Belfast Telegraph

Why only sure forecast is high pressure from public when Met Office gets the weather wrong

By Michael Sheils McNamee

In Northern Ireland, it seems some are all too quick to take our weathermen and women to task.

An enquiry to the Met Office has shown it's not all sunshine and rainbows for our forecasters when their predictions - and a wide range of other things - don't go our way.

Documents released to this newspaper after Freedom of Information reveal the issues people complained about to the organisation in the last year.

Most voiced their anger after carefully-laid plans based on the forecast were scuppered by bad weather.

Others, however, were vexed about whether it should be 'Derry' or 'Londonderry' on meterological maps.

UTV Live's Frank Mitchell said forecasters get it right more often than not.

"Most people understand that, with predicting weather, it's not 100% accuracy. But the percentage is usually quite high, especially within a range of four-to-five days. After that, it's problematic," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It may be the case that some people only listen three-quarters of the way. So, they might hear me say 'it's going to rain' but I might not be saying that it will rain everywhere.

"Sometimes I wonder whether the least attentive people are the very ones who complain the most."

Apart from high-profile events such as big sports matches, it's weddings which put weather forecasters under the greatest pressure, he revealed.

"People are pretty adamant about forecasts being good for their weddings and they almost try to dictate the weather," he added.

"One woman actually rang me four times in the week before her daughter's wedding.

"The signs were definitely not good. But I told her it was going to be bright and sunny, just to please her.

"It worked out to be right, the weather was fantastic on the day. She rang me afterwards to tell me what a brilliant weatherman I am!"

Others, though, are a lot harder to please.

Writing last July, one parent from Moira in Co Down had been expecting conditions to be "dry with some sunshine" - in other words, perfect weather for the children's picnic they were planning.

The conditions were not what had been expected, and the parents' children were left "wet through".

One wrote: "If you can't forecast the nowcast weather don't bother or stop looking at the charts via an over-expensive 'super computer' and just look out the window. Regards, Very irate parent."

Nowcasting is a short-range weather prediction technique that uses maps of current weather and estimates of its speed and direction of travel.

In December a commuter felt let down after checking the Met Office site for visibility.

"It said the visibility was moderate (whatever that is supposed to mean to the common person)," they wrote.

"It said nothing about the horrendous fog that I encountered as I set out on my journey. I had to turn back at Lisburn in very dangerous visibility conditions."

In April this year someone else who had been planning a children's outdoor event in Lisburn complained when the day turned into a "complete washout".

"It appears that your forecasters are often wrong in predicting the weather. Yes, I understand that it is a forecast, but your forecasters can't even predict weather two days ahead," they wrote.

"May I suggest you just stick to trying to predict only 24hrs ahead. You have a better chance at getting this correct."

Some flagged up what they saw as a heated political dimension to the forecast.

One correspondent asked the Met Office to explain why they were unable to find their destination "Derry in NI" on its website.

"I had to look under Londonderry to find the weather," they wrote. "In all my visits to that town, I have never heard it referred to as Londonderry by any of my associates there... not to have the usual name as a searchable name is unforgivable."

In October someone else took issue with weather predictions stopping at the border. They wrote: "What is really frustrating is that the map stops at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland."

The respondent explained that their club - its name is redacted - "often fly from Northern Ireland into the Republic, the weather and wind does not stop at the border and it would be nice to see the overall detailed picture".

The other issue causing most annoyance among Northern Ireland's weather watchers was the region not being mentioned enough on national reports.

"Can you PLEASE mention Northern Ireland in your video forecast?

"It is part of the UK after all!" wrote one respondent.

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