Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Predicting snow.

Amazing isn't it!

Last year we were told that
Britain’s gas storage capacity is 4.3 billion cubic metres, providing no more than 15 days of supply
On Tuesday 5th January the National Grid announced an energy alert - maybe not enough gas to go heat all the fires and all the central heating systems and all the power stations unless somebody got some more gas from somewhere, fast.

Here's what the National Grid site says

The purpose of the Gas Balancing Alert (GBA) is to provide a signal to the market that demand-side reduction and/or additional supplies may be required to avoid the risk of entering into a Network Gas Supply Emergency. The trigger level for a Gas Balancing Alert is based on a combination of the absolute Supply & Demand levels and the impact of a potential breach of a Safety Monitor.
Hmm, well, we knew there wasn't a lot of storage space, we knew there wasn't much in February 2009 - but what was done to fix it? What department took responsibility to make sure Britain would survive a period of high demand - such as prolonged cold weather? It would seem nobody did anything, maybe they didn't think they needed to - probably because the Met Office predicted both a mild winter and a period of warm weather for the foreseeable future.

Over the last 24 hours people have been running around like headless chickens, emptying supermarket shelves of almost anything they can get their hands on, including torches, thermal underwear, thermos flasks and sleeping bags. Some people have resorted to using cat litter to 'grit' icy garden paths because there's no salt to buy, and have ended up making a terrible mess of their carpets. Halfords is doing its best to keep up with demand for antifreeze, but deliveries are held up by snow. And guess what, these retailers weren't able to plan ahead - because the Met Office predicted a mild winter.

Where the Rigby family lives it's difficult to get any fresh food, which is a bit of a nuisance because we emptied our fridge before Christmas and could do with refilling it again now we're back home. We Rigbys are without potatoes, carrots, green vegetables and not surprisingly there's no chance of buying salad of any sort. We have no milk, no pet food and very little breakfast cereal - and no prospect of getting any because the supermarkets (which are our only food source, all the little shops are long gone from Rigbytown) aren't getting deliveries because the roads aren't working properly. There's nothing to put in the Rigby's bread making machine because other people emptied the supermarkets of flour and bread mixes. The supermarket looked, in Mrs R's mind, like something out of the worst time of Soviet Russia.

It's a good job we've got a decent sized freezer and a cupboard stocked with things in tins, otherwise we'd be very, very, hungry.

Why has this happened?

Mrs R thinks it's happened because the supermarkets weren't able to predict demand - because the Met Office predicted a mild winter.

The main roads through Rigby town aren't too bad, but pavements are treacherous and side roads have been ignored by the council - because the council hasn't got enough salt or grit to deal with them, and anyway they're too bothered about making sure the motorways work. They probably haven't got enough salt or grit because they didn't think they'd need any - because the Met Office predicted a mild winter.

Who had to rescue people stranded on the motorways?
Up to 1,000 stranded motorists had to be rescued by the Army today after some of the heaviest snowfalls in 20 years left drivers trapped in their cars overnight.
It was the Army, the same one that joined the bits of Workington together again after their bridge got washed away and the same Army that's had it's finances messed with, whilst the office dwellers of the MoD got bonuses.

There seems to be a pattern here somewhere, because it's reported that the chap in charge, John Hirst, gets given a whopping financial bonus, taking his salary to :-

between £195,000 and £200,000 in pay and bonuses in 2008/9

The figure is a 25 per cent increase on the £155,000 to £160,000 "pay equivalent" for Mr Hirst in 2007/8. Mr Hirst had joined midway through the previous financial year in September 2007.
Now I don't care how much this man earns, as long as he does his job properly. I don't care how much anybody earns, as long as they do their job properly - more especially somebody who's paid out of the public purse.

Mr Hirst heads an organisation that has publicised and encouraged belief in global warming theories, and that has linked breathing out CO2 to climate change. Even the top Google weblink says "Met Office: Weather and Climate Change". Mrs R doesn't think the Met Office's job to be involved in either politics or pressure groups, she thinks they should concentrate on getting short term weather forecasts right.

They used to be able to do it.

The Met Office was originally set up to help seafarers. In 1944 the forecaster's strands of seaweed, thermometers, maps and barometers were capable of accurately predicting a clear weather window that would allow the Normandy Landings to go ahead. These days, with their multi-million supercomputer, they can't even tell us when we're to expect enough snow to bring the country to its knees.

Is it too much to ask that high-earning Mr Hirst does his job, and ensures that the Met Office does its job properly too - so that supermarkets can get the right stuff onto their shelves, so that local councils can stock up on salt and grit and so that we ordinary folk can have a good idea of what we might see when we look out of the window in the morning?

It shouldn't be too hard for them because, after all, they reckon they've got clever brains that can predict both climate and weather for 50+ years in the future!

When Mrs Rigby was little her Mum told her that whatever happened to the weather in America was likely to happen in the UK within a week or so - and in the last few weeks all sorts of US snowfall records have been broken. WattsUpWithThat tells us that ... over 1200 new cold and snow records set in the last week in USA. Even Florida and Miami are expecting the "longest stretch of cold weather in 15 to 25 years", so I sort of expected a bit of snow here.

And now, based on her own life experience coupled with her Mum's words of wisdom, Mrs R predicts that the current cold spell, along with the snow, will probably last more than a week - and no, there's no supercomputer at Rigby Towers, just a good memory and brains that still work.

Let's see if I get it right.


418 said...

Are you sure the council has to grit the motorways? (And it should read, "brains that still work" not "works".

Mrs R said...

Typo fixed, thanks.

AFAIK councils are responsible for motorways in their area, with money allocated centrally - same as main roads.

"Local" roads (B class and lower) are maintained out of locally raised funding/community charge.

Happy to be wrong though.