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BLOG : Did MetService Get It Wrong?

We’ve had a lot of feedback on this blog – a few comments online (see “Comments” below) but plenty more sent directly to us.  If you haven’t commented, and would like to, please post at the end of this story.

Last Friday MetService issued a rain warning for Northland and Far North Mayor Wayne Brown is furious claiming that the heavy rain warning stopped thousands of holiday makers going to Northland. Mr Brown says he’s received complaints from camp ground and motel owners saying they were down 25% from being fully booked before the warnings were issued.

When Mr Brown asked MetService spokesperson Peter Kreft for an apology he wasn’t given one. “We are very mindful of people making decisions based on our forecasts. Fishermen, businesses and tourists are on our minds every time a forecast is issued” said Kreft.

This year we have had a terrible amount of weather related deaths in New Zealand. In fact it’s something that we should be incredibly ashamed of as almost all of them were avoidable if people understood the weather better or took warnings more seriously.

I’ve been accused by a lot of people for being sensational – and yes, when I believe in my heart that something big poses ‘a serious threat to properties or lives’ I will go all out and promote this. On Friday I certainly didn’t feel that the rain warning was even really worth mentioning. In fact the Herald commented to me on Friday noting that I wasn’t really talking about the rain warnings. My reply was that I thought the low was moving too quickly for it to warrant me talking about it in my Friday weather blog – instead I talked about the weather “not being perfect” and “a great weekend to get out into the garden” and that Monday was looking great across the country.”

MetService gets it wrong – the Weather Watch Centre gets it wrong – all forecasters get it wrong from time to time. But we (the forecasters) need to be transparent and we need to have weather presenters who can clearly explain systems.

Sometimes headlines look sensational and, as Mayor Brown says, people don’t read the small print. They read the headline “Storm on the way” for example. The late Augie Auer wasn’t the most popular weather presenter but I very much respected him – he was my all time favourite. Why? Well if you remove his cheesy and iconic “ditto day” line he was full of substance. I imagine if he had been working on Friday night he would’ve said “MetService has issued this rain warning for Northland predicting up to 70mm, now if you’re going tramping keep an eye on it but for the rest of you it should pass over during the night and Saturday’s looking not too bad”. No other weather presenters do this – they read the forecasts given to them by MetService.

If I give my weather colleague Richard Green a forecast and he’s interviewed by Newstalk ZB I am more than happy for him to say “Well the Weather Watch Centre is predicting a big cold snap, but ya know I’m from Christchurch and I just think the worst might miss us for these reasons…”. A forecast is not a statement – it’s a living breathing thing that is updated constantly.

Weather is also not an exact science – if it was we would respect all weather forecasts 100%. The Weather Watch Centre wouldn’t need a “We Got it Wrong Policy”…where we’ll always fess up if we made a mistake – or at least explain why conditions didn’t match our forecast. MetService don’t have this “informal” side to them – which brings me to the real problem here.

I don’t think MetService needs to apologise – but I do think they need to make the most of private forecasters such as the Weather Watch Centre – and any other private weather forecasters/knowledgeable presenters. If they work with us, we can be their voice. But MetService is oddly very heavily commercial and closely guard products (such as the rain radar and lightning detectors) which limits media outlets being able to say “Well yes there’s a rain warning but as you can see there isn’t much out there”. This is what they do in Australia, America, Canada, even Cuba! 

At the end of the day MetService is the state owned forecaster – they are not the media. (Unlike or in America who are private forecasters but also have their own 24/7 weather TV channels and websites…if an “official” warning from the Govt forecaster comes through, they will explain the likelihood of that warning being “damaging or just a nuisance”. It’s a far more accurate way of broadcasting official government weather warnings.).

MetService has to rely on other organisations to present their product – that’s a big risk to take especially if you have a weather presenter on TV or an announcer on radio, or a journalist in the paper who just doesn’t “get it”. They perhaps don’t understand the mechanics of weather and think that a weather warning for Northland should be a major headline, and unless you know your stuff you can’t decipher between a low risk and a serious threat.

The weather presenters on TV1 are much more than just presenters – they are experts, so my advice to TVNZ is to use that skill – that is TV1’s unique selling point when it comes to their weather product – Jim and Karen understand the weather thoroughly – and I’d love to hear more of their own opinion in the same way Augie used to, I don’t just want to hear MetService talking points which are in all the other weather bulletins in the NZ media.

Now last Friday I was certainly saying we were in for a windy, showery and cold start to Labour Weekend (depending on where you were) – the only emphasis I put into heavy rain was warning “trampers and those heading outdoors” to be “aware” of any warnings. I didn’t want to see anyone getting washed away, but it was clear to me on Friday that the rain band was just that – a band of overnight rain – which is why I didn’t think it was worth mentioning in great detail…that WOULD have been sensationalising.

We linked to our weather warnings page at and that was about it. In fact, out emphasis on the Labour Weekend weather was the cold snap for regions from Wellington southwards.


Philip Duncan writes a regular blog at To read Philip’s other weather blogs click here.


Kiki on 8/11/2020 10:15pm

Very bad new website,what where they thinking?!Slow,clickbait advertisement and shit information. Dont use it anymore a real dissapontment and hear loads of negative reviews it’s like whoever made the new website does not even want is used. 0 Stars

Guest on 11/01/2020 7:55pm

It is no improvement on the old site. It is so bad in fact I don’t use it anymore.
I just check on my cell phone.
And of course the abominable unwanted interfering ads wreck the internet and TV anyway. Ads should be on a separate indexed channel. If I need an item, I can then look it up. Ads are not good value for money, they can’t be. I can’t find anyone who likes them or wants them or even uses them!!

Guest on 3/11/2015 12:38am

I am so over New Zealand weather forcasters and sites that NEVER get the weather right for Christchurch. It appears the weather is all about Auckland. I do not think it would be that hard to organise the equipment to get it right at least once a week for Christchurch, or don’t say it will rain cause you know it won’t!

Guest on 12/04/2015 11:32pm

Metservice can never get the weather right for Christchurch. When they forecast sleet snow it never happens. Its all about Auckland. I could do the weather report better. Don’t you have monitors in christchurch? Can’t you tell from all the other times you are wrong maybe allow for past non events to predict more accurate. Metservice is just a joke

Peter M on 31/10/2008 9:25pm

I think this is a bit like the crocodile story in Aussie, they were blaming council or government for relocating this croc into their area and because of it the Tourists were staying away.
Do these people not realize we are in different times financially !!!!!!

People have stopped spending !!!!!!!!

Blame weather – crocodiles all you like – wont make a dime of a difference

Douglas on 31/10/2008 7:09am

Thanks Phil that was an interesting read.

This is just a general opinion, not directed at or towards Phil…

I am bit confused as to what point Wayne Brown is trying to make.
Perhaps he has been poorly quoted by the media, or maybe he is just angry and hasn’t thought about it too much?

I read that weather warning on Friday morning, as I often do, and the heavy rain was predicted specifically for the “eastern hill country” between Bay of Islands and just north of Whangarei.

Now that seems pretty crucial. Let’s be honest, Northland tourism is primarily focussed around the coastline. If thousands of people cancelled their beachside accomodation because of this warning, then what can you really say? And this is what gets me, because Mr Brown himself seems to recognise this, and says “People don’t read the small print, they just think there is a big storm on the way.”

So this is the fault of who exactly?

It sounds like he’s complaining that thousands of tourists cancelled their trips because they are not smart enough to read a weather warning properly. So how can you blame forecasters for that?

And yet still he says “One way or another, there was a unified conspiracy between between the TV and MetService, which conjured a picture of bad weather and meant thousands of people stayed at home”.

So what I think he’s getting at is this:

The warning was issued for the hills, but the TV weather forecast hammed it up and made it looks like everywhere was going to get hit badly. What we don’t know is who was responsible for the hamming up, Metservice or the TV?

Unfortunately the reporting on this issue seems to be unclear. Some are blaming Metservice, others the TV forecasters, others both and others say people should read warnings properly before making decisions.

I did not see the TV weather that day or the day before so I can’t comment on what was or was not said.

The truth is not getting out, but a big story is. That’s frustrating. You can see on the Herald’s “Have Your Say” pages the typical tabloid readers responses on there “Oh, weather forecasts are as accurate as horoscopes”. Give me a break, do we really have to give a voice to such brainless oafs? It’s like reading The Sun in the UK, only without the accuracy and restraint.
It annoys me that everything is being sacrificed for a story. What really happened? Who is responsible? What were the chain of events? These are the things I want to know

Phil, the difference between Jim Hickey and Augie Auer is that the latter was the Chief Meteorologist for Metservice, and also a Professor of Atmospheric Science for a long time. Personally I don’t want TV weather presenters putting too many of their own ideas unless they are meteorologists. But that’s just my personal opinion on this matter.

ATO on 1/11/2008 2:58am

Just following on from Douglas’ comment:
The warning was issued for the hills, but the TV weather forecast hammed it up and made it looks like everywhere was going to get hit badly. What we don’t know is who was responsible for the hamming up, Metservice or the TV?
I live in New Plymouth and get sick to death of rain warnings for us when they actually mean Mt Taranaki.Let’s say, 150mm is predicted for the mountain, where maybe 20 people live, well, oh my gosh, let’s have a rain warning and portray a deluge for the 105 thousand people who don’t live on the mountain.
It rains lots on the mountain, 150mm is nothing to be concerned about. The small, fast flowing streams which radiate off it will discharge the water without trouble.
I am sure that other areas in NZ suffer from this kind of “sexing up” of relatively common events.
I wonder if it isn’t to reinforce stereotypes of what the climate is supposed to be.
Far more exciting for Auckland people to to know that Mt Kaukau got a 152km/hr wind, which “proves” that all there is in Wellington is storms, than it is to know that Wellington is actually sunnier and drier than Auckland.
Or the West Coast “always rains!” Yeh right.
Its like crime stats. TV portrays South Auckland as being some kind of US inner city ghetto.If I had never been there, or less savoury places overseas, and relied just on our TV news, I would believe I needed a machine gun with me to go to the letterbox before it got bombed out.
We, the public, need to be trusted more with a reasonable presentation of possible events. I don’t think that we are that stupid that we can’t make up our own minds.
And so we come back to Northland: maybe it was a victim of events but tourism is always thus: variable- and- if the economy is bad- things won’t be so good anyway.

ATO on 31/10/2008 1:00am

I think has been pointed out that exact forecasting is not possible. If the Northland forecast didn’t quite turn out right- too bad! When you live in a region, if you are aware enough, you use local knowledge to modify the prediction. Met Service supplies the best information it can under the current circumstances of its financial regime.
If the TV media beat up a weather warning, then I just take it with a grain of salt.

Guest on 30/10/2008 7:21am

No they didn’t.
Our Forcasters do an excellent job with warning etc.
It still gets down to Kiwi attitude to accept the warning or not.

WW Forecast Team on 30/10/2008 7:31am

I couldn’t agree more.  There was a storm earlier this year that prompted me to write this blog – click here.

TVNZ’s Breakfast Show interviewed me a couple of months later when there were similar complaints about warnings – see my interview here

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