Met Office – say one thing and do another

This is a classic example of media hype from the Met Office press team regarding climate data. The article is about the upcoming two day “Climate Data Challenge” event. Dr Mark Harrison says that the Met Office provides “a huge amount of climate data available, there is also a vast quantity of other data”. It may well provide a huge amount of climate data but for most of it you will have to pay. It’s true that each month they provide regional gridded data for mean temperature, rainfall and sunshine, but if you want something a little more exotic like daily values of extreme temperatures, total rainfall and sunshine for a specific location you will have to hand over your credit card details, and trust me it will cost you.

I have an ongoing example about just how unhelpful the good old Met Office can be when it comes to free climate data and it’s very apposite with regard to this “Climate Data Challenge” they are trying to involve people in. For many years the Met Office have made available a text file of global monthly climate data for over 10,000 climate stations from around the world. They use these values along with their partners the CRU/UEA to calculate the HadCRUT global monthly temperature series. In the New Year they moved from version 4 to version 5, and at the same time decided to stop producing text version of this climate data and switched to only providing it in NetCDF format. So instead of a single text file to parse you now have to individually parse thousands of NetCDF file for each station. I contacted the climate team but got no response from Colin Morice, so I then emailed enquiries in this email:-


I regularly download climate data from land stations that you use to calculate global temperatures in your HadCRUT4 monthly temperature series. This data is currently available in ASCII format, but in the New Year you announced a new version of the global temperature series HADCRUT5, and although you have provide the data in NetCDF format you haven’t included it in ASCII format. I would be obliged if you could provide it in the same format as you did before so I can continue to use it.

This is the old ASCII file format:

And this is the URL of the new NetCDF download:

I have already emailed Colin Morice with this request, but he’s obviously too busy with other things to reply.
Please could you forward my request either to him or someone in the climate team please.

Bruce Messer

A week or so later I got this reply from them:-

Dear Bruce

Thank you for your enquiry on our HadCRUT5 data.

Unfortunately, we have retired the ASCII format files that we previously used for HadCRUT4 data. We do not currently have plans to reintroduce this file format.

If you cannot use the NetCDF files we provide on our website, an alternative may be the text files available from the University of East Anglia, our partners in producing HadCRUT5. Land station data is available under the CRUTEM5 heading, for instance global data is available here.

Hopefully this reply will be useful to you.


Alexander Askew
Climate Science Communicator
Met Office Hadley Centre
FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, EX1 3PB, United Kingdom

So it turns out that the good old Met Office, that wonderful repository full to overflowing with huge amounts of free climate data, have retired a file of global temperature data and have no plans to reintroduce it. For anyone interested in climate and global temperatures statistics this is an absolute gem of a resource – which for no good reason that I can see – the Met Office have ‘retired’. Below are some screenshots from an application that I have written and have been using for over ten years to visualise that ‘retired’ data. I hope you can now see why xmetman is gets mad about climate and weather as he does. The only climate data challenge that I can see is getting any climate data out of the Met Office in the first place.

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