UK Weather Forecasting Sucks

“Roads will be icy, in particular … everywhere.”

BBC 1

“Winds are going left across the North Sea then taking another left at the Bay of Biscay.”

— Sky News

I really want to know why the British are willing to settle for weather forecasts that are so vague as to be comical, if not dangerous?

bbc main weather blurb
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Last year, the BBC spent millions on new computer animations that made the Scottish feel small and all others dizzy with a virtual flight around the isles looking at clouds. Even looking at a website, you can never know if its going to rain tomorrow, and certainly not when.

BBC 5 Day Look
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When we first moved to the UK, I used to think it must be me. That I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing or hearing. I used to listen to others tell me what they thought was going to happen — often with far more precision than I could ever glean from a forecast. They would say, “oh, its going to rain around 11 o’clock.” However, on pressing them, they were sort of making it up, based on their interpretation of the swirling BBC map.

stmgrts.co.uk weather icon
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When I was building the St Margarets Community Website, I found Met Check and thought they looked a little better; however, over time, I feel they are really just the same as the Met/BBC. (_Eventually, I ended up parsing the METAR aviation files for the current weather and linking to Met Check.)

When you compare the UK weather forecasts to the United States, you can see what I mean. Now, to be fair, the US seems almost a little weather crazy. The weather portion of the news in the US has grown incredibly. It has taken up larger and larger portions of news shows. There is even a cable television channel that is exclusively about weather, ironically called The Weather Channel. However, if you look at a typical forecast, it contains so much more detail, more detail and so many more radar images that it is perhaps too much for most people.

But its the accuracy, mixed with the detail that makes it better. You can search for your city or post code and get any level of detail that you could possibly want…

weather underground detail
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  • hour by hour, 5 day, extend forecasts
  • text summaries of the forecasts
  • current radar images, often with local, regional, satellite details with animations
  • information about air quality for allergy and asthma sufferers
  • information about the sun’s power (UV index)
  • loads of details on barometric pressure, humidity, dew points, visibility, wind speed, wind chill and direction

The best a UK site can muster is a tiny phrase like “Widespread frost overnight” and a few basic details:

met check
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  • Temperature
  • Wind-chill
  • Barometric Pressure
  • Rain amount
  • Wind speed and direction
  • Percent of Cloud

No maps, no air quality or sun level, no humidity.

Perhaps the UK forecasts are purposely hiding detail to make it easier to read, but this seems highly unlikely if you consider the level of detail you get get on trains, tubes, buses, etc…

When you think of bad weather its potentially dangerous to not have detailed forecasts. Famously Michael Fish failed to warn the nation of a hurricane in 1987. More recently a 100 mph gale hit the country causing an estimated £1 billion in damage. That morning I was travelling to the Midlands and tried in the evening and again in the morning to find out if I should travel. Not only did the weather sites fail to mention the storm, they only suggested winds of around 30 mph. Clearly even the regular news and transport sites didn’t pick up on it either, not a single site or paper recommended that I should not travel. I should say that I am not stupid enough to think that the government and transportation people didn’t think something might have happened, or that I shouldn’t have cancelled or packed my tooth bush, but it certainly wasn’t recommended anywhere publicly.

I think the UK government really needs to upgrade and invest providing better consumer weather forecasts to the public. Also, television broadcasters should stop making weather reporters do reports standing outside in the rain or in a garden and certainly not as part of a human interest story from a dog shows, county fair, school or do anything other than just report on the weather.UK Weather Forecasting