Can The UK Met Office Weather The BBC Contract Storm?

The UK's Met Office could lose its contract with the BBC, according to recent media reports.

To the general public there is no difference between a weather forecaster, a media weather forecast  presenter, a meteorologist and a climatologist.  That is most unfortunate, since errors in forcasting tend accordingly to be taken as evidence against a person's personal choice of climate prediction.

In this day and age,when climate is a major topic, meteorologists need to be on their toes, with their shoulders to the wheel and their noses to the grindstone.  In the case of the UK's Met Office, they have their backs to the wall.  No scientist should be expected to produce their best work whilst engaging in a game of Twister.

The BBC is negotiating a new contract with the Met Office and has asked other companies to tender.  The general public perception is that the BBC takes exception to inaccurate seasonal forecasts for last summer and this winter.  The simple fact is that the contract would be up for renewal in any event.

I see no point in awarding the contract to any organisation other than the Met Office, for one simple reason: other forcasters would have to get their data from the Met Office!  Every weather station in the UK which is recognised as 'official' by agencies of the government is owned and operated by the Met Office. 

Many problems with generating accurate forecasts and current weather alerts can be attributed to a lack of data gathering points.  There are just not enough Met Office weather stations in the UK.  Those - about 200 -  that exist give hourly data, rather than continuous data.  Instead of complaining that the Met Office gets it wrong occasionally, we should marvel at its ability to provide accurate forecasts with such limited resources.

Why accuracy matters.

The Uk's Met Office provides weather data to many users, most notably departments and agencies of government and local government.  That includes agencies responsible for snow clearing and gritting, emergency response and cold weather payments for the most vulnerable. As I remarked on cold weather payments in a recent article: "many postal districts covered by remote weather stations are excluded from payments due to inaccurate data gathering." 
From the Met Office's own website:
The representativity of urban observations to the surrounding urban area can be difficult to judge ...

Why make judgement calls when you can simply take readings?

There are only about 200 full-time Met Office weather stations in the UK.  There are close to 53,000 cellphone masts1.  Modern electronics devices can perform cheap and accurate data logging.  It would be an extremely simple matter for the government to require every mast owner or operator to install a standard datalogger on behalf of the Met Office.

The major problem with plotting weather and climate changes has always been the geographically sparse data gathering and the need to interpolate data into wide gaps.  53,000 mini weather stations would fill in a lot of missing detail.  In climate and weather modelling programs, it is simply not the case that the devil is in the detail.  Rather, the program bugs hide in the lack of detail!


The BBC should renew the contract.  Getting Met Office data through a third party is like A talking to B only through C: it's called a sulking fit.

The British government should fund weather data logging modules on cellular phone network masts, to be installed during new builds or routine maintenance.  Modern technology can furnish a simple plug and play module for taking basic measurements.  The cellular mast and network provide a pre-existing data path for real-time weather tracking.  The benefits as extreme weather response lead times will pay for the dataloggers probably within 1 year.

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