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Parliamentary Information Office : Inquiry urges Met Office to clarify season forecasts

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The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook is currently gathering news items for major features on apprenticeships in the next edition.


A Parliamentary inquiry has ordered the Office to improve the way it communicates controversial seasonal weather forecasts that wrongly-predicted a “barbecue summer”.


The Science and Technology Select Committee has warned the Exeter-based weather bureau’s longer-term forecasts need to be “communicated carefully”.


The cross-party committee of MPs says broadcasters should adopt a measure of how likely a forecast will come to fruition, similar to weather reports in the United States.


A “barbecue summer” that never was in 2009 and a failure to predict the “big freeze” over the winter of 2010 led critics to question the accuracy Office’s predictions.


The committee said the Office’s weekly weather predictions have a high rate of accuracy, but there is a “common public perception” seasonal forecasts are unreliable.


But it insisted the Westcountry-based organisation should not scrap the three-month forecasts because they are useful to farming, tourism, retail and other sectors.


Andrew Miller MP, chairman of the select committee, said: “The Office is consistently placed in the top three centres in the world for weather prediction.


“But accurate forecasts are of little use if they are not communicated well and understood by the public.”


Evidence given to the committee by scientists claimed the public’s distrust was “largely due to sensationalist media reporting” and “shortcomings in how ‘probability’ and ‘risk’ are understood by non-experts”.


The report referenced a report on the Daily Mail’s website from 2009 under the headline: “As millions of Britons holiday at home after that promise of a ‘barbecue summer’, how did the Office get it so wrong?”


But the inquiry made it clear the Office needs to make forecasts more easy to understand. It stated: “We recommend that the Office develop a communications strategy that sets out, for example, how it intends to enhance the ways in which it presents probabilistic weather forecast information.


“The Office should also work closely with broadcasters, such as the BBC, to ensure that forecasts are communicated accurately.


“In particular, we are keen to see broadcasters make greater use of probabilistic information in their weather forecasts, as is done in the United States.”


Julia Slingo, Office chief scientist, said the body’s science strategy, which the inquiry focussed on, had been very well received across the meteorological community.


She added: “We are continuing to work hard to develop the science of long-range forecasting as well as its effective communication.


“We are confident that long-range forecasting will improve progressively in the future.


“In the future we believe that the successes we have achieved for other parts of the world already will be mirrored in the UK.”


MPs also praised the Government for not looking to sell-off the Office – which employs about 1,200 staff in Exeter – and is instead looking at “other models to drive efficiency”.


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