Lawrence Solomon: BBC drops top IPCC source for climate change data

The British Broadcasting Corporation has put its weather forecasting contract out to tender – the first time since its radio broadcasts began in 1923 – after taking heat from the public for a string of embarrassingly inaccurate long-range weather forecasts. The UK Met Office, the government-owned meteorological department that has had the BBC contract for almost 90 years, is a partner with the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University of Climategate fame.  CRU and the UK Met Office jointly provide the climate change data that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change relies on.

The BBC’s decision comes amid one of the fiercest winters in decades that has left the country unprepared for the snow-related chaos it has seen. In August, the Met Office had forecast a mild winter. Last summer, the BBC had again been embarrassed: Thanks to the forecasts it had received from the UK Met, the BBC had warned its audience of an “odds-on barbecue summer” that instead was cool and rainy. In both cases, the BBC has faced outrage from a public that had been misled by the information the BBBC had provided it.

Many blame the UK Met Office’s abysmal forecasts record on a climate change bias. The BBC’s own climate correspondent, Paul Hudson, who for a decade had been a UK Met forecaster, believes the UK Met’s problem could stem from flawed computer models at its Hadley Centre, which provides data to the IPCC.

“Could it be that the Hadley supercomputer had developed a warm bias?” he wrote for the BBC yesterday, elaborating on a troubling possibility that has implications for the climate change debate. Last week, on the same subject, he wrote: “Experts I have spoken to tell me that this certainly is possible with such computer models. And if this is the case, what are the implications for the Hadley centre’s predictions for future global temperatures? Could they be affected by such a warm bias? If global temperatures were to fall in years to come would the computer model be capable of forecasting this?”

The UK Met has also lost contracts to private sector firms in the UK that depend on accurate long-range forecasts, among them Marks & Spencer and Tesco.

Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, January 18, 2010

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