UK heatwave: Weather forecasters bombarded with ‘unprecedented’ abuse for reporting facts on climate crisis

·3-min read

Weather forecasters were bombarded with “unprecedented” abuse during the UK’s record-breaking heatwave, according to key industry figures.

The BBC’s weather team was inundated with hundreds of abusive tweets and emails telling them to “get a grip” and questioning the accuracy of their reports as Britain’s temperatures soared to a new high of 40.3C this month.

The Met Office said it would be “virtually impossible” for temperatures to reach 40C in the UK in a climate unaffected by human-induced climate change. And a rapid analysis by scientists at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment found the climate crisis made this month’s record-breaking heatwave 10 times more likely to happen.

But that didn’t stop tweets from members of the public accusing the Met Office and the BBC of “scaremongering” and spreading “hysteria”.

Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was criticised after posting a sarcastic tweet about the extreme weather conditions.

He wrote: “It’s very hot in the south of France but so far as I know there’s no DefCon 8 level 3 killer death heatwave warning in place.”

The remark was widely interpreted as a dig at the UK government’s response to the heatwave.

Firefighters at the scene of a blaze in the village of Wennington, east London, during this month’s heatwave (Yui Mok/PA)
Firefighters at the scene of a blaze in the village of Wennington, east London, during this month’s heatwave (Yui Mok/PA)

However, although the tweet was “liked” more than 40,000 times, Clarkson was inundated with comments claiming his comment was incorrect.

Coronation Street star Daniel Brocklebank also accused weather reporters of overreacting to the heatwave.

He shared a meme captioned “total fear-mongering”, which showed what appeared to be an old weather forecast map with “happy and sunshiny” written above it alongside another weather map covered mostly in red.

Brocklebank commented: “Anyone remember the good old days?”

The BBC’s Matt Taylor said the online trolling was the worst abuse he’d received in his 25-year career.

He said: “It’s a more abusive tone than I’ve ever received. I switched off a bit from it all as it became too depressing to read some of the responses.”

Professor Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society (RMS), said her members also faced “public ridicule, accusations of lying or suggestions of being blackmailed”.

Britain's heatwave continues

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She told the BBC: “Anecdotally, abusive comments increase when the message about climate change is intrinsic to the story.”

The Met Office’s lead meteorologist, Alex Deakin, said: “It’s scary in some ways.

“I find it more frustrating and offensive for my colleagues – some of the great minds in climate science.

“Show a bit of respect and do a bit more research rather than just believe Bob down the pub or Tony on YouTube.”

BBC Weather said: “It is completely unacceptable for any member of staff to receive abuse on social media simply for doing their job.”

All this comes after it was estimated that almost 1,000 people might have died because of high temperatures during last week’s heatwave, and that figure could have been higher without the early warnings issued by the Met Office and government.

Antonio Gasparrini, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, estimated that England and Wales could expect to see 948 excess deaths, the vast majority recorded among those aged 85 or over, between 17 July and 19 July.

The estimate was calculated using forecast temperatures and a previous analysis of temperature-related mortality risk in different parts of England and Wales.

Prof Gasparrini said that, because of the early warnings put out by the Met Office and the government, the excess deaths might in reality turn out to be lower. The Met Office issued its first extreme heat weather warning and the government announced the first national heatwave emergency for 18 and 19 July.

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