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
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
It looks clear to me that MeteoGroup were quicker off the mark in predicting this recent cold spell than the Met Office, although it may have been closer to two rather than the six weeks they claim on their website.
At the same time that MeteoGroup were issuing their guidance for week #09 (last graphic in fig 1), the Met Office issued a press release on their website in which Matthew Lewis a Deputy Chief Operational Meteorologist said: ‘A Sudden Stratospheric Warming event is now expected to occur and will peak over the coming week. The resulting impact on the weather in the UK is still hugely uncertain, but there are some signs of conditions that an easterly flow could develop across Europe. Although we wouldn’t expect continuously cold conditions there is a greater chance of cold conditions recurring‘. But it wan’t till the following week on the 16th of February, that they issued another press release talking about ‘increased confidence‘ in a prolonged cold spell (fig 2).
It looks clear that both organisations were watching out for the occurrence of a SSW event in early February. From what I can see MeteoGroup played a hunch that the NWP models were going to come good with some kind of easterly by the end of the month (after all the models had been suggesting something like occurring since the New Year), but the Met Office were a lot more cautious, preferring to wait until they could see the whites of its eyes before they went public.
This 3 month outlook for contingency planners from the Met Office for the period February, March and April issued on the 26th of January (fig 3) is probably one they might like to forget. Don’t forget the cold spell at the time this was issued was no more than a month away and they still didn’t nail it.
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).