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Belgian Town May Sue Over Soggy Weather Forecasts

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Parts of Europe are experiencing extremely rainy weather this summer. But some tourist towns in Belgium and the Netherlands say their season has been blighted too — not by bad weather but by bad weather forecasting.

The mayor of the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke says it's a crime that tourism there is down this year. He means that literally.

Leo Lippens wants to sue the private weather service Meteo Belgique for issuing a pessimistic full-summer forecast that he says wasn't "fair" because it didn't emphasize that the Belgian coast generally has clearer weather than the rest of the country.

"We all know we're not in the Cote d'Azur or southern Italy," he says. "But we have a fantastic climate here and to give the impression it is disgusting is disgusting and that I don't allow."

The private meteorological service forecast a while back that Belgium would have only two weeks of sunny weather in August.

Lost Tourist Revenue

Lippens rejects Meteo Belgique's clearly published legal disclaimer of responsibility for forecasts.

He says enormous sums of tourism revenue have been lost because of this forecast and he's determined to make Meteo Belgique pay — one way or another.

"That's public disinformation and when you arrive at that stage, you ... should be closed down or financially responsible," he says.

Maarten Van Autreve works in sales at La Reserve, a large resort hotel, and confirms that its occupancy rate is way below the seasonal average, down by 20 to 30 percent.

The hotel's owner also backs taking legal action against Meteo Belgique.

Christine Navet, who manages Knokke's Royal Zoute golf course, says she hasn't seen a spike in cancellations this summer but agrees Meteo Belgique should be held legally responsible, if possible.

The forecast "has given lots of problems to people who have invested in restaurants and terraces and beach activities to welcome tourists," she says.

But Lippens, the mayor, goes a step further, accusing Meteo Belgique of purposely diverting tourists because it has financial interests in travel agencies booking trips to other countries.

Trying to relax in a suburban park on a rare sunny day in Brussels, Meteo Belgique's owner, Xavier Lizin, says this whole maelstrom has been a shock for him. He rejects outright the notion that his company has any financial incentive to distort the predictions.

Lizin says he plans to take his own holiday on the Belgian coast this summer and says everyone needs to remember that weather forecasts are just estimates.

But in the neighboring Netherlands, Bianca Fransen of the Association of Recreation Entrepreneurs says her group has lodged a similar complaint about Dutch meteorologists. "We've seen them say, 'It's going to be a horrible summer,' when in reality, it was just one bad week," she says.

A Dutch politician also threatened to fine forecasters, but Fransen says they've found a resolution. Meteorologists promise to point out more specifically where weather will be bad and, more important, where it will be good. Fransen calls it a "recreational forecast."

At Belgium's Knokke beach, American tourist Karen Levy, who returns there every year, thinks the mayor should just lighten up about a lawsuit.

"That's ridiculous," she says. "I don't really come for the weather anyway; there are so many outdoor things to do and kids don't care. They go swimming anyway."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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