What do UK passports and the BBC weather forecast have in common?

Q: What do UK passports and the BBC weather forecast have in common?

A: The production of both has been outsourced to company’s outside the UK.

The BBC Weather Forecast
Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

The Met Office is regarded as one of the leading weather services in the world, it develops and runs one of the finest NWP models on a £100 million supercomputer that’s housed in its own bespoke building, and then for some inexplicable reason the BBC, the state broadcasting system, decides to cut its ties with an organisation that it’s worked with for the last 70 years or more, and replace them with an organisation that’s owned by an American worldwide growth equity firm. The other odd thing about all this is: how did the Met Office manage to keep its contracts with all the commercial ITV companies, and at the same time lose the one it had with the state broadcaster? The awarding of the contract to MeteoGroup rather than the Met Office does remind me of that old idiom: don’t keep a dog and bark yourself

The new UK passport
Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Guardian

The Guardian reports that the decision to award the contract to print Britain’s new blue passports to the Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto is in effect final, and apparently will save the tax payer £120 million over the next five years. I wonder if they’ve factored into that calculation the money that the employees of De La Rue, the manufacturer of the current passport, will pay back to the Inland Revenue in income tax if it got the contract? The Guardian report goes on to say that although:

Gemalto has not been formally named as the winning company, the Home Office said the choice of contractor would lead to the creation of about 70 jobs at Fareham in Hampshire and Heywood in Lancashire. One of Gemalto’s five current UK outposts is in Fareham

So that’s alright then. Of course the total irony of all this is that next year the UK will be leaving the EU for good.

As you know I very rarely publish political stories in this blog which is 99% of the time about weather and climate, but after hearing that the contract for the production of these new passports has been awarded to a French company I just saw red, or should that be blue. Both organisations who lost out in this contract bidding process were founded in this country back in the 19th century, De La Rue in 1821 and the Met Office in 1854, and perhaps that may be part of the reason why they were usurped. Then again is the cheapest bid always the best bid? I bet if you asked that of any rail passenger after 20 years of privatisation most would answer no.

Are MeteoGroup using ECMWF model at the BBC?

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

I’ve been wondering for a while exactly which particular NWP model MeteoGroup have been using in their WeatherSuite graphics on the BBC. From what I can see it’s neither NWP data from the Met Office or the American GFS model, but rather surprisingly from the European ECMWF model. Have a look at three points of commonality between the forecast chart for Sunday from today’s lunchtime forecast on the BBC (fig 1) and the forecast chart for 00 UTC on Sunday (T+72) from the ECMWF (fig 2). It’s the best fit that I can find from looking at each of the three models, and to me looks like the one they used today. Who knows tomorrow it maybe the GFS or maybe a blend of the two!

Figure 2 – Courtesy of www.wxcharts.eu

As far as I can see the ECMWF model can be used by any of the member states, although MeteoGroup, which is originally a Dutch company with headquarters now in London, will probably use a commercial license that may cost them no more than €14,000 a year (fig 3). That wouldn’t buy you very much climate data from the Met Office I can tell you!

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the ECMWF

Although the resolution of the ECMWF model is 0.1° x 0.1°, the rendering of the isobars does look a bit ‘steppy’ to me in the WeatherSuite graphics, and certainly not as smooth as in the static image from www.wxcharts.eu.

Problems ahead?

The question is what happens when the UKMO and the ECMWF models part company as they sometime do? That could be a real problem. What if the Met Office issue a severe weather warning a number of days in advance as they sometimes do and the two models aren’t in synch and have differing solutions? I suppose the answer is for the weather presenter either to not mention anything about the warning at all, or vaguely mention the threat and hope nobody notices that although an intense depression is forecast to track into France in the graphics, south cones have been hoisted by the Met Office all along the channel coast!

Met Office come out slugging!

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office

Articles suggesting that the Met Office were a bit slow of the mark in forecasting the recent cold spell have provoked a robust response from them today (fig 1). Their news release lists a timetable of what they did and when they did it in the lead up to the commencement of the severe weather.

The Met Office are currently ‘managerless’, using football parlance after Rob Varley, the Chief Executive was asked to stand down by the Government. Nick Jobling the Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer, has drawn the short straw to head the organisation as the stand-in-manager (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Met Office

Here’s the full story courtesy of today’s Daily Telegraph (fig 3), perhaps this has something to do with the tender that the Met Office submitted for the BBC contract and which they lost to MeteoGroup. This maybe another reason why the Met Office have been provoked into issuing today’s riposte to MeteoGroup’s claims that they forecast the severe weather event six weeks in advance.

Figure 3 – Courtesy of Daily Telegraph

How accurate is the analysis on the BBC forecast?

To be completely honest I can’t say how closely the old BBC graphics followed the analysis provided by the Met Office, but as far as I can remember it did. But things have changed big time since MeteoGroup have taken over the running of the place, and I’m afraid that accurate frontal positions seems to be high up on the list of casualties. Take a look at this chart from the lunchtime weather forecast on BBC1, it purportedly shows the analysis for some unknown time today (fig 1).

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC and MeteoGroup

Now take a look at the 06 UTC analysis from the Met Office and you’ll notice that the warm sector and cold front over France, with a bent back occlusion across southern England is closer to fiction than it is fact (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Met Office

The position of the trough and small low reveal that the BBC forecast chart  for today (fig 1) is probably a T+12 or maybe a T+6 NWP frame valid for either 18 or 00 UTC. So to be fair, let’s just take a look at the later forecast charts from the Met Office to see if it tally’s with any of those (fig 3).

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the Met Office

No, neither of these forecast charts match the version put out on the BBC. I’m not saying that copying all the frontal boundaries in the UKMO analysis would be a sensible idea, the UKMO analysis is far too over detailed and would obviously need simplifying, but the more active and fronts pertinent to weather in the UK do need to be correct. MeteoGroup are of course not obliged to follow the analysis as laid down by the Met Office, so this might be a unique insight to the analysis as seen by their senior forecaster?

MeteoGroup set great store on accuracy in their new WeatherSuite graphics package, but in my opinion the data they are displaying here is less accurate and misleading and has happened before. This is what their Chief Product and Marketing Manager said at the launch of their new service about how important accuracy was to them (fig 4).

Figure 4 – Courtesy of MeteoGroup

BBC: Storm Emma smashes boats at Holyhead marina

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

I completely missed this story about the extensive damage to boats in the marina at Holyhead. There looks to have been around eight hours of gale force eight northeasterly winds at nearby Valley (fig 2). This in itself is not that unusual, but the wind direction never wavered, and it was probably this as much the strength of the wind that compounded the problems at Holyhead. When gales do occur from any run of the mill extratropical cyclone that crosses the country, the wind usually back ahead of the low, and then veer as it moves away, but on Friday the winds never budged and remained northeasterly, the flow trapped between high pressure to the north and low pressure of Emma to the south (fig 4).

Figure 2 – Valley anemograph
Figure 3 – Courtesy of Ordnance Survey & Bing Maps

I’m guessing here because I’m no expert, but although the local orography suggests that Holyhead might have been offered more protection by the island of Anglesey itself, the winds on Friday from 060°, must have been perfectly aligned for the sea that it whipped up in the short fetch across Holyhead Bay, to find its way between the breakwater and the pier at Holyhead (fig 3). A high spring tide of 5.77 metres which occurred at 2008 UTC on Thursday the 1st of March might also been another key factor.

Figure 4

The Guardian: BBC weathermen felt the way the wind blows

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Guardian

An interesting view about the changes in relationship between the BBC, the Met Office, and the people of the UK, from a one time BBC manager (fig 1). Now the Met Office can distance themselves from disastrous media events such as the ‘barbecue summer‘ that never happened, or the ‘hurricane – what hurricane?‘ that did. A bigger change may have taken place than we might even realise when MeteoGroup won the BBC contract, and the monopoly stranglehold the Met Office had over public weather forecasting in this country was finally broken.

The new look BBC weather forecast and attribution

Figure 1 – courtesy of the BBC

This is how the new BBC weather service opens now that MeteoGroup have taken up the contract (fig 1). In the many hundreds of articles that I have written for this blog, I always try my best to attribute the source of any of the data, images or maps that I use out of common courtesy. So why is it that the BBC can’t do the same thing? They don’t seem to mind doing it with the shipping forecast on Radio Four:-

“This is the shipping forecast issued by the Met Office, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, at 0505 today, Saturday the 10th of February 2018…”

So why don’t the BBC do the same thing in the national weather forecast? We know that warnings will continue to be issued by the Met Office, but are just left guessing about the source of model data MeteoGroup are using in their TV forecasts.

Why is it so important?

The reason it is important that we know, is that in the future an unexpected weather event occur may occur that was much more severe than was forecast, and blame will be apportioned. Because in the past it was always easy to lay that blame at the feet of the Met Office, it’s now a lot more complicated. It’s not the fault of the presenters because they are employed by the BBC and are really just the messengers, it really lies with MeteoGroup choice of forecast model with which they produce that poor forecast with. So knowing where that forecast data came from is important, because as far as I know MeteoGroup have full access to forecast data from a number of different sources, including the American (GFS), European (ECMWF), and the UKMO models.

Credit where credit’s due

The solution is simple, in the opening credits the BBC should indicate which model data MeteoGroup have used to produce that particular forecast with – credit where credit’s due (figs 2 & 3). Who knows MeteoGroup could pick and choose from day-to-day which model they favour, and if they don’t choose to use the UKMO model it’s not inconceivable that the forecast data is out of synch with any warnings issued by the Met Office.

Figure 2 – courtesy of the BBC
Figure 3 – courtesy of the BBC

New BBC weather graphics – finally parity for Scotland!

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

The BBC today have finally unveiled their new graphics engine they’ll use when Meteogroup belatedly take over the new BBC contract this spring. On the face of it they don’t look that much different from the old system, but if you take a closer look you’ll notice that the animations, zooming and panning look smoother and the underlying maps more detailed.

I’ve always thought that the old map projection was wrong and finally the BBC have listened to the chorus of criticism over the last 10 years or more, especially from the Scots, about how shrunken Scotland looked in the old graphics. It maybe that the arrogance of the BBC to its users and the women it employees is finally coming to an end.

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the BBC

If I’ve done my maths right it looks like the 0.625 to 0.375 ratio of England to Scotland north to south has been adjusted and I can say that Scotland for the first time has parity with England – at least on the BBC weather map!

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the BBC

Here’s a look in a little more detail at the orography of the new maps at the BBC (fig 3). I like the improvements that they’ve made and think the rendering and detail in the maps is clearer than those produced by the Met Office Visual Cortex graphics engine. The Met Office have made no attempt to fix the mapping problem and that the BBC have now corrected, preferring to stick with the 0.39 to 0.61  ratio of Scotland to England (fig 4).

Figure 4 – Courtesy of the Met Office

One final small nerdy point, and that is it’s good to see in the new synoptic charts from the BBC, the barbs on the frontal systems are spaced slightly further apart than those in the Met Office graphics (figs 5 & 6). A small point, but as these graphics maybe around for another 10 years or more, less irritating, at least to me.

Figure 5 – Courtesy of the BBC
Figure 6 – Courtesy of the Met Office

Why do BBC weather presenters always stand on the left?

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC
Why do BBC weather presenters always stand on the left*?

I suppose the simple answer to that is because it’s were they have been told to stand by the producer. In recent years the BBC presenters have definitely become more animated with their arms and hands gesticulating in an attempt to show the inner workings of any intense storm that comes along, but they always have remained on the left. There’s no comparison these days between the almost static approach of Michael Fish and Tomasz Schafernaker for instance, but I’m sure if he were allowed to move – instead of being almost nailed to the spot – then he would.

* It’s obvious that I’ve never been a presenter, because after writing this I realised that BBC presenters do in fact stand on the right – so I should clarify that I mean on the ‘left’ of the viewers screen!

Why the left’s not good for the UK

Our weather in the UK is predominantly driven by the Atlantic Ocean and comes in from the west or southwest – so where do we position the presenter? Yes, precisely in the wrong place – where any low pressure or frontal system first shows its hand. I’m not suggesting they should all now stand on the right, or that they should be continually moving around, what I’m suggesting is to let them decide where to stand depending on the weather situation. For instance if the flow was westerly the right hand side of the screen would be surely the best place. (I’m not suggesting for one moment that in a southerly situation that we should suspend them by sky hooks and drop them down from the ceiling of the studio on a pulley hoist, it’s a great idea, but I’m sure health and safety wouldn’t be keen).

What do they do elsewhere?

I thought that I’d take a quick look round the world and see which side  of the screen other weather presenters stood. It looks like in Western Australia they stand on the right, it might be that the left might be better here though (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology

In New Zealand they also seem to stand on the right, but standing on the right looks far better than standing on the right because of the geography of New Zealand (fig 3).

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the New Zealand Met Service

In America covering the entire country from west to east means that nailing the presenters shoes down on the left will definitely not work. The presenter can freely move around to point out weather on the east coast just as Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day (fig 4).

Figure 4 – Courtesy of Weather Channel

At least the BBC presenters can rotate a little on the spot, but the forecasters of Meteo France seem to have both feet firmly rooted to the studio floor with their upper body hardly swivelling at all (fig 5).

Figure 5 – Courtesy of Meteo France

The Germans are pretty mobile, but again they favour the right rather than the left, perhaps it’s because most people are right-handed and that suits them better (fig 6).

Figure 6 – Courtesy of ARD

The Irish seem to have gone along with the BBC and stand on the left (fig 7), but again why not be daring and stand on the right!

Figure 7 – Courtesy of RTE

Not surprisingly there’s been little thought given down at the Met Office to doing any differently from how its been done for the last 63 years at the BBC, with Alex Deakin again stood on the left, completely blocking any potential developments at 50N and 50W in the NWP forecast animation (fig 8). It’s such a pity, because the graphic are great, and it looks like they’ve still not managed to figure out how to change the spacing for those ridiculously closely packed barbs on all the cold/warm/occluded fronts produced by their new graphics engine, compare it to how it should look in the German and New Zealand graphics.

Figure 7 – Courtesy of the Met Office

In my quick tour of the world of weather forecasts, courtesy of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, I would say the majority of presenters still stand on the left rather than the right for some unknown reason, but I think things maybe be slowly changing as the weather presenter is “unchained” and becomes more mobile.

It maybe that weather presenters stand on the left around the world because on the 11th of January 1954 – George Cowling (fig 8) presented the world’s first live broadcast weather forecast on BBC TV – probably stood on the left (I can’t be certain because I don’t think there’s a video of that forecast), or then again maybe not.

Figure 8 – Courtesy of the BBC

There’s change coming to the BBC weather this spring though, because Meteogroup are taking over. I’m not sure if they are going to use weather graphics supplied by Metraweather, but if they do they may well swap from the left to the right, or maybe even allow them to be as mobile as the presenters are on Channel TG4 in Ireland are who do use Metraweather (fig 9). This is how a weather forecast should be presented, with the presenter unfettered to move about wherever he or she wants depending on the situation – very impressive.

Figure 9 – Courtesy of Metraweather and TG4

BBC Spotlight Weather Maps

Figure 1 – Courtesy of BBC Southwest

I’ve been in Devon for 15 years this year and have always paid close attention to the local weather forecast on BBC Spotlight Southwest news bulletins. What’s always been a frustration to me is the rather larger than required maps that they choose to use (fig 1).  I don’t see any reason why for example that the map should extend as far as 52° north to display the bottom third of Wales and the coast of southern Ireland for instance. This is a local forecast for local people in Cornwall, Devon, and the west of Somerset and Dorset, the national forecast provides information if you’re planning to travel out with the southwest.

Here’s what I think would make a much better scale map of the region that the forecast is specifically for. Apologies to David Braine for cutting him out and superimposing on this OpenStreetMap (fig 2)!

Figure 2 – Courtesy of BBC Southwest (last nights 18-06 minimum temperatures)

Before you write in and complain and say that I’ve forgotten about the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands, there is no reason why this map shouldn’t pan west east, and north south to reveal these areas, but this would be the default scale of the map. With this kind of detail high-resolution model data could colour contour extreme temperatures much more effectively than with the crude model they overlay now, and we might then be able to capture frost hollows such the one at Exeter Airport, which the Met Office model seems to have missed once again last night.

Television and the many ways we can view weather forecasts has come along way since the introduction of the current graphics system at the BBC in 2005. We now have high-definition and 4k television, cathode ray tubes are a thing of the past and 50″+ flat screen televisions are common place. The introduction of a new weather graphics system is long overdue, and hopefully MeteoGroup will seize this opportunity to improve the mapping they use, at the same time making use of higher resolution NWP data to overlay on it. My guess is that when the new service starts this spring it will only replicate the current graphics, hopefully I am proved totally wrong!