The Spectator: How accurate is the Met Office?

In an article which appeared in the Spectator online today, Rupert Darwall makes a sustained attack on climate scientists and specifically on the Met Office.

His main point seems to be that the Met Office gets weather forecasts wrong. To answer that, you can see our accuracy figures online and these are regularly updated to reflect our recent performance.

At the time of writing this blog, the Met Office is beating all of its forecast accuracy targets. As an example, 87.7% of our next day maximum temperature forecasts are accurate to within 2C. The target is 80%.

The Met Office is consistently recognised by the World Meteorological Organization as one of the top two most accurate operational forecasters in the world.

No forecaster can be accurate 100% of the time and we don’t claim to be, but we are at the forefront of weather and climate science and are continuing our world class research to ensure the UK stays a leader in this field.

In the article, Rupert Darwell gives a few examples of forecast errors to back up his claims – these all refer to our long-range (three month) outlooks. This is a challenging area of forecasting and the Met Office has always been clear that these long-range forecasts are part of our ongoing research and development. We acknowledge that the public favour our short-range forecasts, which they download in their millions on iPhone, Android and now Kindle apps.

With time, continued research will hopefully yield similar improvements in our long-range outlooks as we have seen over time in our short-range forecasts. As an example of that progression, our four day forecast is as accurate today as our one day forecast was 30 years ago.

The article also talks about the Met Office ‘bracing’ the UK for a ‘decade of soggy summers’.

This is a misrepresentation of the science, as the statement refers to media reporting following a press conference hosted by the Met Office. The conference came at the end of a science workshop attended by experts from across UK academia to look at the potential causes behind the UK’s recent spell of unusual seasons.

During that press conference, scientists talked to the media about some of the latest research discussed at the meeting. This included research from the University of Reading which looked at long-term temperature patterns in the Atlantic which may impact weather patterns over Europe – potentially influencing a higher frequency of wet summers for a given period of time.

Scientists were clear to say this was early research and they were not issuing a forecast, but some parts of the media reported it that way. We issued a blog in reaction to this, to make clear that there was no expectation every summer would be wet for a decade – but The Spectator article makes the same claim again, despite all of this publicly available information to the contrary.

Apparently, “the Met Office has decided that global warming means colder summers in Britain”. This is news to the Met Office, which has been very careful to say that more research needs to be done to understand what impacts changes in our climate (such as reduced Arctic sea ice) could have on UK climate. Again, this seems to be a misinterpretation of our position.

The Met Office has already discussed the issue related to Doug Keenan, which you can also read about on our blog. You can also see a discussion paper we published on the issues he raises.

On global temperatures, you can look at our HadCRUT4 pages – which show 2010 and 2005 are respectively the first and second warmest years on record, with all the supporting data available online. You can also look at a report from the WMO released last week.

There are many other points to address in the lengthy Spectator article, too numerous to detail in this blog.

However, as a final point, Rupert Darwall says: “At the very least, the Met Office has a duty of care to the rest of us: to be balanced and objective, to admit when they’ve got it wrong, not to indulge in speculation and to tell us what they don’t know.”

The Met Office recognises this duty of care and takes it very seriously, which is why our impartial advice is based only on evidence from world class research. Our scientists have and will continue to report those findings as they are, without censorship, to enable people to make informed decisions.

The Met Office is very proud of its science and scientists. Indeed last year the Met Office published 267 peer reviewed scientific papers in academic journals and is widely recognised as one of the best geosciences institutes in the world.

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17 Responses to The Spectator: How accurate is the Met Office?

  1. Well said.

    I wrote my own blog on this earlier, referring back to your previous posts.

    I don’t mind people having opinions and sharing them (that is after all the point of the blogosphere), but repeating an erroneous statement is just poor journalism.

  2. bwmesser says:

    That’s journalists for you!
    Perhaps if you released an app that the public could freely download and which displayed in more detail how you manage to achieve this 87.7% accuracy you state. I don’t doubt the stats are correct but I’m sure it would reassure members of the public and sceptics alike that you were being fully transparent. As far as I can see the 119 sites you monitor are part of the free DataPoint web service you maintain – so all you need now is just a keen entrepreneur to pick up the development – you could call it ‘Keeping an eye on the Met Office’ !
    The +/- 2C does seem a little bit generous especially when this could mean the difference between a snow event when the temperatures get down to freezing…

  3. nuwurld says:

    Dear Met, again we have a scenario whereby a published document states a complaint about ‘long range’ forecasting, and your response is to state that your ‘next day’ is the most accurate in the world!

    As you know I agree with Mr Darwell in many respects. However, I am pleased that recently the Met has acknowledged the trend towards harsher winters and changeable summer predictions. I applaud that progress. This will prove to be true.

    On the negative side, the Met is still predicting long term warming due to ‘anthropological greenhouse gases’ as shown in this public statement,

    Now, I’ve spent some time scrolling through all those signatures. I have the names and the universities. So I can google the links. What do I find.


    Now, I don’t want to ‘mess’ with people’s careers, but, with respect, those involved in that listing are largely ‘not’ impartial. Their views are being used by you, the Met, to influence policy and trade. Your long term climate predictions and those of the IPCC are based on false physics. The outcome of this is crippling to our failing economy, lining the pockets of the few and sentencing our populace to a grim and ill predicted climatic and financial future.

    After this year the full effects of solar reduction and the impotence of any so called ‘greenhouse gases’ to ‘trap’ radiation will become clear. The tropospheric thermal gradient is set by gravity, as you know. The gradient is dT/dh= -g/Cp, as you know. Radiation within the atmosphere, like any radiative exchange will entropically serve to ‘try’ to reduce the gradient to zero. To ‘try’ to produce equilibrium. It could never ‘produce’ the lapse rate we observe in reality. The lapse rate is a logical consequence of the atmospheres gravitational containment. All gravitationally bound atmospheres become adiabatic and follow predictable temperature/pressure gradients in equilibrium with the input flux (solar) and any internal heat production (nuclear, gravitational tidal, or gravitational collapse).

    The Earth’s effective surface temperature is the result of the effects of gravity on the ‘mass’ of atmosphere in near hydrostatic suspension above, in equilibrium with the respective ‘energy source’. 99.99% of that is solar.

    Have a nice day.

  4. John Benton says:

    Yet more squirming from the Met Office. when you make so many contradictory forecasts (it’s akin to a bookie laying off some of his bets just in case) then of course its possible going to be possible to fish one out of the pond (irrespective of how obscure) to support some claim or other. Regrettably however this is just a con trick because the Met Office’s widely publicised statements/forecasts have turned out to be nothing short of embarrassing.

  5. And believe it or not, there are weather companies out there that surpass the UK Met Office in terms of accuracy of next day ambient, above 92.5%. Meteorological Services ( being one of them 😉

  6. Dave Rankine says:

    Just read the Spectator article. Climate scientist have all but ruined real science. Its almost like a cult or a religion. Anyone involved in Climategate should of lost their jobs and credentials. Instead you all pat yourselves on the back and give each other awards. You vilify any who point out error in your methods. Only problem is the temperatures have flat lined for the last 15 years and ALL of the computer models have failed. Instead of rethinking your methods you double down and increase your rhetoric.

  7. Reblogged this on Wotts Up With That Blog and commented:
    I had a brief exchange with Rubert Darwall on Twitter today. He’s written an article in the Spectator heavily criticising the Met Office and climate scientists, and which repeats a number of the standard (but largely incorrect) arguments against global warming and climate change. I think it is a very poor article and has made me wonder if I shouldn’t propose what one might call Wott’s law, which is if you invoke Karl Popper in order to win a scientific argument, you then lose the argument by default. I was going to write a post about this Spectator article, but instead thought I would simply reblog this Met Office News Blog post which does an excellent job of rebutting what Rupert Darwall has written.


    Of course! Its a conspiracy! They’ve just got climate experts in to discuss climate change.

    What next? People paid to do Physics discussing the Large Hadron Collider? Who else should discuss it? Perhaps they should ask your to present your one paragraph summation of how Earths climate operates?

    If the climate change scientists are just motivated by money and this is all a scam, why don’t they work for the trillion dollar oil industry exposing the global science conspiracy??

    There is no “climategate”.

    • nuwurld says:

      Look, uniqueidintity2, the issue is that ‘natural variability’ has never been resolved. The signatories on the list ‘exclude’ many groups of pure and applied physicists, engineers and geologists who are best equipped to discuss in an ‘unbiased’ fashion whether recent changes in climate are anomalous.

      In reality many faithful scientists are unaware of potential damage that climatology is doing to the scientific method.

      Funding for many ‘studies’ have been provided for the ‘primary reason’ that ‘Global Warming’ is ‘anthropological’. Which without ‘equal’ funding in ‘natural variability’, has ‘no merit’.

      The repeatability of ‘Wood’s 1909 greenhouse experiment’ shows that back radiation and the nonsense of the ‘greenhouse effect’ as being ‘radiatively driven’ is fiction.

      Make a simple bolometer yourself. Either from a makeshift reflective dish or buy a cheap parabolic reflector online. Place a thermistor at the focus and point it at clear blue sky. The ‘greenhouse effect’ says 330W-m^2 of downwelling radiation ‘exists’ on average, more than ‘double’ the averaged solar flux. All you will do is cool the thermistor. The ‘bigger and better’ the parabolic dish the ‘cooler’ the focus becomes. So focussing more of the 330Wm^2 of ‘POWERFUL DOWNWELLING GREENHOUSE GAS RADIATION’ only increases the optical ability of the warmer ‘focal point’ to lose heat to the cooler. All it does is ‘indicate’ instrumentally the temperature of the source. For clear blue sky, that will be between -18 and -50 degC depending upon humidity.

      It doesn’t matter how big you make the parabolic dish, adding all those 330W-m^2 produces NO HEAT. All you can achieve is a two way radiative coupling between the warmer surface and the much cooler upper troposphere across the relevant optical depth. Clouds, being more dense are less cold occurring across a lower optical depth.

      Just like the 200 year old Pictet experiment ‘the reflection of cold’. You cannot exploit the ‘greenhouse effect’s’ mythical 330W-m^2 .

      The calculated flux from a 255K(-18degC) approximation of a black body is ‘entropically’ unavailable to an approximation of one at 288K (15degC)

      Now, after trying that, say goodbye to your thermistor and point the parabolic reflector toward the Sun. The ‘greenhouse effect’ considers the Sun to ONLY deliver 168W-m^2 on average, half the calculated ‘greenhouse effect back radiation’. However, at 288K, the downgrade of 5600K to 288K thermalised is entropically available. The re condensation optically of the solar flux illustrates reality. You ‘can’ produce thousands of degrees from the flux that the ‘greenhouse effect’ model ‘suggests’ is impotent. Bringing back together the diverged rays from the Sun to a more compact region of cooler space provides a repeatable and undeniable, entropically available energy source. The spectral distribution is that of the emitting body, less atmospheric absorption, scattering and reflection. Just don’t get your fingers in the way!


      Then the ‘greenhouse effect’ requires a fake and entropically unavailable for ‘work or power’, ‘back radiation fudge’ to compensate for incorrect physics!

      The ‘best’ reconstruct available by condensing the radiation from a 255K (-18) black body is 255K.

      No single photon from a thermalised emitter can have properties of a higher temperature source.


      You ‘cannot’ simply add together ‘calculated’ fluxes without referring to entropy. Heat travels as a statistical certainty, entropically, in the form of energy available for work down a thermal gradient.

      I’m using this directly against the ‘greenhouse’ model as simple Stefan Boltzmann links the fluxes and temperatures used.

      If there where any single experiment to demonstrate that Trenburth’s ‘ calculated 330W-m^2 was available and physically significant there would be no doubt, (or energy crises, just recirculate it, if you don’t catch it this time get it the next time round, or the next etc).

      If physicist at CERN, where using an inappropriate and false model to discuss Hadrons whilst saying they where ‘all due to man’ and ‘destroying the world’, and then signed a petition to continue their careers whilst stinging the world for an unachievable change of lifestyle, I would protest in a similar manner.

  9. clivebest says:

    For me the only “mistake” the MET office made was to convince the UK government to commit itself to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 based on a worst case scenario for AGW. They should instead have recommended a wait and see policy. Climate sensitivity now looks to be lower than predicted (Otto et al. etc.) so we actually had far more time to get it right. Instead it looks like the climate change act 2008 will end up being the world’ largest “foreign aid” donation costing £400billion to UK consumers and taxpayers and bankrupting the country – all to reduce global temperatures by ~0.01 deg.C in 2050.

    This is because the climate change targets have railroaded us down a wind and biofuel path which any electrical engineer will tell you is doomed to fail. In the long run it has to be nuclear to replace crucial coal and gas capacity. Renewables are technologies of a pre-industrial society.

    It is still not too late for the MET office who should now recommend amending the climate change act in order to set more rational targets. It takes a brave man or woman to say they were wrong.

  10. jeez says:

    87.7% of our next day maximum temperature forecasts are accurate to within 2C.

    How much better or worse is that than just guessing that tomorrow’s maximum temperature will be the same as today’s plus or minus 2C? I can tell you, not much better.

    • rogertil says:

      Exactly my response ! I’d like to be able to find some historical records that could prove or disprove this idea. That would be science 🙂

      • A quick browse of HaCEt daily data for this year, predicting tomorrow will be the same temperature as today gives us the following accuracies:

        January: 83.9%
        February: 89.3%
        March: 80.6%
        April: 83.3%
        May: 83.9%

        Got a little bit bored there, but it would seem that the “old farmers’ forecast” easily surpasses the stringent Met Office targets, which begs the question who set the targets and how were they allowed to get away with such lax targets?

        Perhaps 87.7% is not so impressive after all…

      • Dave Britton says:

        Hello Steve

        You can find full verification of our forecast targets here

  11. You say, “His main point seems to be that the Met Office gets weather forecasts wrong. To answer that, you can see our accuracy figures online and these are regularly updated to reflect our recent performance.”

    On the contrary, his main point seems to be that “for some time, the Met Office’s longer range forecasts have served a political purpose”. I think your response to Rupert Darwell’s article would do better if it addressed this criticism, rather than focusing on the Met Office weather forecasts – which I have no doubt are very accurate.

  12. Ruby Payne says:

    From my own experience of local weather forecasts, the Met Office are right about 50% of the time. Today is an example. No rain is forecasted at all today, yet it has been raining on and off for most of the day. The roads are wet, and it is actually raining now. For the local weather forecast for Yaxley in Cambs. I do not exaggerate when I say I have made a point of seeing how many days the Met Office are accurate about predicting for this local area, and it is about 50%. No more than guesswork. National trends might be a lot more accurate, forecasting local weather appears to be anything but a science.

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