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'Pessimistic' alerts and Dublin bias among complaints sent to Met Éireann in 2018

It was an eventful year for Irish forecasters – but the public weren’t always happy with their predictions.

Met Éireann forecaster Joanna Donnelly
Met Éireann forecaster Joanna Donnelly
Image: RTÉ

DUBLIN BIAS, NEW graphics and the position of forecasters as they presented the weather on TV were among the hundreds of complaints sent to Met Éireann in 2018.

It was an eventful year for Irish forecasters, when storms Ali and Emma battered the country and the summer saw a record-breaking heatwave, while the national forecaster also launched a new website and app.

However, transcripts of complaints released to TheJournal.ie detail how the public weren’t always happy with Ireland’s meteorological service in the last 12 months.

Complaints ranged from problems with Met Éireann’s predictions, to how the forecaster set alerts for certain weather events, to how the weather was presented on television.

In one complaint in February, a member of the public took issue with the amount of alerts issued by the forecaster.

“Please please please stop issuing weather warnings,” the person wrote.

They are ridiculous. We are an island in the north Atlantic, we know we have to deal with bad weather. Fire the health and safety staff who are making you do it.

According to the forecaster, warnings are issued during severe weather to save lives and protect the livelihoods of Irish citizens, as well as to mitigate damage to property and disturbance to economic activity.

Warnings are issued across three colour codes – yellow, orange and red from least- to most-severe - whenever weather conditions meeting certain thresholds are anticipated within a 48-hour period.

Hazards for which the forecaster issues the warnings include wind, rain, snow, low temperatures, high temperatures, fog, thunderstorms and coastal wind warnings.

Beast from the East

In April, another person called Met Éireann’s forecasters “total incompetents” for giving what the complainant believed was an inaccurate short-term forecast.

“On the RTÉ 6.1 news yesterday, your graphics showed Dublin dry and overcast,” they said.

“This was just 12 hours beforehand. It rained non stop relentlessly from 6am til 3pm. How can u [sic] get such a short-range forecast so disastrously wrong?”

In late February, Storm Emma met a cold Siberian front dubbed the ‘Beast from the East’, a rare phenomenon that blanketed the country in snow and brought Ireland to a standstill.

The storm formed on 26 February, and the public listened in to warnings of its impending impact for days, before a national Status Red warning was issued on 28 February.

But not everyone was happy with Met Éireann’s coverage, with dozens of people writing to the forecaster between 27 February and 1 March, the day the storm finally struck.

On 1 March, one person accused the forecaster of “creating a sense of crisis” by overestimating the effect of bad weather, accusing Met Éireann of always being “biased towards the most pessimistic scenarios”.

Ireland: Snow Storm named 'Beast from the East' hits Ireland People pass by Patrick Kavanagh's statue near the Grand Canal in Dublin during a snow shower during Storm Emma. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The previous day, a number of individuals contacted the forecaster to complain about the opposite problem, as people from Offaly, Donegal, Cork, Monaghan, Kilkenny, Laois, Cavan and Westmeath complained that a higher warning should have been issued for those counties.

Meanwhile, an individual from Northern Ireland also contacted the forecaster on 1 March to complain about Met Éireann’s lack of coverage of weather across the border.

“There seems to be a suggestion that the snow stops at Louth, and then miraculously starts again in Donegal,” they wrote.

Are we in a non-place? Are we not in Ireland? Does the ‘Éireann’ in your title not include us? I expect this from those of a British disposition here, but I expect better from a national body such as yours.”
Northern Ireland’s weather forecasts are covered by the UK Met Office, while Met Éireann covers forecasts for the Republic of Ireland only.

‘Young and innocent’

Other complaints over the course of the year reveal that Storm Emma wasn’t the only weather event to cause a stir among the public during 2018.

When Storm Ali struck on 19 September, a number of complainants wrote to Met Éireann over its decision not to upgrade its Status Orange warning for the storm.

“Thousands of houses without electricity and not to mention the young and innocent walking to school this morning and limbs of trees flying passed [sic] them,” said one person, who wanted to know why a Status Red alert was not issued.

We live in Tralee and this morning it was unreal, 10 times worse than when Ophelia hit,” said another person.

On 11 October, one complainant wrote to the forecaster asking for a Status Red alert to be issued for Storm Callum.

“Please don’t leave it too late to call it red,” they said. “Half of my classroom ceiling collapsed … two weeks ago, please do not put peoples life’s [sic] in danger.”

Autumn weather Sep 19th 2018 Workmen deal with fallen trees in Dublin during Storm Ali Source: PA Wire/PA Images

But it wasn’t just bad weather that led to complaints from the public this year.

The summer heatwave – when Ireland experienced drought conditions and saw the highest June temperature recorded in over 40 years – also caused individuals to complain to the forecaster.

“We had been warned just a couple of days ago about the stormy, very heavy wet conditions for this weekend,” one person wrote on 4 August.

“Now all seems to have changed.”

Another person accused Met Éireann of offering “false hope” by forecasting rain across the country on 19 August.

“All my farming neighbours were praying that yesterday’s forecast just might happen,” they said. “Not a drop.”

‘Waste of money’

Earlier in the year, a change in graphics used by Met Éireann’s on its television forecasts also led to a number of complaints from Irish weather watchers.

In January, several complainants wrote to say that the colours used in the new graphics made them difficult to read.

“The new-look maps on the TV weather forecasts look very nice,” one person said. “However, it’s quite difficult to see the positive temperatures which are in the green circles.”

“It is much worse than the previous version,” wrote another. “A waste of whatever money it cost. In particular the higher temperatures shown in yellow are unreadable.”

Other aspects of Met Éireann’s television forecasts to rile viewers during the year included the lack of an interactive forecast for the whole country, the length of forecasts, and where presenters stood when explaining the forecast.

Why do your presenters always stand in front of the [northwest] of Spain, hiding the Coruna area and temps?” one person wrote in February. “Could they stand to the side?”

One viewer’s problem, however, was more localised.

“Why is Dublin given a separate forecast?” they asked. “It is not a province merely a county.”

Details of the complaints received by Met Éireann this year were released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act.

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