Wednesday 19 June 2013


I don’t rely on weather forecasts and I rarely watch them. As a former meteorologist in the good old Andrew* I can read a synoptic chart at a glance, make my own mind up for the day ahead and take an umbrella if appropriate. Also, it really doesn’t matter a great deal unless I’m going out paragliding because whatever the wide-area forecast, the micro-meteorology of a particular hill site may be quite different from the general pattern. Otherwise I am quite sanguine about the fact that however disappointing the weather, I can’t do anything to change it, so I may as well just take what comes.

Friends (yes I do have a couple) often wonder that I can be so blasé but it’s simple, really. And anyway, why make rocket science out of a fairly straightforward process? Here’s how you put a daily forecast together:

Step 1: Look out of the window. Really, always look out of the window. Whatever it’s doing right now, that’s where your forecast starts.
Step2: Check out the latest surface analysis (that weather chart thingy) and see what’s on the way – a front will likely bring cloud and rain and change the airmass. So all you do is work out when it’s going to get here and describe the progression of change for your forecast period.
Step 3: Reduce the information down to Wind + Weather + Visibility and there you go. (Check out the Shipping Forecast – that’s all they give you – WWV – region by region.)
Step 4: Remember you’re only the messenger, not the Messiah – whatever the weather, you didn’t make it happen, you're not a naughty boy and it ain’t your fault!

I’ve always felt sorry for poor old Michael Fish after ‘that hurricane’. The poor fella was doing his best and by and large the forecast was pretty accurate. The difference between a Violent Storm (64-73 mph) and a Hurricane (74+ mph) is technically only one mile per hour but that single steadfast proclamation "Don't worry," has stayed with him for twenty-five years and might have destroyed a lesser man. Talk about defining a man by his mistakes...

But was that the point at which we no longer took at face value the forecasts from our formerly revered Met Office? In recent years ‘barbecue summers’ have turned to crap, an expected ‘mild winter’ became the coldest on record for fifty years and last year, the wettest since records began, started with a hosepipe ban. (Oh and we’re supposedly in the middle of a heat wave right now. Meh.)

All of which preamble gets me to the pointlessness of the Met Office’s climate change huddle this week. Lots of hand-wringing about something they can’t change. If they’re not careful they’re in danger of looking like a right bunch of Cnuts. Nobody has ever managed to accurately forecast the weather more than two weeks ahead, let alone months or years and the entire Climate Change Industry can’t even agree on what has actually happened in the past.

But the Met Office is missing a trick. From my Met Man days I know that nobody actually listens to the forecasts properly anyway, even if their lives may depend on it. Predict rain in the morning and by ten o’clock you’ll get complaints about the deluge they weren’t expecting until tea time. Forecast a wet Saturday afternoon and come Monday you’re practically guaranteed to have an angry Squadron Commander ranting that you personally ruined his garden party.

Nobody minded about the destructive tornado.
They were still laughing at Michael Fish's pullover!

So, if they’re not going to even remember what you forecast and you’ll get blamed for it being the wrong sort of hail, even if you called it exactly right, you may as well make your performances memorable for something else. I suggest TV Weatherfolk acquire other skills such as juggling, stand-up comedy, wearing ridiculous outfits or swimsuit modelling. So when they’re taking the piss because you dropped all the balls, or a nipple popped out, at least they’re not impugning your ability to guess the weather.

(*Andrew = Royal Navy)


  1. What left me seething was that with all the people dying because of water issues in different parts of the world it was obscene to call last year a "drought". Any shortage was a function of a poorly maintained delivery system in combination with our rocketing population.

  2. Nice one Batts...

    I am told (and I can see the point) that the Americans have the most accurate Weather Forecasters in the world. When they say, "A 75% chance of rain", or "An 80% chance of snow" they are actually quite correct..... It's only a percentage chance and if it doesn't rain or snow, then that's the 25% or 20% 'left over'.

    Looking forward to the next episode already.

    Chris W.

    1. What they actually have in the USA is not necessarily better forecasters but a large land mass which creates stable and predictable weather conditions. In the UK we actually have the most complex confluence of influences on the planet, with tiny perturbations casing massive variations in outcomes. For three years now I have hardly ever seen what you could refer to a normal pattern. A US forecaster over here would be tearing his hair out!