Officials from the Hungarian National Meteorological Service fired after a poor forecast


Two senior officials at Hungary’s National Weather Service (NMS) were fired on Monday after severe storms they had predicted for the capital on the country’s main national holiday failed to materialize and instead moved south.

According to reports from the Associated Press, the forecast called for violent storms in Budapest around 9 p.m. local time, prompting organizers to postpone a massive annual fireworks display. The fireworks on St. Stephen’s Day, a holiday marking the founding of the country, are usually watched by more than a million people.

After the erroneous forecast, Hungarian media criticized the agency. The NMS apologized on its Facebook page the next day, but it was too late to save the jobs of the agency’s head, Kornelia Radics, and her deputy, Gyula Horvath.

On Tuesday morning, 17 agency chiefs again posted a statement on the Weather Service’s Facebook page, calling for their fired colleagues to be reinstated as soon as possible. They explained that the layoffs were politically motivated and that the forecast was made on the basis of the best possible information at the time.

“We firmly believe that despite significant pressure from decision makers … our colleagues contributed to the best of their knowledge and belief and are not responsible for any alleged or actual damages,” the statement said.

Bob Ryan, former president of the American Meteorological Society, told the Washington Post that the downing sent a “challenging message” to professional scientists.

“I find it outrageous and now scares every forecaster working in Hungary that they could lose their job because of a wrong forecast,” Ryan said.

Matt Lanza, who runs Houston’s Space City Weather, said the inherent complexity of weather makes it nearly impossible to forecast with absolute accuracy.

“Like everyone else, a weather forecaster should be held accountable for their performance on the job,” Lanza said. “But unless they have been negligent or insubordinate in fulfilling their duties, there would be no justification for dismissing a forecaster based on that single prediction.”

This is hardly the first time scientists have come under pressure from their government.

During the “Sharpiegate” controversy, when President Donald Trump presented a rigged forecast for 2019’s Hurricane Dorian, several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials feared they could be fired for overconfidence in their scientific policy stand integrity.

Trump had mistakenly tweeted that Alabama could be in the path of the storm system, a decision he and members of his cabinet stood by despite NOAA forecasts showing little to no impact from the storm on that state.

New emails show President Trump churning up NOAA during Hurricane Dorian

This month, the firing of a senior environmental official in Brazil drew global attention. Samuel Vieira de Souza, director of Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA, has been sacked over possible political retaliation after he sat down for an interview with a Brazilian TV channel to discuss illegal gold mining in the Amazon.

President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed to further open the Amazon to legal economic activity, and some have criticized his Amazon policies, which have exacerbated deforestation – Brazil’s top source of greenhouse gas emissions.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is angry about the weathermen

In another incident, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un once appeared to get angry with members of his country’s meteorological service and berate them a month after a severe drought in 2014.

“There is a need to fundamentally improve the work of the Hydrometeorological Service to scientifically clarify meteorological and climatic conditions and provide timely accurate data for weather forecasting and meteorological and climatic information needed by various sectors of the national economy,” Kim reportedly said.

In another case, six Italian seismologists were jailed in 2012 after a protracted legal battle and convicted of manslaughter after they failed to predict a 2009 magnitude 6.3 earthquake that killed 308 people. Their convictions were later overturned and the seismologists acquitted of wrongdoing.

Earthquake technology could limit deaths. Afghanistan shows that it is not easy.

The process has baffled many in the scientific community, as earthquakes are difficult, if not impossible, to predict – although some say progress has been made. Scientists have managed to develop programs that can provide limited advance warning of earthquakes, including California’s ShakeAlert system.

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