Do Met Office warnings save lives or just cause panic buying at supermarkets?

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office

The Met Office have just issued a plethora of weather warnings for the coming weekend for snow (fig 1). I’m not going to get in the thinking of how 5 to 10 cm of snow equates to an amber warning for severe weather, and ask how other countries cope with snow and we can’t, because it’s simply not worth it.

Figure 2 – Nordre Osen, Norway
Panic buying

I’ve just done the weekly shopping with my wife at our local Tesco’s in Cullompton this morning, and it’s already quite obvious that panic buying in preparation for the snow that’s forecast for this weekend has begun. It got me to thinking about just how effective weather warnings issued by the Met Office, especially for snow, are. Do they actually save the lives  of people who listen to them? Or do they just cause panic buying at  every supermarket in the country?

Hearing the warning

It’s no doubt that they are very effective, especially in how they get their message across by means of a mix of social media, smart phone apps and 24 hour rolling television news. This usually has little effect if the warning concerns either rain or wind, but as soon as amber or red warnings for snow is issued, the whole nation seems to go into melt down mode, and panic buying starts in earnest, with most people hoping that they’ll end up being snowed in for days, and due to health and safety concerns of course, won’t be able to venture out until a thaw has set in.

Heeding the warning

So at least panic buying does suggest that people are hearing them, but does this mean that they are being heeded for safety on the roads? Will people drive more carefully or not attempt to drive at all? I don’t know if any study into the effectiveness of weather warnings has ever been undertaken, but I would be fascinated to read the conclusions of it, if ever there was.

Author: xmetman

An ex-metman passionate about all things to do with weather, climate and clouds

9 thoughts on “Do Met Office warnings save lives or just cause panic buying at supermarkets?”

  1. Believe it or not I just wrote a full reply to this and then hit the wrong key and it disappeared!

    The punch line was this:

    In these health and safety days less and less people are wanting to venture forth into the snow. It’s now got so bad it’s affecting shift workers in key jobs like nursing and midwifery. I was a shift worker for many years in a variety of jobs, and back then you were always obliged at least to have make an effort to get to work and relieve your mate. Those days seem to be quickly disappearing, and within a few years I can see that as soon as the first flakes of snow start to fall, all services, even the essential ones will stop working.

    I reckon that if another cold winter like 1978-79 occurs, and the cold spell goes on for longer than a week, that law and order will break down in places where supermarkets have run out of bread and milk due to panic buying. Forty years ago people were willing to make the effort to try and get to work through the snow, now they would rather take a day or two off work, blame it on the snow and concerns for their own health and safety, and spend the day binge watching Netflix!

  2. The temp. here never fell below 3c last night, despite the MO yellow warning for ice.
    Tomorrow night, when the forecast falls to zero, there is no warning.

  3. This is a few years old but — According to the World Bank:
    “GENEVA, Switzerland, November 27, 2013 – Countries need to invest in well-equipped and fully staffed meteorological and hydrological agencies in order to better prepare for natural hazards, which could save an average of 23,000 lives a year and provide up to $30 billion a year in economic benefits, according to a new World Bank Group report.

    “There is a lot we can – and must – do to reduce the impact of disasters,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development. “We know, for example, that every dollar we spend on early warning saves up to $35 in disaster response. As the intensity and frequency of extreme weather increase as a result of climate change, we have to shift our focus to prevention and preparedness.””

    No idea if the report is correct but the aim is to try and help save lives and reduce inconvenience and cost.

    I never did like the current Met Office warning system due to the lack of flexibility in its format but the idea of getting a message to people is a good one.
    I remember issuing a severe weather warning of severe gales on a N Sea coasts just to get the message across about a tidal surge – was approved by Senior management and External Gov because the distribution system would take it to media outlets, local government and emergency services very quickly.

  4. That’s my favourite store as well!
    What I did notice that many ‘black’ surfaces have stayed relatively clear of snow, that’s obviously because of the mild sunny weather of the last week warming the ground.
    Even now in moderate snow they are just about staying snow clear even with temperatures just below freezing.

  5. Tony

    It looks like it’s now baked into the software that’s used to issue these warnings and is automatically inserted – tailored of course to whatever type of event it’s for.
    I shouldn’t be surprised if there’s not a button in the toolbar of tat application, that’s currently disabled, that’s labelled “Auto”.
    I the not too distant future, I can imagine (i have a good imagination) when that button is enabled and toggled, the issuing of all warnings will be fully automated by some kind of AI !


  6. Is it just me but I’m finding it increasingly irritating to find many Met.Office warnings basically listing all the potential hazards associated with a particular weather hazard. The current amber snow warnings for Sat 17th and Sunday 18th March are prime example! Surely we have got to accept most people realise that snow leads to slippery surfaces! All part of the impact based warnings philosophy I suppose. I would strongly support more focus on getting the Meteorological detail right.

  7. I don’t think that 10cm of snow should present a problem for walking.
    Its only ice which I find a problem, which is why it annoys me when people insist on attempting to clear snow. when it will probably clear itself in a couple of days.

  8. To be fair, 5-10 cm of snow does make getting about, either by car or by foot (my preferred means), pretty difficult. That’s disruptive and worth a warning I think.

    I’ve observed that this ‘panic buying’ seems to be a feature of Tesco and sometimes Asda. No evidence of it in Exeter Waitrose 🙂

  9. It’s no wonder that big supermarket chains like Tesco employ their own meteorologists nowadays.

    Severe snow events can be as big a money spinner than a summer heatwave can for the sale of ice cream.

    I would love to see the sales figures on the lead up to the severe cold event at the end of February, there wasn’t a loaf of bread or pint of milk in our local Tesco from Friday to the Tuesday of the following week.

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