Monday 2 June 2008

Don't Need A Weatherman...

Regulars will know that weather is one of my obsessions - how could it be otherwise? I'm English. We have an awful lot of weather here, and little else we care to talk about. Yesterday I heard an interesting letter on Radio 4's Feedback, from a man who finds himself increasingly unable to follow the radio weather forecasts. I raised a silent cheer - how often I have done my best to listen intently to the morning forecast, only to emerge from the experience with no clear picture at all of what the weather is going to be like where I live. This correspondent nailed the chief reason - that these forecasts present the weather as an unfolding narrative of what is happening across the country, whereas all most listeners want to know is how the weather's going to be where they live. What he didn't mention was that, partly because of this narrative approach, the forecasts tend to begin with Scotland and Northern Ireland, so, by the time the unfolding drama has reached the places where most people (and overwhelmingly most Radio 4 listeners) live, they'll have completely lost the thread.
Often, though, by missing the weather forecast we're not missing much - indeed we might be positively misled by it. The Met Office claims what looks like a quite impressive level of accuracy. However, these figures are achieved after taking several stabs at getting it right in the course of a day. And 80 percent might look good, but I believe that if every day you issued the forecast 'Tomorrow's weather will be much the same as today's', you'd be right about 70 percent of the time.
I think it'll brighten up yet.


  1. I still have an aversion the established habit of putting North to the top of the map and South to the bottom. In my world view, it's the other way around. It seems only right, therefore, that they start from Scotland and then work their way up the country. Those of you at the top of the map should definitely come last. It's what comes of living in such an out of the way place such as London.

  2. You're right about the irrelevance to we listeners and viewers of the narrative ("a band of rain will be pushing its way north throughout the course of the day, then breaking up..." etc), so I tend to look at the 5-day 'in your area' forecast on the BBC website.

    I would estimate that that has about a 98% failure rate.

  3. You're right there, Brit - the London one is appalling.

  4. ha ha, too right!

    I don't know why they don't read it out like the shipping forecast,

    London, fog, rain later, rising...

    wouldn't that be simpler?

    but I use the BBC online 5-day weather forecast too. But you have to do this every day because it changes! I don't know why they try to do more than they can obviously manage.

  5. of course, like a lot of things, modern man has lost the ability to forecast the weather himself.

    being a naturalist, nige, you will know a few clues yourself. like watching which way the white willow leaves turn? (that's not a tongue-twister by the way but you could try it).

  6. Is that why the small change falls out of my pocket Richard. We do what the Royal navy used to do, first bracket the enemy then pow, we switch between the evil tory south weather and the nationalistic Scots weather, taking the mean average, eminently sensible or as its the weather, imminently sensible, always bloody wrong though.
    Back in the good old days the weather was always "imminent", so they were always right. Ian, our willows are sort of, kind of, off white, will they count?

  7. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks the BBC website's London forecast is so off. I was beginning to think I lived in some sort of alternate weather reality.

  8. You folks seem to be under the quaint illusion that the purpose of these forecasts is to convey mundane but useful information so you can decide whether to take an umbrella, wear a sweater, etc. Bloody scientists. Were you blessed as I am with a spouse fixated on the weather channel, you would understand that weather reporting today is like a Victorian serial novel to be enjoyed sequentially every hour on the hour as a seamless continuam. The whole speaks to higher truths that belie the raw material mechanics of the parts. They also promote intimacy and community by anchoring lengthy conversations with family and friends. Very lengthy. You need the forecast for Orlando to know the full existential despair of that icy winter storm, but also to remember there is always hope of salvation. Brit's "band of rain pushing its way north" is a metaphor for the human condition, a reminder of how our days of wine and roses are limited. It really doesn't matter whether it is actually pushing north today. It will get around to it eventually and in the meantime serves to warn us of the folly of living for the pleasures of the moment.

    Seen this way, you will come to appreciate how uncannily accurate these forecasts are. I mean, when did you ever hear one that didn't bear out in the fullness of time?

  9. MAny true words here - and I must confess that I'm all but addicted to the BBC's Sunday morning Countryfile forecast. Weather forecasting at its most heroic and, somehow, consoling...