Met Office forecaster debunks ‘doctored’ weather map comparison

·3-min read

"Left – old school weather forecast, happy and sunshiny. Right – new style weather forecast, Designed to look like fear and destruction. It’s called summer."

This is the caption of a post which has gone viral on social media showing two maps of the UK – one purportedly during a previous spell of hot weather, and one apparently ahead of the current record heatwave.

However, the comparison has drawn ire from the Met Office meteorologist who designed the current heat maps being used.

Aidan McGivern told The Independent the post was "incredibly frustrating", and said the image on the right, supposedly of a recent forecast, was doctored.

"This misinformation detracts from the Met Office’s forecasts, warnings and advice on how to stay safe during what is actually an unprecedented spell of extreme temperatures," he said.

He also explained why the heat scale colours had been updated last year.

"The colour scale was designed for accessibility reasons – for colour blind people like me, it’s easier to distinguish different colours when there is a gradient from light to dark instead of just changes in hue,” Mr McGivern said, adding that the colours had not been altered to instil fear.

"Since the darker reds correspond to temperatures in excess of the UK temperature record [38.7C in Cambridge in 2019], they were only ever intended for the hottest parts of the world,” he continued.

The Met Office forecaster said the picture has been doctored (Twitter)
The Met Office forecaster said the picture has been doctored (Twitter)

"I never imagined I’d end up seeing them in the UK. The doctored image has those darker reds on it but with much lower temperatures written on the map, which is why it looks like the image was faked."

"When we designed the new colours, in Autumn 2021, only parts of the Middle East and North Africa were [greater than] 39C," said Mr McGivern.

Speaking about the temperatures across the UK on Monday and Tuesday, he said: "We’ve never recorded temperatures as high as this. It’s the first time the Met Office has predicted 40C in its forecasts, which would go some way above the previous all-time temperature record.

“A lot of people still talk about the summer of 1976. That was an exceptional summer – it remains the sunniest summer on record and there were huge impacts from drought. However, on the hottest day in 1976, the temperature reached a peak of 35.9C.

“We’ve far exceeded this during more recent heatwaves, for example during the summer of 2003 (38.5C) and the summer of 2019 (38.7C). This week is expected to be hotter still, peaking on Tuesday."

He also suggested the extreme weather this week had caught forecasters by surprise.

"In 2020, I worked with Met Office climate scientists to produce a projected forecast for a typical summer heatwave in 2050," he said.

"At the time, I was shocked to see the climate models were coming up with 40 Celsius for 30 years under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to continue unabated. I never imagined I’d be forecasting 40 Celsius for real in the UK during the summer just two years later."

Asked whether reporting the weather has become increasingly political as the climate crisis has worsened and attitudes among some parts of the media and general public have hardened against climate science, Mr McGivern said the fake map was "just the latest example of a vocal minority trying to spread misinformation in response to the Met Office’s science-based weather and climate forecasts".

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