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Hungary’s chief meteorologists fired over wrong weather forecast

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Budapest, Hungary – Talk about high job expectations: the director of Hungary’s National Meteorological Service (NMS) and her deputy were fired for failing to accurately predict the weather.

The Hungarian government planned what has been described as “Europe’s biggest fireworks display” for August 20 to mark St Stephen’s Day, one of the country’s most important national holidays.

About 40,000 fireworks were scheduled to be launched last Saturday in a stretch of several kilometres along the Danube River in Budapest, an annual celebration commonly attended by one to two million people.

But the fireworks had already turned into a source of controversy in Hungary even before the weather debacle.

Many opposed what they saw as a lavish and useless use of public money at a time when war is raging beyond their border, and as Hungarians face economic hardship and growing austerity measures. Almost 200,000 people had signed a petition calling for the fireworks to be cancelled, a nationwide debate that put even greater pressure on the weather forecasters.

In a last-minute decision, triggered by weather forecasts released by the National Meteorological Service and predicting thunderstorms and wing gusts, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban postponed this year’s fireworks until one week later.

But the rainstorm eventually changed course, hitting parts of eastern Hungary instead and leaving the capital city of Budapest – where the fireworks celebrations were due to be held – unaffected.

Reminding that weather forecasts are not an exact science and are, as the name indicates, simple predictions, the public service nevertheless posted an apology on social media, saying that the “least likely” outcome had materialised.

Too little, too late for the government. On Monday, Technology and Industry Minister Laszlo Palkovics fired the service’s two top meteorological experts, NMS president Kornelia Radics and her deputy Gyula Horvath, with immediate effect and without giving an official reason.

Many observers highlighted the absurdity of the firings. “They couldn’t produce the desired weather, they were fired,” commented opposition politician Andras Fekete-Györ. “No, this is not a dictatorship in Central Asia; this is the Hungary of [ruling party] Fidesz”.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the NMS also criticised the sackings, asking for their heads to be reinstated and accusing organisers of ignoring “the scientifically accepted uncertainty inherent in meteorological forecasts.”

Meanwhile, pro-government media Origo expressed anger at the meteorological service’s inability to predict the weather and for releasing “misleading information about the extend of the bad weather.”

In 2006, the annual St Stephens Day festivities had been cut short by a violent storm. Five people were killed and more than 300 injured in the panic that followed, as The Guardian reminds.

The fireworks display should now be held this coming Saturday, August 27. If the weather allows it.

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