Saturday, 5 January 2008

Piers Corbyn is at it again

I had hoped that I could get through this month without referring to maverick weather forecaster Piers Corbyn. Fat chance! Having made some 'end of the World' type prophecies for December in the UK (which I'm glad to say didn't materialise) we now have a prediction for January: "The average temperature for January as a whole will be close to freezing: 0.8C (33.4F) at best."

First comment - what part of the UK are you referring to Piers? I can say with a fair degree of confidence that average temperature for the month in the Cairngorms will be lower than that in the Isles of Scilly. He is a little more specific about the lowest projected temperatures, talking about -17 degrees possible in the Midlands in a cold snap to come later this month. He will certainly need these sort of figures if his overall average is to be seen. At the moment things don't look good for him with another mild week in prospect. However a month is a very long time in terms of British weather and a short lived very cold snap is more than possible.

I don't unreservedly condemn the techniques used by Piers, although it would help if he was to explain them in some detail and encourage independent verification. For instance his saying that we weren't going to have a boiling hot summer in 2007 was fair comment; the fact that the jet stream was so far south last summer resulting in so much rain over England especially may well have something to do with solar activity. That doesn't sound unreasonable. But it's his predictions of apocalyptic storms that is getting to me. Piers makes predictions from a very long time ahead, something conventional meteorologists would never do. So why do I have so little faith in him? Here are my reasons in summary:
  • So far as I know he hasn't presented his techniques to anyone for independent review. I know this is difficult because of his commercial interests.
  • Although making predictions sometimes months in advance he will wait till a very few days before the significant weather event and make noticeable adjustments to his forecast e.g. he will revise the timing by several days or move the path of a storm to a different latitude. In other words he is turning a very long range forecast to a very short one. He can't have it both ways - he shouldn't be so specific in his time envelope or location if his forecasts have to be tinkered with in the way they have been to try and gain credence.
  • When things go wrong he doesn't like to hold his hands up and admit a mistake.
  • It may be that some of his predictions in broad brush terms have a semblance of truth in them but none of his many apocalyptic predictions have come to pass. But I suppose if he keeps trying it will happen eventually.
  • His press releases from someone who is supposed to have a scientific background are some of the worst I've seen. I've noted comments that newspapers such as 'The Daily Express' have added their own measure of hype to his prognostications. However when you read on the internet some of Corbyn's output in his releases well he can put a tabloid to shame. His selection of words and use of varying font sizes and colours doesn't accord with my idea of a calm rational scientist, in fact his outpourings just shriek at you.
I think that Piers is in the last chance saloon if he wishes to gain any respect for his ideas. If we don't get a really cold spell later this month then any credibility he might have will disappear.

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