UKH

Row Erupts as Future of MWIS Cast in Doubt

A storm broke out over the weekend of 10-11th September after it emerged that funding for the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) will cease at the end of 2016. As a result the service in its current form may terminate. Precise information from all parties is rather lacking at this stage, but here's the story so far:

Wild weather on Buachaille Etive Beag, 49 kb
Wild weather on Buachaille Etive Beag
© Mac fae Stirling, Jan 2016

"MWIS is not the only option available to users but it offers unique features that have earned massive support in the mountaineering community and made it the number one choice" say the MCofS

Britain's most popular mountain weather forecast, MWIS has gained a solid reputation among hillwalkers and climbers over its 13 years in operation, and is considered by many an essential tool for planning safe trips. A non-profit service provided by meteorologist Geoff Monk, it is currently funded by the Scottish Government agency SportScotland, although it also provides forecasts for the hills of England and Wales.

In 2015 MWIS, SportScotland and the Met Office began a collaborative project that was set to last several years. But on Saturday 10th September Geoff Monk broke ranks, posting a strongly worded message on the MWIS page. 

"The funding withdrawal by SportScotland, following their previous decision to collaborate with MWIS (together with the Met Office), was a real shock and jeopardises the safety of those who use the mountains every day" he wrote.

"All we want is for MWIS to continue to provide a consistent, quality service so that mountain users can enjoy the mountains safely, fully aware of what the weather will throw at them."

"MWIS has a stable, long-term future and the service will continue to be enhanced provided funding continues. We are asking SportScotland to come back to the negotiating table and commit to the continued funding of MWIS so its long-term future is secured."

Claim and counter-claim followed over the weekend, but even as the three organisations made their positions public a fog of confusion seemed to settle over the argument. In response to loud protest on social media, SportScotland reacted robustly. Commenting on the statement issued on MWIS’s website, a spokesperson said:

“This is a disappointing and misleading claim by Geoff Monk at the MWIS. Investment into MWIS continues until the end of this year and we have been involved in collaboration discussions for over a year with the Met Office and Geoff about building a resilient and development-focused mountain weather forecast provision for Scotland together." 

“SportScotland has been investing in mountain weather provision since 2007 and this investment has established bespoke mountain weather forecasts as a critical part of risk evaluation for those who want to participate in outdoor activities in the Scottish mountains." 

“Lines of communications with MWIS have always been open and remain so. SportScotland’s priority is to ensure there is a sustainable mountain forecast for Scotland through the provision of reliable, authoritative forecasts, which are relevant to outdoor activities and enable forecast users to make informed judgements about their chosen activities. This is precisely what we will deliver and we will ensure there is a continuity of this service.”

How that continuity will be delivered remains an open question. Meanwhile MWIS has received widespread support from the hillwalking and climbing community. 

We've asked Scottish mountain stalwart Andy Nisbet for his thoughts on any possibe replacement for MWIS:

Even Andy Nisbet needs a decent mountain forecast , 76 kb
Even Andy Nisbet needs a decent mountain forecast
© Dan Bailey

MWIS was a revelation when it first appeared, a proper mountain forecast easily available. I looked at it every day, even if I wasn’t going on the hill, because you need to keep up with snow conditions or in the summer, how dry the crags are likely to be.

The difficulty was always how localised our weather is, and four areas were never enough. Now the Met Office produces a mountain forecast but it only divides the Highlands into two areas, which is a serious deficiency and the main reason I use it less. The difference from Ben Lomond to Ben Hope (both in the Met Office area West Highlands) is huge. I know you can now look up many individual Munros, but I still find MWIS to be the best compromise, with enough information to tell me what I want to know (not that any forecast is always true) but not too much detail to overload my planning. After all, weather is only part of the planning.
 
I know MWIS get a lot of feedback from climbers and walkers, and do listen, so any replacement would need to be set up with a lot of input from those of us who use MWIS. Obviously it’s possible, but would it happen?

Just some thoughts as to what could be improved, although the service is so much better than in the old days, and a return now to a poorer service would be hard to take:
 
I think the areas could be improved, but it would need some more funding. I know it’s the area I go to a lot, but I would for example split the NW Highlands into:
1. Glen Shiel, Knoydart and Skye
2. Torridon to Ullapool (inc. Beinn Dearg)
3. Far North
 
There are complaints that the forecasts, especially of wind, are pessimistic, hence the nickname the Monk of Doom. But I find that working in Coire an t-Sneachda, they are often optimistic, so I put it down to climbers often being in more sheltered places, not summits or corries.

"Thank you very much to everyone who has expressed support for the continuation of the Mountain Weather Information Service" wrote Geoff Monk in a statement on Sunday night.

"We have been inundated with emails of support in the last 24 hours and are so grateful for all the kind messages and comments we've received."

"As it stands, MWIS will close if sportscotland funding is not reinstated next year. Our forecast team remain committed to providing a quality service so that everyone can enjoy the mountains safely, but this will require funding. And we are open for collaboration if it means our forecasts are enhanced and improved."

"With your support, we are hopeful that MWIS funding can be reinstated and the service can continue for the long-term."

Standing at something of a remove from the debate, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland have appealed for the two sides to get round the table.

"Until April 2016 we managed the contract with Geoff, following which sportscotland took that responsibility" explained David Gibson, CEO of the MCofS.

"Geoff had already indicated prior to April that he wished to reduce his level of activity and sportscotland had advised us they wished to see a sustainable solution which would ensure forecasts were not solely reliant on Geoff’s relatively limited resources and that would leave a lasting legacy when he eventually retired. That solution involved the Met Office and we have not been involved in any of the subsequent negotiations between Geoff, sportscotland and the Met Office."

"MWIS is not the only option available to users but it offers unique features that have earned massive support in the mountaineering community and made it the number one choice."

"Mountaineering Scotland wish to see continuity in the daily production of Scottish mountain weather forecasts, which are publicly funded, available free to users, and which provide at least the same range of forecast features as MWIS."

"We believe there is an urgent need for the three parties to reconvene their dialogue to ensure that there is continuity, especially with the onset of winter and the critical need for mountaineers and skiers to be able to assess forecast conditions and plan their activities accordingly."

So what exactly is going on; and is it more than a storm in a teacup? 


Update: This afternoon (12th September) SportScotland issued a further statement aimed at reducing speculation and calming some of the fears being expressed on social media (not least our forums).

"[T]he provision of a high-quality weather forecasting service will continue and was always going to continue."

"The reassurance is offered by sportscotland in light of the confusion circulating on social media. sportscotland will discuss with MWIS the provision of their service through this coming winter to ensure this familiar forecast format is available at a time when participation within the Scottish mountains peaks. Future developments into the provision of mountain weather forecasting will continue to be considered with the Met Office and it is hoped that MWIS will return to play an active role in these discussions."

"sportscotland has been investing in mountain weather provision since 2007 and avalanche forecast provision since 1988. We are committed to ensuring continuity and enhancement of the mountain weather forecast provision in the years ahead."

"We reassure all stakeholders that safe-guarding the supply of accurate, bespoke mountain weather forecasts is at the core of our commitment to outdoor communities and all those who rely on them."

"A review of mountain weather forecasting began in June 2014 after MWIS raised concerns into the future long-term sustainability of the existing service.  This began collaborative discussions between sportscotland, the Met Office and MWIS to look at ways of  securing forecasting provision for the future, at the same time as developing and improving the service."

In 2015 a survey was commissioned by sportscotland aimed at understanding the current and future needs of mountain users.  The survey received over 2000 responses from mountain professionals and mountain users, and it was this consultation, they say, that helped form the basis of ongoing discussions.

A spokesperson for sportscotland confirmed:

“sportscotland’s priority is to ensure the long-term provision of critical mountain weather forecasting and that is precisely what will be delivered."

“MWIS has been integral to the discussion around future mountain weather reporting and we would welcome the opportunity to resume conversations with them.  We hope that MWIS will meet with sportscotland, Met Office and representatives from Mountaineering Scotland, to continue the discussions around the exciting plans, which are aimed at enhancing the future safety of all those who are active in Scotland’s hills and mountains."



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