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BBC Weather Test: Nearly there

By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

Clouds at Hamstead Heath

The BBC's Weather Test is nearing reality as the organisers prepare to invite a shortlist of forecasters to take part.

After more than 18 months of debate and public consultation, the project's scientific advisers have at last formulated a protocol by which the forecasters' accuracy will be measured.

The idea is to demonstrate to the public how much (or how little) they can trust forecasters when they predict it will be hot or cold, wet or dry or windy.

The project is a collaboration between BBC News, the Royal Meteorological Society, the Royal Statistical Society and other academics.

The Weather Test will evaluate forecasts over one, three and five days - and also seasonal forecasts. The seasonal test has proved particularly controversial, with the Met Office - the official government forecaster - refusing to take part so far.

The Met Office was embarrassed by criticism over its seasonal forecasting and maintains that this experimental science is not ready to share with the public.

The test organisers hope that the Met Office will change its position because the comparison exercise is widely agreed to be valuable for the advancement of weather science.

The project's secretary, Professor Paul Hardaker, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, believes that weather science will have advanced sufficiently within five years for the Met Office and others to demonstrate an improvement in forecasting skill for the coming season.

The date for the publication of seasonal forecast results has accordingly been set for five years after the launch, which is hoped to be in the spring.

Results for the one to five day forecasts will appear three years after the launch. Until the announcement of the results all the forecasts will be kept confidential.

Several previous attempts have been made to compare forecasters' accuracy but due to technical difficulties none has got so far as this. The last hurdle now is for forecasters to commit to supplying information to be assessed by Leeds University. The research will be funded by BBC News.

The forecasters who will be invited to take part will be asked to submit predictions for the 35 stations from the UK's national climate observing network for which data is publicly available.

The forecasters have been chosen by their prominence and by the variety of methods they use. They are:

  • Joe Bastardi - a professional US meteorologist who uses generally-available weather models and a collection of indices tracking world weather.
  • David King - an amateur observer and forecaster using a combination of weather lore and methodologies based on historical observations of nature.
  • The Met Office - one of the world's top forecasting bodies.
  • MeteoGroup - Europe's largest commercial weather provider, making predictions with its own forecasters and numerical prediction models, driven by information from the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasting.
  • Metra - a commercial arm of the New Zealand National Meteorological Service. The models used are similar in concept but different in application to those of the Met Office.
  • Positive Weather Solutions - a smaller commercial forecaster, who forecast for Europe by taking weather model output and indices to create a range of forecast products.
  • Weather Action - a company that make forecasts of the weather and its impact using solar and lunar patterns and cycles. Piers Corbyn, its maverick founder, is sceptical of man-made climate change. He has already agreed to take part in the test.

Other forecasters will be considered for the test if they can persuade the organisers that they bring something significantly new to the existing shortlist.

The scientific details of the project will be published on the Weather Club website.

Public meetings to discuss the Weather Test have been held at the Royal Society and the Royal Institution.

Project Sponsor: Francesca Unsworth, Head of Newsgathering, BBC News
Project Initiator and Steering Group Chair: Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst
Academic Lead: Dr Peter Knippertz, National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, University of Leeds
Secretariat: Prof Paul Hardaker Royal Meteorological Society

Others who attended steering group meetings:

Dominic Groves - BBC Today Programme Assistant Editor
Prof Lenny Smith - London School of Economics
Dr Matt Owens - Royal Astronomical Society
Prof Tim Palmer FRS - President, Royal Meteorological Society
Dr Martin Dougherty - Chief Executive, Royal Statistical Society
Alice Henchley - Royal Society
Dr Sarah Norris - University of Leeds
Philip Eden - Weather UK and Chiltern Observatory
Dr Matthew Foote - Willis Research Network
Tricia Holly-Davis - Willis Research Network

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