By Cara Sulieman
THREE SCOTS councils are shelling out £90,000 for someone to predict the weather.
Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire Councils are paying the Met Office to provide them with a detailed forecast so they can decide how much grit is needed for roads in their area.
It comes after the country was brought to a standstill last winter when local authorities across Scotland ran out of salt.
But motoring organisations say they need to prepare for a bad winter no matter what the forecast says to avoid a repeat of last year’s chaos.
As Scotland was gripped by the worst winter in 31 years, temperatures plummeted to -20 degrees in some part of the country.
Councils struggled to cope with the demand on the transport network and in many places gritting operations concentrated on major routes, leaving other roads treacherous.
People were buying up salt supplies from supermarkets to grit their own drives and pavements as the unusually cold winter left the country covered in ice for weeks.
Stock was being brought in from France and queues of gritting machines lined up outside the UK’s few salt mines.
In January, the Government ordered Britain’s councils to cut gritting by 25 per cent in a desperate attempt to conserve supplies.
This new contract means the three councils will get a specialised forecast for their area between October and April every year.
They have been getting specialised weather reports for more than 20 years to help them plan for snow-filled roads.
This year, the Met Office won the contract from the previous suppliers Weather Services International who had been providing their services for four years.
It is designed to show upcoming conditions in relation to geographic and topographic differences which the local authorities say will allow them to plan their gritting strategy better.
Les Goodfellow, Head of Roads, Transport and Open Space for Stirling Council, said that pooling the forecast allows the organisations to get a better overall picture for the area.
He said: “Weather forecasting services are tendered for every two years, and Falkirk Council leads on this tendering.
“This includes weather forecasting for the Stirling Council area and also for Clackmannanshire.
“It is useful for the councils to be able to see each others’ forecasts.
“The Met Office have won the current contract, and will provide two forecasts, one covering the north of the area and one the south.”
But motoring organisations have said that although detailed weather forecasts are an important part of the planning process, they should be used in conjunction with other methods.
Paul Watters, Head of Road Safety at the AA, said: “Weather forecasts are an absolutely critical part of the whole package – we regard them as being essential.
“But they have to go hand in hand with human intelligence led decision making.
“There are seasoned experts in Scotland who do this every year – their experience counts for an awful lot as well.
“Forecasts needs to be available, but councils should also depend on human intelligence.
“It’s about making the right choice.
“I wouldn’t say don’t stock up on grit and salt just because some weather forecast says it is going to be mild.
“There’s no excuse to not have stocks in.”
During last winter’s chaos, both Falkirk and Clackmannanshire councils had to be loaned salt stock by other local authorities after the company who supplied them – Salt Union in Cheshire – suffered a two-day plant breakdown.
Mr Goodfellow said that the weather forecast was just one part of the package that helps them plan ahead.
He added: “Stirling Council also makes use of information gathered from 20 weather monitoring stations which are embedded in road surfaces.
“These provide data not just on weather conditions but also on road conditions including levels of dampness and salinity.”
A spokeswoman for Falkirk Council said that weather forecasting is a “necessary tool” for winter planning.
She said: “Falkirk, like all councils, has procured specialised weather prediction services for over 20 years.
“The Met Office have been awarded the current three year contract.
“The previous four years were provided by another provider.
“These forecasts are required in a specialised form to account for geographic and topographic variation and are a necessary tool in the decision making process for Winter Service planning and actions.”
Local authorities up and down the country came under attack for being underprepared for the icy weather conditions last winter.
Since then, many have looked at how they can tackle the problem in the future, with 28 of the country’s 32 councils joining forces to avoid a repeat.
But the group – who are bulk buying £35 million worth of grit through umbrella organisation Scotland Excel – doesn’t include Falkirk, Stirling, Orkney or Clackmannanshire.