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Science Alert: Experts Respond

MetService considered for BBC weather – Expert reaction

Posted in Science Alert: Experts Respond on August 25th, 2015.

The BBC has dropped the UK Met Office as its weather forecasting provider and is considering a subsidiary of the New Zealand MetService as an alternative.

Weather forecast conceptYou can read more on the official announcement from the BBC and the UK Met Office.

Over the weekend, the Daily Mail speculated on the potential alternatives: “The BBC refused to say who the remaining bidders were, insisting the tender process was ‘ongoing’, but they are thought to be Metra, an offshoot of the New Zealand national forecasting service and Meteo, a collaboration between the Press Association, based in the UK, and the Dutch national weather service.”

A MetService spokesperson told the Science Media Centre that the organisation was unable to comment as it has been part of the BBC tender process (through its subsidiary MetraWeather).

Our colleagues at the UK Science Media Centre collected the following expert commentary.

Prof Ellie Highwood, joint head of the University of Reading’s Department of Meteorology, comments:

“The UK has a leading position in the world for atmospheric science.  This has come about from a sustained institutional support for the science, from universities, government, media and the public, as well as a national obsession with the very varied weather that we experience.

“This makes Britain a scientific trailblazer, and gives us critical insight in understanding global risks from extreme weather events, at scales from tomorrow to the next century and beyond.

“Without any details about the BBC’s new arrangements, it is too early to say how this decision will impact the quality of weather forecasts to the general public.

“The BBC must ensure it gets value for money for licence fee payers.  But improvements in forecast accuracy, and the way information is communicated to the public, can only come about through long-term investment in the underpinning science, observations, computer models and surrounding global infrastructure of weather forecasting.”

Dr Grant Allen, Atmospheric physicist at the University of Manchester, comments:

“It’s awful news.  No one knows the UK weather better than the Met Office.  Their weather predictions are scientifically proven to be among the most accurate for UK weather.  That’s the case both in terms of model skill and comparing predictions to what happened in reality (i.e. model validation).

“The Met Office is a recognised world-leader in numerical weather prediction and the research that underpins it.  Commercial weather forecasters have nowhere near the infrastructure and depth of understanding that the Met Office has.

“In my opinion, the BBC’s decision was taken on cost and not on predictive skill.  We could get less accurate weather forecasts through the BBC than before, which is sad news.”

Declared interests

Dr Allen:
Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society – a learned body.
My current grant funding is from NERC but some of it concerns active research collaborations with the Met Office. In other words, I am actively involved in research collaborations with the UK Met Office but this is not funded by them and does not concern numerical weather prediction.

Dr Highwood:
Vice President (President Elect) of the Royal Meteorological Society. The majority of my current grant funding is from NERC but some contains active research collaborations with the UK Met Office in the areas of air pollution and climate change rather than weather forecasting. I have one research contract directly with the Met Office that focuses on atmospheric particulates and Asia.

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