The two top officials at Hungary’s meteorological service have been sacked after a “gravely wrong” rain forecast lead to the postponement of a fireworks display.
The annual St Stephen’s Day display, which takes place along the Danube River in the capital Budapest, is billed as the largest in Europe and marks the most important national holiday in Hungary.
It typically draws more than a million spectators but was called off on Saturday afternoon after forecasts said extreme weather was likely around the 9pm start time.
The show was rescheduled for the following week but by the evening of St Stephen’s Day, the expected storms never materialised.
Laszlo Palkovics, Hungary’s minister of technology and industry, later announced Kornelia Radics, the head of the National Meteorological Service, and her deputy Gyula Horvath had been sacked.
The firings sparked accusations of political interference from Hungary’s nationalist government.
While the minister did not provide a reason for the dismissals, the meteorological service had received harsh criticism in Hungary’s government-aligned media, which reported that the service’s “gravely wrong” forecast had caused a needless postponement of the fireworks display.
Meanwhile, the National Meteorological Service demanded the reinstatement of Ms Radics and her deputy.
The agency described coming under “political pressure” concerning its assessments of weather models on the holiday and that those applying the pressure “ignored the scientifically accepted uncertainty inherent in meteorological forecasts”.
“It is our firm view that, despite considerable pressure from decision-makers, our colleagues… provided the best of their knowledge and are not responsible for any alleged or actual damage,” the service wrote.
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Critics of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which has been accused of corruption, nepotism and anti-democratic tendencies, said that the firings were politically motivated and reminiscent of Hungary’s communist past.
St Stephen’s Day is observed in Hungary on 20 August each year to pay tribute to King Stephen, who laid the foundation of the state after being crowned on Christmas Day in 1000 AD.