Science and Technology Committee publishes report on science in the Met Office

21 February 2012

The Met Office needs new supercomputers to deliver confident extreme weather warnings, more accurate long-term forecasts and improved climate modelling, according to a report by the Science and Technology Committee.

Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

"It is of great concern to us that scientific advances in weather forecasting and the associated public benefits—particularly in regard to severe weather warnings—are being held back by insufficient computing capacity.

We recognise that there are concerns about affordability, but a new supercomputer for the Met Office could deliver as much as a ten-to-one return on investment."

Met Office weekly weather predictions have a high rate of accuracy, but there is a "common public perception" that it does not provide reliable seasonal forecasts. Media criticism of its "Barbeque Summer" prediction in 2009 has overshadowed the sustained improvements that the Met Office has made in forecasting.

The MPs are calling on the Met Office to continue to produce seasonal forecasts as they are useful for civil contingencies and a wide range of industries. However, the report warns that they should always be communicated carefully and accompanied by notes explaining the uncertainty.

It recommends that the Met Office develops a communication strategy to improve the way it presents probabilities in its weather forecasting information.

Andrew Miller added:

"The Met Office is consistently placed in the top three centres in the world for weather prediction, but accurate forecasts are of little use if they are not communicated well and understood by the public."

The Met Office should also work closely with broadcasters, such as the BBC, to ensure that forecasts are communicated accurately. TV and radio weather forecasts should make greater use of probabilistic risk percentages, as they
do in the US, so that people can better understand the odds of forecasts getting it wrong.

Andrew Miller MP said:

"The media must be more responsible when it comes to long-range weather forecasting.

We need a little less tabloid sensationalism and a lot more information about probabilities, so that the public can understand the odds of forecasts getting it wrong."

The report recommends that the Met Office works with the Research Council and other partners to develop a ten year strategy for supercomputing resources in weather and climate. However, the Met Office needs assurances from Ministers. The Government must set out their minimum funding commitment to the Met Office for each year of the current Spending Review period by the end of this financial year. The report calls on BIS to complete a formal business case on supercomputing in the next six months.

Facts from the report

  • Each day the Met Office Supercomputer receives and uses approximately half a million weather observations (on temperature, pressure, rainfall, etc) from around the world.
  • On average 87.6% of maximum temperature forecasting on the day the forecast is issued were accurate to within ±2°C (over 36 months of data)
  • Five-day forecasts are now as accurate as three-day forecasts were twenty years ago.

Further Information

Image: iStockphoto

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Parliament, Commons news, Committee news, Science and technology