Hungary fires its top weather officials after an inaccurate forecast

Their predictions of extreme weather conditions had prompted the government to postpone fireworks for St Stephen's Day. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BUDAPEST (NYTIMES) - Meteorology is sometimes referred to as the only field where the experts can be consistently wrong and still keep their jobs.

But that did not seem to apply in Hungary on Monday (Aug 22), when the country's top two weather officials were fired after an inaccurate forecast.

Their predictions of extreme weather conditions in Budapest had prompted the government to postpone fireworks for its national holiday, St Stephen's Day, seven hours before they were scheduled to begin last Saturday.

The night turned out to be calm.

On Sunday, Hungary's national meteorological service, the Orszagos Meteorologiai Szolgalat, issued an apology, saying that the weather on Saturday had been the least likely scenario based on its models.

"Unfortunately, this uncertainty factor is part of our profession, we have tried to communicate this as well," the agency said on its Facebook page.

By Monday, the head of the weather service and her deputy had been fired by Hungary's innovation minister, Laszlo Palkovics, a top official under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

On Tuesday, the service issued another statement on Facebook, saying it was a professional institution and not a political one. The agency said it did the best it could to prepare the forecasts, based on the date and time of the planned fireworks, using the available information to its experts.

St Stephen's Day celebrates the role of Stephen I, who became king in 1000 AD, in the founding of the Hungarian state.

"Our firm position is that despite significant decision-making pressure, the colleagues of the OMSZ performed the best of their knowledge and are not responsible for any alleged or real damage," the agency said, using an acronym for the agency.

Mihaly Szucs, a senior official with the national meteorological service, said he could not comment beyond the statement because the weather service needed permission from the Ministry for Innovation and Technology to comment to journalists.

The Hungarian government said the president and deputy president of the national meteorological service would have been fired regardless of the Aug 20 forecast.

"Although the OMSZ's predictions for the 20th of August proved spectacularly wrong, the dismissal is based on longer-term dissatisfaction," Gergely Gulyas, the minister overseeing the prime minister's office, said at a news conference on Tuesday. "This was not the last straw - it was already the straw after the very last."

The fireworks show along the Danube River aims to chronicle the thousand years that have passed from the founding of Hungary to the present, according to the event's website.

It has been rescheduled to take place on Saturday at 9pm. The weather service is predicting more rain.

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