“Just some of these western coasts may stay a little murky…”

Image 1 – Courtesy of the BBC (upper) and the Met Office (lower)

The ECMWF model being used for the BBC forecast by MeteoGroup is not really handling the sea fog that’s rolling into west of Cornwall and along the north coast of Devon too well this morning (fig 1). The UKMO model has at least captured something in the way of cloud across the southwest, what exactly it is in looking at the graphics is a little bit harder to work out, is it cirrus, or stratus or just sea fog? Alex Deakin doesn’t seem overly concerned about it though, he says that’ll it be “just some of these western coasts that may stay a little murky”.

Figure 2

I’ve been watching this fog and low stratus as it rolls in across the southwest and it’s moving quite smartly to say there’s very little gradient (fig 2). I just wonder how much further east it will progress during the rest of the day as well as how far inland it’ll make it.

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the BBC

In the national forecast just after the main BBC news the graphics looked very similar to the ones used during the morning, but in the regional forecast at 1.40 pm it appeared as if they had updated the model which gave a much more realistic fit with the satellite image (fig 3). Ben Rich was too busy demonstrating how proficient he is with the count-up method (you know the one – “temperatures reaching 24 or 25 quite widely, and maybe even a 26 or 27 and possibly a 28 or 29 in one or two spots”) to even be bothered to show any detail of low cloud in the southwest.

The BBC weather website

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

I hadn’t noticed the recent changes to the mapping used in the forecasts on the BBC website introduced by MeteoGroup, so I was rather surprised to find just how good a ECMWF viewer it was (fig 1). All they need to do now is add some extra layers such as 300 hPa winds and 1000-850 hPa partial thicknesses, and they’ll have a winner on their hands! The NWP only extends to T+168 but that’s fine, the only thing I can really find fault with is that they still use the same dreadful location labels they do in their TV graphics (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the BBC

Even at full zoom there are some rather curious omissions in the towns and cities that they choose to include in their coverage of the UK. Here are just a few of the holes that I spotted across northern England I would have thought could do with plugging (fig 3). I’m sure they’ll put the reason down to keeping the map decluttered, but that could easily be achieved by giving each location a plotting priority, and removing the solid black rectangle they use to overlay each location name on.

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the BBC

Nowcasting and the problem of forecasting low cloud

All sorts of problems in forecasting the exact position and the extent of low cloud across the country this morning. This is nothing new of course and must be the bane of most NWP models in slack situations like this. Both the UKMO and the ECMWF models (if that’s the one MeteoGroup are currently  using) have a poor grasp of low cloud at 09 UTC as you can see by this mornings visible satellite image, and don’t forget these graphics are probably from the 06 UTC model run so the forecast’s are no more than three hours in the future (fig 1). In the 1980’s the word nowcasting was coined to describe these short-term forecasts, but it looks like low cloud in situations like this are proving difficult to keep track of.

Figure 1 – Met Office forecast – Visible Satellite – BBC forecast

You may have noticed that I’m fixated at the moment in examining and comparing the forecast output from the UKMO and the ECMWF models, by grabbing screen shots of the MeteoGroup forecast on BBC 1, and the Met Office video forecast from their website. Why do I do this? Perhaps it’s out of sheer frustration, knowing that although we indirectly pay for both of these institutions, we see output from either model in any detail except by snatching screen shots. I’m so glad that MeteoGroup did win the BBC contract because it does help in highlighting the differences and shortcomings of both models.

Met Office make it three in a row

Figure 1 Courtesy of  BBC/ITV/Actual

The Met Office make it three in a row, with an 8-5 win over Meteogroup on today’s maximum temperatures. On the strength of the last three days the ECMWF seem to over-estimate afternoon temperatures, although I still can’t manage to get them to agree on when to report them in either of their forecast graphics. Today I had to use the ITV graphics for the Met Office forecast because the Met Office are so darn quick at deleting any evidence in their early morning forecast. I’m going to have to find a better way that this to verify their forecasts…

Today’s poor forecasts

It’s difficult to pin these two organisations down when it comes to verifying just how accurate their maximum temperature forecasts are. But the Met Office model is already one up after yesterday, so I thought I’d just see how they did today.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC and the Met Office

Here are the actual temperatures at 1600 BST today which I mark 76% to the Met Office. The forecast for London was really dreadful from both models, obviously they expected the stratus to clear but it didn’t. I can’t understand why MeteoGroup have labels for both Glasgow and Edinburgh, but only one temperature, and for which city it’s for. If anything MeteoGroup should have had the edge because the actual and forecast temperatures are both for 1600 BST, but that didn’t stop the Met Office taking a two nil lead.

It wasn’t only temperature that caught out both the Met Office and MeteoGroup today, there was also an area of heavy rainfall that extended across Humberside into Yorkshire during the afternoon that escaped both models. I watched the rolling news on the BBC news during the afternoon and I think even worse than the poor forecast was that the presenter never seemed to noticed that it was happening at all, let alone bothering mention it or show a real-time weather radar image. It reminded me of the taped forecast given by Michael Fish as the Boscastle flash floods was in progress in 2004. I can’t see why the Met Office have bothered to update their weather radar network when no one seems to look at it. Here’s the BBC forecast for the east Midland’s from yesterday evening (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the BBC

Forecast temperature verification

I’ve been trying to compare forecast temperatures from the Met Office and MeteoGroup to see which NWP model was the more accurate. Here are their forecasts for yesterday (fig 1).

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC and the Met Office

As you can see they use a more or less common set of major cities across the UK which helps. On Twitter the Met Office seem to prefer labelling the 1400 temperature rather than the 1600 temperature as the BBC do, so a direct comparison is difficult. It might be a little easier if both of them displayed a much more useful maximum temperature [06-18] for the day, but that would never do would it? I noticed that in their video forecast for today, the Met Office had switched to labelling temperatures at 1500, although I can’t seem to figure out where that 11°C label is for in this mornings (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Met Office

As you know daytime temperatures are notoriously difficult to forecast with variable cloud at anytime of the year, but especially so in spring with breezes of cold seas, and as you can see there were was a large range in forecast temperatures from the two models for yesterday. Here are the actual air temperatures for 1500 BST for comparison purposes (fig 3).

Figure 3 – Courtesy of Me

Despite the timing differences I mentioned above, I make it that as far as yesterday goes, the Met Office forecast temperature was closer to the actual temperature (at 1500 BST) than was the MeteoGroup forecast at 60% of the 14 city sites. Of course I need to put in quite a bit of work over a longer period to see which model is the more accurate.

Twitter wars – the BBC weather team versus the Met Office

There is a war going on out there on all forms of social media to gain the hearts and minds of the people of the UK. You might not have noticed it but there is, and on Twitter it’s already pretty aggressive. It’s all to do with Weather, and it’s between the two biggest weather players in the UK at the moment – the BBC weather team based in the heart of London and now backed by MeteoGroup, and the news and social media team of the Met Office, based down here in deepest, darkest Devon.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of Twitter and the Met Office
Figure 2 – Courtesy of Twitter and the BBC
The vital statistics

Surprisingly, well at least it is to me, the Met Office are well in the lead in the Twitter wars with over 701,000 followers (fig 1), compared to the BBC’s 401,000 (fig 2). The Met Office team also seem to be tweeting over twice as frequently as do the BBC weather team, and what’s more they have almost 5,000 likes, to just a paltry 141 for the BBC. Interestingly, the BBC are flaunting off their best asset in the shapely form of Carol Kirkwood in their header, whilst all the Met Office have to show for themselves are the names of this seasons storms.

I started to write this blog in early Autumn last year and never got round to finishing, but in that six months it looks like the number of followers has increased by 19% for the Met Office and by 10% for the BBC.

It’s become apparent to me that since the Met Office lost the contract with the BBC to supply it with weather forecasts they have thrown a lot of resources and energy into social media to try to usurp their old customer as the number one place to go for weather information in the UK by means of social media and the internet, and that’s perhaps how it should be.

Who does the tweeting?

It appears that the weather presenters themselves at the BBC do most of the tweeting, but I’m guessing that a lot of the tweets that you see are generated by a small team of backroom staff.

Twenty years ago or so the Met Office had a network of weather centres across the country, those days have long gone, and what they have now is a rota of people (and I’m guessing again here), that work round the clock, and whose sole job it is to generate weather news output to the media, including tweets. For all I know they may even be call tweeters rather than forecasters these days, and it’s very similar to what I do in this blog, and it’s sure as hell more interesting than concocting a TAF for Stansted airport every six hours!

What about the content?
Figure 3 – Courtesy of Twitter

Well the BBC do have Weather Watchers, and that has proved a wonderful resource for them ever since its inception just a few years ago. You can’t watch a weather forecast these days without some series of images sent in by viewers of one thing or another, to my mind it’s counterproductive at times, turning the weather forecast into some kind of slideshow. The Met Office also make use of images sent into them by people using Twitter, or from their WOW website, but I don’t think it compares to the sheer variety and volume of images that are posted into Weather Watchers each day on the BBC (fig 3). 1-0 to the BBC.

How do the forecast graphics compare?
Figure 4 – Courtesy of Twitter

The forecast graphics from both the Visual Cortex graphics engine of the Met Office and the WeatherSuite graphics system of MeteoGroup both at a quick glance look very smart indeed (fig 4). Initially I thought that the BBC had taken the lead in this regard, especially in sorting out the iniquity of the map projection that had gone on since the introduction of the BBC graphics in 2005, but as time has gone by I now realise things like the obtrusive place-name labels, difficult to see cloud layers, and underused fly through capabilities make it difficult to see any detail. How good the respective NWP forecasts compare from them is another matter, but for now that’s brought the score back to 1-1.

The use of satellite imagery
Figure 5 – Courtesy of Twitter

You don’t see many tweets that include satellite imagery of the UK in them from either of the teams, which is very shortsighted, as I feel that it’s grossly underused resource, but when the Met Office do consider using it, it’s apparent that have access to better imagery than MeteoGroup (fig 5), but there’s still no sign of either organisations making use of high-resolution rapid scan imagery either in Twitter or in their TV and video forecast output. 2-1 to  the Met Office.

TV and video forecasts

Figure 6 – Courtesy of Facebook and Twitter

It’s very obvious that the Met Office have put a lot of extra effort and resource into the production of their new daily weather videos since losing the BBC contract (fig 6), and I think they’re on the right track in streaming forecasts from their Exeter HQ via their website as they do. It was also a very astute move getting Alex Deakin down to Exeter to front this new service, it was only a shame they couldn’t lure John Hammond down at the same time. These two presenters were far and away the most likeable of all the BBC presenters.

Presenters aside, I find the video content from the Met Office slightly better than that of the BBC, this may be due to the fact that the recording studio at the Met Office is right next to the central forecasting office and the ‘meteorologist’ is right in the thick of it, whilst at the BBC they are in more of a journalistic environment, divorced from the latest thinking in the MeteoGroup forecasting London HQ. The other reason I might prefer it is that it’s a bit different, the BBC video is just TV output that we see each day from the BBC, the Met Office forecast is a bit home spun. There’s no reason why though in the future, with the super-fast communication links we have these days, that the BBC couldn’t completely outsource all their weather forecasting back to the Met Office in Exeter, and free up some desk space at broadcasting house. Strangely these video forecasts from the Met Office although accessible on Facebook aren’t published as tweets, so because this article is ostensibly about Twitter, it’s an own goal from the Met Office, and the scores are back to 2-2.

* It’s interesting to see just how the Met Office are differentiating their presenters by labelling them ‘meteorologist’.

Climate statistics
Figure 7 – Courtesy of Twitter

Many will find tweets of the latest weather statistics uninteresting, but I don’t, and because they have got someone to put an application to look back on yesterdays weather across the country in such an excellent way  (fig 7), they score a great goal to make it 3-2.

I could go on and find other categories to compare them against, but at the moment, at least on Twitter, the Met Office do seem to have the edge on the BBC weather team.

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.

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.

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.