Space Weather the Met Office and Piers Corbyn

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office

The Met Office press office have just published a blog about the so-called L5 mission to launch a spacecraft to gather new observations of the sun that is now underway (fig 1 & 2). Apparently the mission is championed by the UK Space Agency, and will give the Met Office an opportunity to improve space weather forecasting. Who knows in the future they might even start giving each major coronal mass ejection a name like we do for storms on earth!

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Met Office

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great idea, and I wish them every success in their endeavour, but I’ve never been an advocate of the Met Office’s involvement in ‘space weather’, as far as I can see their raison d’être is to provide weather forecasts down here on Earth rather than in space, but they’ve obviously seized an opportunity that they think they can exploit. Because there were no links in the Met Office article, I decided to scan though both the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency websites for more information regarding the mission which the Met Office are so excited about, only to find nothing which rather surprised me, although I did find an article in Nature about it.

This may sound very petty, which undoubtedly it is, but thirty years ago as an observer at Kinloss when the WMO dropped the 9 group for the reporting of aurora from the SYNOP, the Met Office couldn’t have cared less if you had observed one or not, but today it’s now a core component of their ‘space weather’ forecast and big business!

The Corbynite Manoeuvre
Figure 3 – Courtesy of the Sun

While I’m talking about very ‘petty things’ and the sun, I would just like to mention someone called Piers Corbyn, you know the brother of the leader of the Labour party (fig 3). Many people dismiss his claims about how much of an influence the sun has on the weather on the surface of the earth. Personally I too think the sun has more influence on the weather than we currently realise, and rather than reading another article about just how a CME can knock out satellites in orbit and creates the aurora, I would much rather read an article about just what the Met Office does with the rest of the data it receive from these satellites that are constantly watching the sun, and how they make use of it in the various NWP and climate models that they run. For all I know the solar output could be just a fixed constant in some Fortran header file used in all of their models, but that could be me just being cynical.

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.

Just one of those things

Figure 1 – Data courtesy of NOAA/ESRL

If I were asked to make a scientific forecast which I knew for an absolute certainty would be proved correct (apart from the sun will go down this evening and rise again tomorrow morning), it would be with regard to global CO levels as measured at Mauna Loa. In fact I’ll make a forecast now that the global CO levels as measured at Mauna Loa in February 2019 will be at least 410.25 parts per million [ppm] if not a little higher!

The first chart is of monthly COlevels for the last 30 years, and how they have been inexorably rising, but at a fairly steady rate of 19 ppm per decade. There is a seasonality about the series as you can see (fig 1), with a high each year around May and a low in early autumn.

Figure 2 – Data courtesy of NOAA/ESRL

The above plot is of the 12 month difference in concentrations, which takes away the seasonality to reveal the true rate of change that’s going on in the data series (fig 2). As you can see the 12 month changes fluctuate and reached a peak of over +4.14 ppm change in April 2016, since then the 12 month centred moving average (outlined in yellow) has continued to fall since then, declining to +1.93 ppm in the 12 months to February 2018.

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the Met Office

The correctly predicted levels of COas forecast by the Met Office for last year and outlined in their news blog today (fig 3) for some reason remind me a little of the lyrics from the 1984 song ‘Accident on third street’ by Al Stewart. It concerns a girl call Linda who gets killed in a road traffic accident by a drunk driver and why it happened:

I asked my local guru about the situation, he gave me this reply
While pointing a bony finger up into the general direction of the sky:
‘Get on with your own life, it is not ours to reason why’
Said he used to worry about it once when he was young
Now he doesn’t even bother to try,
He left me with a feeling that what he said was basically sound
Like a black hole in space, or philosophy, useless but profound
Just one of those things
One of those things

Two new warning types from the Met Office

Figure 1 – Courtesy of The Met Office

The Met Office are about to add two new warning types of thunderstorm and lightning to the ones they already issue for wind, snow, rain, ice and fog. It  can’t understand the reasoning behind why there has to be a separate warning for both thunderstorm and lightning, after all you can’t get one without the other. If heavy thunderstorms were expected and a warning issued, wouldn’t it from now on necessitate the issuing of three warnings, one for heavy rain, one for the thunderstorm, and another for the lightning, when a single warning for severe thunderstorms would imply that heavy rain and lightning would also occur?

One thing I hope that they do change in the email notification they send you, and that is to include the actual text of the warning and not just its type, the area that it’s for and validity time.

MeteoGroup v Met Office

I’ll fully admit before I start that a inter-comparison between the ECMWF based forecast presentation from MeteoGroup and that of the Met Office’s with their own model data on a day of reasonably benign weather like today is a little bit over the top.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

The ECMWF model does have a finger of showers running down the east coast but Simon King doesn’t (or forgets) to mention them in this particular broadcast at 12 am, even though he’s under no obvious time pressure (fig 1). The MeteoGroup graphics showed little or no low cloud across the southeast of England, which prompted him to say “a bit of cloud feeding into central areas, but either side of that we’ll continue with the sunshine into the afternoon” (fig 2). So nothings changed with the presenters, they believe the NWP in the graphics rather than check the latest observations, weather radar and visible satellite image. It’s as much the presenters fault as it is MeteoGroup and they now all work for the BBC and not them.

Figure 2
Figure 3 – Courtesy of the Met Office

In the forecast video on the Met Office web site, Aidan McGivern does mention the showers which seem to be more obvious on the Met Office model, but then puts his foot right in it by adding that classic cliché ‘high pressure in charge’ (fig 3).

Figure 4

This visible image reveals how the BBC graphics have underdone the amount of low cloud across the southeast, the Met Office seem to have done better in its distribution (fig 4).

Figure 5

As for the light showers that are aligned along the weak cold front, both models have underplayed them, the Met Office seem to have made slightly more of them (fig 5).

In the forecast for this lunchtime, I think the Met office and their model did enough to just edged it over the BBC. Next time I do an inter-comparison between the two, I’ll have to choose a day with a bit more weather.

They think it’s all over…

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office

A slightly premature press release from the Met Office regarding the latest cold spell and today’s snow (fig 1). Maybe it would have been better waiting for tomorrow to release it, in light of the fact that it’s still snowing across large parts of Devon and Cornwall (fig 2).

Figure 2

Today’s BBC forecast for the southwest

Figure 1 – courtesy of the BBC

It would be fascinating to see a comparison between whatever mesoscale model MeteoGroup are currently using to produce the graphics with for their BBC contract, and the corresponding NWP output from the Met Office fine mesh model or whatever it’s called these days.

We live to the north of Exeter and it’s been snowing here since around 9 am this morning, it was moderate snow for two or three hours but now it’s generally slight. The top image is from last nights forecast from the BBC in Plymouth (fig 1), which has you can see has slightly mishandled the snow area that’s been affecting central and eastern Devon, and taken it westward much too quickly if you compare it with the weather radar (fig 2).

That forecast on the BBC was broadcast at 1910 UTC last night, and I’m guessing that they we are looking at the 12 UTC run of the ECMWF model (because as far as I know it’s only run at 00 and 12 UTC), and so they must have been using T+26 data (14 UTC) if there is such a time frame – if not then they must interpolate it in some way from the T+24 and the T+27 data.

Figure 2

I suppose it’s quite acceptable for the general public, and most will not have spotted that their forecast cleared away the snow far too quickly. Did it affect anyone? Well it may have, especially if you were a motorist trying to use the A380 near Exeter earlier this afternoon, because they had to close the road due to heavy snow, but the again I suppose that’s what amber warnings are for.