As BBC celebrate’s 60 years of forecasts, we asked why is Britain so obsessed with the weather?
PUBLISHED: 06:31 11 January 2014
Love it or hate it, Britain is obsessed with the weather.
We love to moan about it, love to rave about it and always want what we can’t have.
From 1954 to 2014
The first BBC weather broadcaster was George Cowling who first appeared on screens across the nation in 1954.
It was the first time a meteorologist had appeared on television to deliver the forecast, worlds away from the clipped tones read aloud by the Met Office before this.
The first broadcasts involved drawing weather patterns on screens with wax crayons and aimed to be accessible to ordinary men and women.
Mr Cowling’s main tools were pencils and a rubber for analysing the weather charts, and a pair of dividers for measuring isobar spacing to give wind speeds. Before this, weather charts had been presented on screen with captions.
Trying to be more human, Mr Cowling famously predicted it was “going to be a good day for hanging out the washing”.
With the introduction of colour, technology advanced to steel wall charts where magnetic rubber symbols could be attached - triangles for showers and round dots for rain.
Today’s clouds, sunshine and rain symbols were first introduced in 1975 when Mark Allen, a 22-year-old graphic design student created a new set of weather symbols - still used online.
More recent computer graphics have changed the face of weather forecasting again, transporting viewers across a moving image of the country, showing areas in more detail.
And it’s not just the presenting that has changed, Jim Bacon, managing director of Weather Quest, said technology has moved swiftly on since the early days, with forecasts more accurate that ever before.
He said: “In those days it was the Merchant Shipping fleet that took the readings in the Atlantic.
“There must have been many occasions when you didn’t know enough about weather systems.”
Today’s satellites, computers and modern radar systems mean it’s easier than ever to provide more detailed weather analysis.
If it’s too hot we wish it was colder and if there’s a chill in the air we dream of a summer when the sun shines from dawn until dusk.
It affects the decision to hang out washing, de-ice the car or put on a coat.
And the question of whether to walk or drive stumps many commuters who don’t want to be caught out in a shower after a long day at work.
Beach revellers in the British summer will often pack swimming costumes as well as jumpers and umbrellas to safe-guard against the ever-changing weather.
Weather broadcasting’s most memorable moments
Perhaps the most infamous of weather blunders, one that will go down in history, is BBC weatherman Michael Fish who promised there was nothing to worry about ahead of the Great Storm on 1987 that killed 18 people.
He famously said: “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”
His legacy has coined the BBC phrase, “the Michael effect” causing weather forecasters to err on the side of caution and give worst case scenarios when predicting the weather.
More recently, the BBC Breakfast show predicted temperatures of -88 degrees in Norwich in September 2013. The next screen showed an expected temperature of 88 degrees above freezing.
However this technical blunder was quickly noticed an viewers were saved from venturing outside into the sunshine in snow wear.
In May’s 2009 Bank Holiday Monday Bournemouth tourists chiefs at a Bournemouth seaside resort accused the Met Office of losing the town £1 million because it got the weather forecast wrong.
According to the Met Office it was supposed to suffer thundery showers, but instead it actually had sunshine on the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures hitting 22 degrees.
Tourism bosses said around 25,000 visitors stayed away from the town, costing a predicted £1 million.
And royalty became stars of the show in a BBC Scotland studio in May 2012 when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall tried their hand at delivering the weather forecast.
The prince told the lunchtime Scottish TV audience that “it was a cold day everywhere with temperatures of just eight degrees and a brisk northerly wind.”
He then added: “Thank God it isn’t a bank holiday.”
Youngsters grow up knowing that a “red sky” in the morning is a “shepherds’ warning”, and a “red sky” at night is a “shepherds’ delight”, or phrases such as “when the wind is out of the East, tis never good for man nor beast”.
And what better conversation starter than “cold out today”, or, “lovely day for a walk”?
The BBC tapped into this when they changed the existing drab and monotone weather announcements into a broadcast presentation with real meteorologist in 1954.
Colour forecasts quickly followed and weather men and women became house-hold names.
Becky Mantin is a weather forecaster for ITV in London. She grew up in Norwich, and started her career at ITV Anglia.
She said: “We have a national obsession with the weather - for a good reason.
“It’s such a fundamental part of what we’re doing each day - we really celebrate it.
“On the first sunny day of the summer everyone is smiling.”
Ms Mantin said her most memorable moment was in an outside broadcast at Norwich’s Mousehold Heath, when the wind was so strong she had to be tied to a bench while in front of the camera.
BBC Weatherman from the 80s Jim Bacon, managing director of Weatherquest, the weather is unlike any other news - it affects everybody that reads and watches it.
He said: “Going home in London you would know how many people had listened to the weather forecast by what they were wearing.
“But rural communities like parts of East Anglia, people are tremendously suspectable to variations.”
And with Steve Western, forecaster at Weatherquest, predicting a fine day tomorrow, Britain’s obsession with sunshine and rain shows no sign of letting up.
Mr Western said; “It will be a lovely day.
“There will be a bit of early rain to clear away across Norwich and Great Yarmouth and then almost unbroken sunshine - a dry and sunny day.”