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Topic section: Playing monopoly with the weather forecasts
Playing monopoly with the weather forecasts
Picture: 01_10413060.jpg
Weather map of North West Europe for training TV weather forecasters, 1974.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Weatherman Michael Fish worked for the Meteorological (‘Met’) Office, and predicting the weather is effectively a nationalised monopoly. Virtually all the weather forecasts on television, radio and in the newsp

And they are completely unreliable more than five days ahead

apers stem from the ‘Met Office’. A few private companies provide forecasts, but they are still based on data provided by the Met Office. Can outsiders predict the weather more accurately?

The Met Office employs computers to analyse all the data from far-flung weather stations. It forecasts the weather from this data using a complex mathematical model. All this number crunching produces forecasts which are generally very accurate for the next 24 hours, but they are prone to inaccuracies even over 48 hours, and they are completely unreliable more than five days ahead. The Met Office no longer even attempts monthly or seasonal forecasts.

There are only two real rivals to the national monopoly: amateur forecasters, who rely on folklore and observations of animal and plant behaviour; and Piers Corbyn. Amateur forecasts tend to appear in newspapers about once a year and few people bother to check whether they are accurate or not. By contrast, Piers Corbyn’s Weather Action is a commercial operation selling long-range forecasts to companies and individuals.
Picture: 01_10413028.jpg
Wooden figure of Saint Suzanne, invoked against public calamities and rain, 1500-1700.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

On a short timescale, such as a few hours, we can all use traditional methods to predict the behaviour of the weather. If thewind is from the south-west, wet weather is on its way and if the wind turns to the north, it is likely to become cold. Amateur weather forecasters, such as the aptly named William Foggit, make longer-term forecasts, often as far as a year ahead, by looking at weather patterns, the number of berries produced by plants and the behaviour of animals. Some of these methods have a scientific basis, but others do not.

Considered by most meteorologists to be misguided and thus an outsider, Piers Corbyn believes, rightly or wrongly, that the Sun and in particular sunspots have a strong influence on our weather – the astronomer Edward W Maunder first put this idea forward in 1894. Corbyn combines conventional weather forecasting with historical analysis of weather patterns and current observations of the Sun’s behaviour taken from the Internet. Corbyn is confident about his forecasts to the extent of making bets on them, but there is little evidence that he is any more accurate than the Met Office.
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Topic section: 'There isn’t a hurricane on the way...'
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The wind may have uprooted a tree in your garden, but it was only a severe gale, not a hurricane. You may be drenched, but it was only a shower. Weather forecasters use a very specific terminology that baffles most of us. It is all a matter of interpretation.  > more

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Topic section: Just because you can model it, doesn’t mean you can predict it
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Can we forecast the weather by crunching lots of data? This idea was first put forward by Lewis Fry Richardson in 1922, but he lacked the mechanical means to do the analysis. The Meteorological Office uses the latest supercomputers to do the job.  > more
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