Met Office forecaster debunks comparison of ‘tampered’ weather maps
“Left – old fashioned weather forecast, happy and sunny. Right – new style weather forecast, designed to look like fear and destruction. It’s called summer.”
This is the caption of a post that has gone viral on social media showing two maps of the UK – one allegedly during a previous spell of hot weather, and the other apparently before the current record breaking heatwave.
However, the comparison has drawn the ire of the Met Office meteorologist who designed the heatmaps currently in use.
Aidan McGivern said The Independent the message was “incredibly frustrating” and said the image on the right, which was supposed to be a recent forecast, had been tampered with.
“This misinformation undermines the Met Office’s forecasts, warnings and advice on how to stay safe during what is in fact an unprecedented period of extreme temperatures,” he said.
He also explained why the Heat Scale colors were updated last year.
“The color scale was designed with accessibility in mind – for color blind people like me, it’s easier to distinguish different colors when there’s a gradient from light to dark instead of just changing hue,” Mr McGivern said, adding that the colors had not been changed to cause fear.
“Since the darker reds correspond to temperatures above the British temperature record [38.7C in Cambridge in 2019]they were only meant for the hottest parts of the world,” he continued.
“I never imagined I would end up seeing them in the UK. The doctored image has these darker reds but with much lower temperatures written on the card, which is why it looks like the image has been rigged.”
“When we designed the new colors, in the fall of 2021, only parts of the Middle East and North Africa were [greater than] 39C,” Mr. McGivern said.
Speaking on temperatures across the UK on Monday and Tuesday, he said: “We have never recorded temperatures as high as this. This is the first time the Met Office has predicted 40C in its forecast, which would go well above the previous all-weather temperature record.
“A lot of people are still talking about the summer of 1976. It was an exceptional summer – it remains the sunniest summer on record and the drought had huge impacts. However, on the hottest day of 1976, the temperature peaked at 35.9°C.
“We have greatly exceeded this figure during more recent heat waves, for example during the summer of 2003 (38.5°C) and the summer of 2019 (38.7°C). This week should be even warmer, peaking on Tuesday.”
He also suggested that the extreme weather this week had taken forecasters by surprise.
“In 2020 I worked with Met Office climatologists to produce a projected forecast for a typical summer heat wave in 2050,” he said.
“At the time, I was shocked to see climate models showing 40 degrees Celsius for 30 years in a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to continue unabated. I never would have imagined that I would predict 40 degrees Celsius for real in the UK during the summer just two years later.”
Asked if weather reporting has become increasingly political as the climate crisis has deepened and attitudes in some media and the general public have hardened against climate science, Ms. McGivern said the fake map was “just the latest example of a vocal minority trying to spread misinformation in response to Met Office science-based weather and climate forecasts”.