In an emergency statement to the Scottish parliament today the SNP’s Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson has revealed that the Met have confirmed that weather forecasts broadcast on Monday had underestimated the severity of the snowfall that hit Scotland’s central belt.
Mr Stevenson was responding to attacks made on him by BBC Scotland and opposition politicians following the unprecedented weather that brought Scotland’s central road network to a standstill on Monday and saw many motorists spend the night trapped in their cars.
Mr Stevenson opened his remarks by acknowledging the shortcomings of the response to the very severe weather. He apologised to those who had suffered appalling experiences as a result of a failure to communicate the situation effectively and accepted that responsibility rested with himself.
Mr Stevenson repeated his view that emergency services and volunteers had performed exceptionally well given the circumstances. He explained that the weather system that had arrived on Monday morning had created a perfect storm that had hit the transport system exceptionally hard.
However, on the specific matter of forecasts Mr Stevenson revealed the weather forecasts that had come from both the Met office and the BBC had been monitored closely by the Scottish government.
Mr Stevenson explained that from 16:01pm on Sunday until 08:01am on Monday morning both the BBC and Met office were forecasting up to 5 cm of snow could be expected in most central areas with some localised areas, mainly hills, reaching 10 cm.
In actual fact Mr Stevenson pointed out, the amount that fell was in some cases three times greater than that which was forecast. Mr Stevenson acknowledged that forecasts had been accurate with regards to timing but that the road transport services had based their action plans on levels of snowfall forecast by the BBC and Met.
Mr Stevenson also revealed that at 10:16am on Monday the Met office issued a statement acknowledging that they had got the severity and extent of snowfall wrong with snowfall much further East than was forecast which caused major traffic problems in the central belt.
The Transport Minister explained that as soon as it became clear that the snowfall was well above forecast levels the authorities moved to act. However access was made very difficult as vehicle incidents and congestion prevented gritters and ploughs from accessing the road network again.
Hear Mr Stevenson’s full statement here
Labour MSP Charlie Gordon (pictured right) called the response to the conditions “A first class cock-up” and said that Mr Stevenson was responsible. Mr Gordon accused Mr Stevenson of wriggling and squirming and of refusing to accept blame.
Mr Gordon said:
“He blames the Weatherman. The problem wasn’t the weather forecast or the Met office. The problem was his totally inadequate response.”
Mr Gordon claimed that BBC Weather reporter Gail McGrain had provided more accurate information than Mr Stevenson and called on Mr Stevenson to resign.
Hear Mr Gordon and Mr Stevenson’s exchange here:
Conservative MSP David McLetchie brandished an image used by BBC Scotland to back up its claim of having provided an accurate forecast and said: “I was watching television on Sunday night and the BBC told me, and displayed a graphic, showing a blizzard of snow blocking out the whole of central Scotland.
“If I could see that and millions of other Scots could see that – then why was it that the Scottish government couldn’t see that?”
Mr Stevenson confirmed that this was indeed the forecast they had worked to and that they knew snow was coming and that they had indeed prepared for the forecast 2 to 5 cm of snow in low lying areas. Mr Stevenson repeated his point that this forecast had been repeated by the BBC at 08:01am on Monday morning and that the actual snowfall in low lying areas was 20cm which was more than twice the upper 10cm predicted for high areas.
The Lib Dem spokesperson Alison McInnes called Mr Stevenson a “bumbling Transport Minister” and criticised his claims over forecasts asking why he didn’t refer to other later Sunday forecasts.
Mr Stevenson explained that the forecasts Ms Innes referred to were exactly the forecasts that Scottish authorities had been working to and upon which overnight responses were based.
The full session can be seen here: