Thursday, December 04, 2008

Warning Of Severe Weather Warning

We are becoming obsessed with the weather (or rather, even more obsessed with the weather). For the last 24 hours the television has contained little else than Severe Weather Warning after Severe Weather Warning. It appears that we were due for some wintry weather, which is not all that surprising seeing that it is winter. Dozens of local schools have closed their doors in anticipation of the snowdrifts and people have taken the day of work ... just in case. One forecast went as far as to say that the snow could be "up to 2 cms thick"! In fact, this forecast was quite accurate. In the hour or so that it snowed overnight, it must have built up to just about 2 cms, before the rain came and washed it all away.
It is not that the forecasts are wrong, it is the interpretation of them and the over-use of "Severe Weather Warnings". I suspect that the BBC and the Met Office came in for such criticism during some recent climate crisis (they failed to accurately predict the floods or some such thing) that they have called in the risk managers to supervise their issuing of warnings. This brings into play the inherent risks of the so-called science of risk-management : basically it is simply nonsense. Normally two factors are taken - likelihood and potential impact - and a simple numerical score given to each. These two numbers are multiplied together to give a final score and if this is above a certain level a warning is issued.  In the current case, heavy snow falls could cause massive problems (scores high) and it might just happen if a whole series of factors fall into place and the obligatory butterfly flaps its wings in China (score it medium). Hay Presto, let's issue a warning.
So schools close, shops shut their doors, my wife fills her car with spades and pickaxes, and Amy the dog goes in search of some Wellington boots. And what do we get? We get something akin to a dusting of icing sugar on a cheap supermarket cake. Call that snow!  Now when I was young ....

1 comment:

  1. And there was I feeling so sorry for you, all snowed up and having to dig your way out to get to work (Issy, anyway). It's ever since Michael Fish or whoever it was told us so firmly there wasn't going to be a hurricane in 1987. They've been terrified of being caught out again, so we get 'severe weather warnings' of a rather dull day with nothing much happening, just in case it causes us to fall asleep with boredom and run off the road.


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