The Monte Carlo Independent Column Approximation (McICA) is a flexible method for representing subgrid-scale cloud inhomogeneity in radiative transfer schemes. It does, however, introduce conditional random errors but these have been shown to have little effect on climate simulations, where spatial and temporal scales of interest are large enough for effects of noise to be averaged out. This article considers the effect of McICA noise on a numerical weather prediction (NWP) model, where the time and spatial scales of interest are much closer to those at which the errors manifest themselves; this, as we show, means that noise is more significant. We suggest methods for efficiently reducing the magnitude of McICA noise and test these methods in a global NWP version of the UK Met Office Unified Model (MetUM). The resultant errors are put into context by comparison with errors due to the widely used assumption of maximum-random-overlap of plane-parallel homogeneous cloud. For a simple implementation of the McICA scheme, forecasts of near-surface temperature are found to be worse than those obtained using the plane-parallel, maximum-random-overlap representation of clouds. However, by applying the methods suggested in this article, we can reduce noise enough to give forecasts of near-surface temperature that are an improvement on the plane-parallel maximum-random-overlap forecasts. We conclude that the McICA scheme can be used to improve the representation of clouds in NWP models, with the provision that the associated noise is sufficiently small. © Crown Copyright 2011. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.