Sixty years of BBC Weather presenting
"Earlier on today, apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she'd heard that there was a hurricane on the way…"
- Michael Fish, BBC Broadcast Meteorologist, 15 October 1987
And so came to pass one of UK TV weather forecasts most talked about moments. That was nearly 30 years ago but it's still a favourite quote at bus stops when discussing that "weather forecasters always get it wrong".
To be fair, in that instance, technically it was correct that there was no hurricane (they are unable to exist outside the tropics). However, there was an exceptionally deep area of low pressure packing hurricane-force winds that caused extensive damage and disruption.Flags and telegraphs
The 1987 storm wasn't the first time the importance of an accurate forecast was made apparent.
Over a century earlier, on 26 October 1859, the steam clipper Royal Charter was wrecked off the coast of Anglesey, with 459 lives lost.
Due to this loss, Vice Admiral Fitzroy (running at that stage a much smaller version of the Met Office providing information for mariners) sought to prevent a repeat by introducing a warning service, which began in 1861.
Warnings were telegraphed to harbourmasters who would go outside, rain, shine or howling gale, and hoist flags up a mast.
To this day, the most important job of the forecast is to prevent loss of life - the biggest difference being that now it is much easier and faster to get those warnings out there.
- On 7.55pm January 11th 1954, the first presenter led broadcast was made by George Cowling
- The BBC Weather Centre operates a 24 hour, 365 days a year service
- There are currently 18 weather presenters in the London Broadcasting House Weather Centre
- More than 100 broadcasts are made from the Weather Centre every day
- More than 300 broadcasts are made a day by BBC Weather across the UK
Technology spreads the word round the globe in tenths of seconds now - but how did we get by before smart phones and satellites?The first presenter-led broadcast
At 7.55pm on 11 January 1954, the first presenter-led broadcast was made by George Cowling, an RAF forecaster from the Met Office.
No bright screens and computers - George's graphics were two hand-drawn weather charts tacked to an easel with drawing pins. And to add some flourish to the chart? A squeaky charcoal pencil.
With these tools and no experience as a broadcaster, George had the considerable stretch of four and half minutes to fill without the aid of a script.
To this day, weather is still presented without a script - the only regular broadcast on TV news without an Autocue safety net, so spare a thought if your presenter stumbles.
The 1970s didn't just bring us flares and glam rock - it also saw the latest fashion in weather graphics. Yes - the famous magnetic symbols.
They may have looked fancy but they weren't foolproof by any means. If the polarities were reversed, and no matter if millions were watching, there was no getting them to stay in place.The computer age
The computer age took over the forecast graphics in 1985. The style of the graphics has had a few major revamps since then - always with the aim to get the clearest forecast on the screen.
Change was not always welcomed, though. It would seem the viewing public become very attached to the look of their forecast and the move away from weather symbols was particularly mourned.
By 1991, the forecast had become so popular the BBC opened its own dedicated Weather Centre at BBC Television Centre.
The mid-1990s saw a huge expansion in the Weather Centre's output, with half-hourly forecasts on BBC News 24 (now the BBC News Channel) and hourly forecasts on BBC World.
In 2013 it moved to its current home overlooking the Newsroom in BBC Broadcasting House.
With high definition television output, giant plasma screens and "Madonna"-style wireless microphones it now sends out scores of broadcasts a day across dozens of channels. It's a massive leap from George Cowling's single daily broadcast on one TV channel.
In short, forecasting will always be a challenge and we will never be able to control what the atmosphere throws at us but thanks to the forecast we should be better prepared than ever.
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