There was supposed to be an 80 to 90 per cent possibility of rain and strong wind gusts during the fireworks, but none of that happened. As there has been plenty of speculation and allegations were made in the media regarding the subsequent dismissal of the leaders of Hungary’s state-run meteorological service, it is worth taking an objective look at the facts that led to that decision.
The Operative Board in charge of all state-organised events on St. Stephens Day determined on 20 August that the weather conditions predicted for that night posed a too serious risk for the fireworks to be safely held. The spectacular fireworks display, a customary component of Hungary’s number one national holiday celebrations, was scheduled for 9 p.m. last Saturday. The decision was based on preliminary forecasts by the Hungarian National Meteorological Service (OMSZ). The performance was put off for a week. As several press reports including Origo pointed out, OMSZ’s forecast was not just slightly inaccurate, it was completely wrong.
The forecast on Saturday morning said:
‘The weather is changing due to a shifting front. The sky will be cloudy or overcast. The nation’s capital and its surrounding areas may experience numerous rounds of showers and thunderstorms, followed by rain of varied intensities. Although the time of these breaks cannot be foreseen, shorter or longer gaps between periods of rainfall are to be expected. Rain may fall during thunderstorms, although hail and strong winds will be less frequent. Thunderstorms may occasionally be accompanied by stronger gusts of wind coming from the north and northwest. Budapest will experience temperature highs of around 27, with lows of 24 in the late evening and 28 in the early afternoon.’
Just before the Operative Board’s decision, which was made after 1:00 PM, OMSZ wrote:
‘The rest of the day on 20 August 2022, will be characterized by the following weather: Precipitation will persist into the evening as the frontal zone continues to move into the Carpathian Basin from the south. Cloud bases are anticipated to decline as precipitation has been falling at progressively shorter and longer intervals since the morning and will continue into the afternoon. Budapest’s current cloud base is at 1300 m, with precipitation-induced scattered clouds at 300 m below.’ The OMSZ predicted that by that there would be ‘multiple waves’ of ‘convective precipitation showers, thunderstorms’ with northwest, 25 to 30 km/h strong winds.
The number one consideration of the Operative Board in postponing the fireworks was people’s safety. Especially so as many in the country still recall the disastrous 2006 fireworks, when the Socialist Gyurcsány government disregared the meteorological services’ warnings and went ahead with the display. As Hungarian Conservative also reminded in a recent article, five people died and hundreds were injured as a result of that negligence 16 years ago.
The standard operating procedure in such situations is that the Operative Board receives the forecast data from the OMSZ, and then, based on the data, makes a proposal. After consultation with the organisers of the fireworks display, the Operative Board makes a decision, which on 20 August was announced just after 1pm, and said:
‘The Operative Board in charge of the safety of the 20 August celebrations convened at midday as previously scheduled. It was determined that the conditions for the safe organization of the fireworks display scheduled for 21:00 are unlikely to be met based on the most recent comprehensive forecast of the National Meteorological Service and the situational assessment of the fireworks organisers. As a result, it has been decided to postpone the event. The fireworks are now planned for 9 p.m. on Saturday, 27 August 2022.‘
With the fireworks cancelled, many felt outraged and robbed of this spectacle. Partly in response to the public’s discontent, the minister of technology and industry, László Palkovics announced that as of 22 August, the leaders of OMSZ, Kornélia Radics and her deputy, Gyula Horváth are relieved from their duties. There has been no announcement yet about who the next leaders will be, with the ministry only saying a decision will be made at a later date. Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás stated at his regular press brief, held shortly after the 20 August events, that the dismissal of the OMSZ leaders was not directly prompted by the organisation’s failure to provide a reliable forecast for the national holiday. That blunder ‘was just the last straw,’ after a series of other mistakes made by the exiting OMSZ heads, the minister said.
Let’s hope that nothing will stand in the way of a grand fireworks show tomorrow celebrating Hungary’s 1022 years of statehood.