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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Let's hear it for weather forecasters
Bill Giles and TV weather map
75 years young - the TV weather map
It's 75 years since the first TV weather map. In Britain, viewers have a love-hate relationship with the weather and its forecasters. BBC weatherman John Kettley speaks up for his noble art.

Any broadcaster, but especially one who appears on prime-time national television, as I did for 15 years, has got to be prepared to take a bit of stick from the public.

As a weather forecaster the chances are even higher because the weather is so important to us and, unlike lots of other countries, it's so varied in Britain.

John Kettley
John Kettley decided to forsake the weather map for forecasting on the radio
It really can be four seasons in one day around the country. But that's what makes the job interesting.

Some of my former colleagues have gone out to work in the Middle East as forecasters but I'd find it very boring. Most days are the same - blues skies and sunshine.

Just imagine how you would feel if you were on shift but failed to forecast a rare day of rain.

Only occasionally is the weather here a matter of life and death, but that's not to say that it isn't important. It affects people's livelihoods. If you work in agriculture or the building trade, it matters if it rains for weeks on end.

Foremer BBC forecaster Bert Foord
"Anticyclones, squally showers and very, very grey"
But it also affects people's wellbeing - you get a couple of weeks of grey cloud in the winter and that can be depressing.

So it is important to get the forecast right, although it's inevitable that you'll be wrong now and again. The Met Office has a strike rate of 86% accuracy which is pretty good but even then, it means one day a week you'll get it wrong.

But things have improved immeasurably since I started training to be a forecaster in 1970. Then it was a joke to forecast anything more than for the day ahead.

Now, thanks to computer modelling and satellite images, we can look ahead three to five days with confidence.

Man and dog caught in downpour
It never rains, but it paws
It's grim when you get a forecast wrong. But then if people have planned their summer holiday and you've said there are going to be a few days of rain, and it turns out to be sunny, well that's a bit of a relief.

Lots of viewers think the job is an easy one because you're only on screen for a few minutes. But 95% of it is backroom work.

As a meteorologist you have to do all the work. You do nearly all the graphics for the weather map, and at various times you can be on every hour or sometimes every half hour.

It's also unsociable hours. Night shifts are a killer and I spent 20 years of my working life doing them. And then there is weekend working as well. It's not very conducive to family life and it limits your social life.

Aisle be damned

Whenever I go to the supermarket I always get one or two comments thrown at me. They'll say 'You got it wrong again today' even if you didn't.

The weather vane at Lord's, London
Forecasting has advanced immeasurably over the years
It's all down to disappointment with the weather. I'm no different. I had a long-standing arrangement to play in a charity cricket match yesterday and it was rained off.

Another common thing is people coming up to me asking if it'll be nice for their daughter's wedding in six months' time. What I do then is scratch my head and say something like 'Yes, it'll be good weather.'

Of course I don't really know, but it's all about stopping them worrying about it. Sometimes I get a letter back saying 'Thank you, you were right about the good weather'.

It just goes to show how much people value us. Rain or sun, and right or wrong, everyone watches the weather forecast.

Click here to add your comments


Some of your comments so far:

I work for The Weather Channel in the U-S, and it's much the same here. The viewers and/or listeners have very high expectations, and precious little tolerance for busted forecasts. Add to that the increasing competitive pressure here to forecast further into the future, it makes some days - and some forecasts, a real nail-biter.
Mark Woolsey, USA

I feel sorry for the weather forecasters. They do a wonderful job, but how can you forecast the weather for a region when you can go from torrential rain, into sunlight and dry roads then back into torrential rain all within 2 miles.
Dave, UK

Thank you John for your years of service. As a keen watersports enthusiast I am always a little disappointed with the level of wind/sea forecasting in this country.
Caroline, UK

Forecasting is a difficult job, believe me. The trouble is, the UK weather is so changeable it is ridiculous. I could forecast showers for tomorrow and one person at one end of the road will get wet and another person at the other end will stay dry. One will say I got it right, the other will say I got it wrong! By the way Chris, the UK DOES have ground radar.
Garry, UK

I'm greatly impressed by the Met Office weather forecasts and forecasters. But what about the rivalry between their statistical approach and the alternative sunspot-based approach. The former said we'd have a scorching summer; the latter, a cool summer. I had thought only one side would be proved right - but now (mid-August) it seems both have been correct! Amazing (but so is our UK weather).
Peter Head, UK

The weather forecast is part of a wonderful ritual. International news, local news, weather. May it never cease! (although I do wish they would get rid of the annoying animations at the beginning).
Alice, UK

John's article is as incisive and straightforward as his excellent forecasts. I enjoyed reading it. I'm the resident weather presenter for HOME-TV's (Local Broadcasting Group) daily forecasts in Hertfordshire, but covering even just that sub-regional area, can attest to just how difficult accurate TV forecasting can prove - particularly when viewers have such high expectations these days of forecast accuracy (and little sympathy when we 'get it wrong'!!). John and his colleagues have really proved inspirational for me and doubtless countless others 'in the business' across the UK and beyond, whilst BBC Weather Centre truly is an exemplar of high quality broadcast meteorology. Unsurprisingly, its become a model many other TV stations have since followed. Best of luck to John in his future ventures - he's sorely missed from our screens!
Ian K. Fergusson, UK

I enjoyed your article, John. You all do an excellent job and the forecast on BBC for me is an unmissable programme - at any time! Keep up the good work and ignore the grumpies!
Clive, UK

A noble art? Weather forecasts have been wrong sufficiently often that I seldom bother to watch them. Instead, I simply assume that the weather will be like the previous day's weather, which turns out to be right about 75% of the time.
Andrew, UK

The BBC do a great job in forecasting the weather. It's a pitty John has gone to radio, he is very professional and always makes bad weather look not so depressing. Sadly missed.
George O'Toole, Ireland

Having experienced forecasts on both sides of the Atlantic, I hope people in the UK realise what a difficult job the weathermen in the UK have, not having ground radar watching what is coming at us across the ocean. I'm sure most of the population commends your hard work. Three cheers for Kettley, Fish and the rest!
Chris, USA

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