The British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] is a British public service broadcaster. It is headquartered at Broadcasting House in London, and is the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.