Businesses can save millions from weather forecasts.
Talking about the weather is part of British tradition, as is treating weather forecasts as a bit of a joke. But for many parts of industry, weather conditions play a major part in determining both profit margins and worker safety. A number regularly consult the Meteorological Office and private companies for weather forecasts.
Andy Yeatman, spokesperson for the Met Office, says: 'We provide 3,000 forecasts a day to customers, ranging from RAF pilots to water and electricity companies.' Aside from the cheaper mass market services (such as a faxed forecast for £2), the Met's business forecasts tend to be tailored to a customer's specific needs and priced individually. Says Yeatman: 'A business that just wanted a bespoke daily forecast would pay hundreds of pounds a week. But at the top end of the range, we provide a 24-hour tailored service for the Ministry of Defence which costs them £53 million a year.
'Our 24-hour forecasts are right six times out of seven and our forecasts up to five days are accurate for 75% of the time and do help businesses plan ahead,' adds Yeatman. But, he adds, unsurprisingly: 'We do not give refunds if we get the forecast wrong because we make it clear at the beginning that ... we will not always be right.'
J Sainsbury uses a six-day forecast updated daily and a detailed forecast three days a week from the Met Office. Spokesperson Diane Lamb says: 'We use them to predict what perishables customers are going to buy because we can order just two days in advance.' If the company knows it is in for a hot spell, it will order more salad and fish. Aside from direct savings on waste, Lamb points out that indirect benefits, such as the goodwill generated by having what customers want when they want it, are incalculable.
For other sectors, weather forecasts can protect employees' lives. Mobil uses forecasts to help ensure the safety of workers on offshore oil rigs. Roy Wilson, drilling manager for Mobil North sea, says: 'Weather forecasts save us millions of pounds a year because they safeguard our operation. They help avoid damaging equipment and help protect workers too. If someone working in an exposed area were to fall and the support system failed to catch them, we have to be satisfied that a fast rescue boat could be launched. So if the weather isn't good enough, we can't do that kind of work. We need to know in advance.'
Ironically perhaps, construction contractors, despite working within one of the most exposed sectors of all, are not forecast devotees. Independent builder Alan Smith, of AJ Smith & Sons, says: 'I don't bother to use forecasts because they're too unreliable. I plan my building more on the seasons and common sense. I would always have a house roofed by the end of November because you know that leaving a house roofless in the rain and snow would be a disaster.' David Helsen, spokesperson for Higgs & Hill, adds, 'We have always to be prepared, for example, by using protective sheeting to withstand high winds. We have to be able to work whatever the weather, so we don't use forecasts.'.