Office’s climate change arm. Professor Thorpe believes that the real problem is that TV weather forecasts are too short. He thinks that the television forecasters would be able to reflect this increased accuracy better if TV forecasts were longer and went into more detail. As the newly instated director-general of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, his views will carry some weight. The professor has used his position to call on the Met Office to reinstate its seasonal forecasts.

Prof Thorpe said great strides had been made in short-term forecasting. Today’s 10-day forecasts were as good as the three- to four-day forecasts of 30 years ago. But the brief time devoted to delivering the information on TV and radio meant many important details were left out due to time pressures. The result was that people were frequently left with the impression that the forecast was wrong. Prof Thorpe said: “It would be great if the nine o’clock or ten o’clock news had more time to describe some of these things in the forecast… To be able to do this in 30 seconds or two minutes is asking a hell of a lot. The public gets a very broad-brush picture.”

The Met Office stopped public broadcasting of its long-range summer and winter forecasts after the failure of the infamous ‘barbecue summer’ forecast, as well as the coldest winter in 30 years seemingly taking them by surprise. But in some quarters pressure for their return has remained, and Professor Thorpe’s comments will add to these voices.

In response the Met Office said: “A long-range forecast will probably be introduced again, but it won’t be until the science and technology have developed sufficiently to allow us to produce forecasts that are reliable and useful.”