Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Paul Hudson: What's behind the 'coldest winter for 100 years' headline?

(Climate Realists) Those of us with a keen interest in the weather can't fail to have noticed yet another headline in the Express this weekend, claiming this winter would be the coldest in 100 years, which you can see here.

Wherever I went this weekend, I've been stopped in the street by people asking me when the awful weather is likely to hit, whether they should buy winter tyres for the car, or go ahead with a planned visit to relatives at Christmas.
The headline in the Express came courtesy of little known 'Exacta Weather', a tiny private weather company, which bases its forecasts on, amongst other things, variations in solar output.

But the headline this weekend is almost identical to the one from this time last year, in which the same 'Exacta Weather' forecasted severe wintry conditions throughout last winter, leading to yet another front page headline in the Express.

In the end, last winter was milder than average. Exacta Weather is by no means the only company to issue such forecasts.

The headline in the Express is one of over twenty in the newspaper in recent times, all claiming severe or extreme conditions were about to befall us, each one of them the result of press releases from small, private weather companies, and most of which turned out to be wrong or exaggerated.

So what's going on?

When I worked at the Met Office some years ago, I remember the press office contacted a tabloid newspaper to ask why they continued to print such weather stories which invariably turned out to be wrong.

Their answer was very honest, straightforward and unapologetic.

Weather sells newspapers they said; admitting that each and every time they had a front page story on extreme weather, their circulation went up by around 10%.

Whether the forecast was right or wrong didn't seem a concern, after all, the newspaper was only reporting on what was being forecast by the weather company in question. How did they know whether it would turn out to be right or wrong?

And one would assume that any small private weather company, in a difficult completely un-regulated sector which is dominated by the state-funded Met Office, is happy to get some free, valuable publicity.

So it's a mutually beneficial process.

The losers, of course, are the readers, and more importantly the whole weather industry itself, which gets tarred with the same brush as those who issue extreme, sensationalist forecasts, which rarely bare any resemblance to reality.

So will it be the coldest winter in 100 Years?

It's extremely unlikely and if it were to happen it would be a huge turn up for the books.

Of course, if it were to happen, the many, many misleading headlines based on questionable forecasts that have appeared in recent years would quickly be forgotten.

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