Aug 222008

In the early days of Harmless Sky, just a few months ago, I posted a couple of times about the Met Office’s habit of exaggerating ‘evidence’ of climate change: here and here. I’ve had no reason to visit the Media Centre on their website for a while now because there have been no apocalyptic stories about ‘warmest ever’, ‘wettest ever’ or ‘dryest ever’ in the media. But last night I noticed a link on another site I was looking at and clicked it just to see what they are up to these days. This is what I found.

Atlantic tropical storm season set to top the average

Now, when someone says that a thing is ‘set to top the average’, it’s reasonable to assume that the bulk of the data is already available, the trend is clear, and there is little doubt about what the final figures will be. But then I remembered that what is usually referred to as ‘the hurricane season’ runs from July to November, and we are now only in the middle of August, so the season has only just begun.

Golly! I thought. There must have been an awful lot of storms I haven’t heard about during the last six weeks. And that seemed a bit strange too, because there is nothing that advocates of AGW like more than to report a devastating hurricane or two. How could I have missed them?

Then I looked at the date on which the press release was issued, and all became clear.

The Met Office had floated this optimistic little story on 18th June, well before the hurricane season starts. They were not talking about the real world, or about anything that had actually happened, but about the virtual world of predictions and models. These hurricanes only exist on computer screens at the Met Office.

So here is what they had to say:

During the 2008 North Atlantic tropical storm season the Met Office is forecasting 15 named storms, with a 70% chance that the number will be in the range 10 to 20 between July and November. This represents above-normal activity relative to the 1990-2005 long-term average of 12.4, and is more than last year’s total of 12 storms for the same period.

Well that’s pretty definite then. They think that there could be 10 storms or maybe twice as many, but they are not very sure about this wildly imprecise guess as they only award themselves a 70% chance of being right. I know that 70% sounds quite impressive, but remember that 50% would be an evens chance of being either right or wrong, and anything below this figure would mean that they were more likely to be wrong than right.

Let’s look at the headline again: ‘Atlantic tropical storm season set to top the average’. The problem is that tiny three-letter word ‘set’, because there is a world of difference between ‘set to top the average’ and ‘predicted to top the average’, or even ‘may top the average’. And of course the difference is that the first version is totally misleading, and the other two are not. Bear in mind that we are dealing with one of our most eminent scientific institutions, which is an acknowledged world leader in climate research. Usually scientists – or good ones at least – are rather careful about the way that they use words.

Their statement is not backed up by a single shred of observed data, it is pure speculation, and yet the impression given by the headline is that an above average tropical storm season is all but a fact.

So why would the Met Office devote space on their website to this totally banal piece of information? Well it is probable that someone in the media will use the story, and the headline. People who read it will assume that global warming is still causing an upward trend in hurricane numbers, and the Met Office gets some publicity. If, come the end of November, the prediction is found to be wrong, then few people will remember, and it is most unlikely that the Met Office will issue a press release to remind them.

It’s just risk free PR garnished with scientific spice really, which helps to keep the flame of global warming alarmism burning.

[Note: Just after drafting this post I saw a news flash that the BBC website was carrying a story headlined: ‘World heading towards cooler 2008’. Although they attribute this to the Met Office, here is no relevant press release on the Met Office site yet.]

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