Was there ANYTHING in James Delingpole's Daily Mail piece which was true?

Yes: the Met Office really is quite good at its job.

In the Mail today, James Delingpole has an article headlined "The crazy climate change obsession that's made the Met Office a menace".

Needless to say, the Met Office wasn't going to take that lying down.

It has published a response on its blog, detailing "a series of factual inaccuracies about the Met Office and its science".

Delingpole writes that the Met Office "failed to predict" the 2010 snow, and that the floods in November were "forecast-defying".

The Met office responds:

Firstly, he claims the Met Office failed to predict snow in 2010, but our 5-day forecasts accurately forecast 12 out of 13 snowfall events… In addition the Press Complaints Commission has also already addressed this fallacy with the Daily Telegraph in February of last year. As a result the newspaper published a clarification that highlighted that “the Met Office did warn the public of last winter’s [2010/11] cold weather from early November 2010.”

Mr Delingpole also says we failed to predict flooding in November last year. Once again, our 5-day forecasts gave accurate guidance and warnings throughout the period.

The Met Office also dings Delingpole for claiming they had conceded that "there is no evidence that ‘global warming’ is happening". They confirm that they did not say that:

In fact, we explicitly say this was not the case in an article, posted on the home page of our website and widely circulated, which was written in response to articles about updates to our decadal forecast.

It goes on. Delingpole is also reprimanded for claiming that the Met said that Britain was experiencing more rain than at any time since records began (it did not say that), for claiming that the Met was saying that the past ten years have been the wettest decade ever (it did not say that either) and for quoting another a member of Lord Lawson's climate sceptic group GWPF saying that the Met "thinks weather forecasting is beneath it" (the Met points out that "the vast majority" of its contractual work for the public is weather forecasting).

The Met Office adds:

There are also a number of other accusations which cannot be substantiated.

Last month, Delingpole was censured by the Australian Press Council for writing a column which described an Australian renewable energy programme as a "Ponzi scheme", which falsely accused a law firm of gagging climate sceptics, and which quoted someone comparing the wind-farm business to a paedophile ring. Delingpole was also criticised for making claims about the health risks of wind farms which were contrary to "extensive academic research" on the subject, but the Press Council decided his claim did not meet the "very high threshold" required to call it "untenable".

So what assertions in the Mail piece are defensible? The Met found at least one:

Mr Delingpole does quote Dr Whitehouse saying “when it comes to four or five day weather forecasting, the Met Office is the best in the world.” This supports the view of the World Meterological Organization (WMO) which consistently ranks the Met Office in the top two operational forecasters in the world.

Ice burn.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty
Show Hide image

Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.