As part of celebrations to mark 150 years of forecasting for the nation, some key contributors have explained how a forecast has affected their lives.
I don't think I have ever been as anxious watching a weather forecast as I was on the night of 1 July 2005. The following day would see the arrival of 120 musicians from across Africa; a squadron of helicopters from London; several plane flights bringing VIPs, not to mention 15 TV crews, 30 radio stations, 200 print journalists an audience of 6,500 people and a global TV audience of nearly two billion people - it was the eve of Live8. The forecast hedged its bets but as dawn broke, it did rain, and mist did obscure the stage as the first musicians shivered their way into place in front of a sea of umbrellas. But, amazingly, it turned into a mere drizzle and the energy coming off the stage and the sheer excitement of being involved in such a historic occasion made it appear as if the sun had come out.
As a young Royal Navy Search and Rescue Diver in the 70s stationed at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, the weather was everything to me. Twice daily forecasts, good or bad, ruled our day. Cold and dark, gale force winds, heavy seas - our daily bread. Oh for some sun and a calm sea! Onto another life as a North Sea diver - wind, tide and weather dictated our daily life. Seasick! But busy getting the oil ashore. Oh for some sun and a calm sea! Now as Founder and CEO of the disaster relief charity ShelterBox, weather again constantly impacts on all I do and plan. Floods in Africa, cyclones in Myanmar, hurricanes in the Caribbean, winds driving forest fires and volcanic ash. Accurate, detailed and timely weather forecasts are like gold dust! They can save and change lives. Oh for some sun and a calm sea!
I am sure many people of my generation remember the summer of 1976, one of the driest and hottest on record. It began with a very warm June but severe drought conditions occurred in August. It was my job to fetch water from the stand-pipes for the family, as water rationing was put in place. It seemed fun to do this as a schoolboy but the impact on the UK was devastating. We all watched and waited for the forecast of when the drought would break. This must have been a very nervous time for the Met Office - such an important forecast and so difficult to make in those weather conditions. But I remember the forecast being issued around the August bank holiday of thunderstorms, and the rains came. The autumn rains made up for the drought and we had a very snowy winter that year in Yorkshire.
In March 2007 there was a three-week period in which I was planning to climb the North Face of the Eiger with two expert climbers, Kenton Cool and Ian Parnell, to raise £6 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care. Because I was not a proper climber and likely to have problems on 'the Murder Wall', as Germans call this particular Eiger face, Kenton reckoned we'd need four days and nights of clear weather and no chance of a sudden storm which could cause rockfalls. Early in March I arrived at a hotel below the face, but constant bad weather prevailed. Just as I was about to call the whole thing off, the Met Office in Exeter called to say "expect clear days as from Monday". We did the climb in Kenton's predicted timing and raised £2.3 million for Marie Curie, thanks largely to the Met Office.
My wife teases me mercilessly for my slavish devotion to the weather forecast, but since it has played a part in my working life for 47 years it's not surprising. Will I get wet? Is it too cold to sow seeds? Will there be a frost that will nip my bedding plants? All questions the Met Office can usually answer, though, like most folk, I moan when they get it wrong. But that's why it's called a 'forecast' and I do find myself relying on the radar pictures of rainfall especially, since reality is seldom wrong! I have a weather app on my iPhone now (more cause for family ribaldry - "Just a minute, dad's checking his app to see what the weather will be doing".) Funny, though, how they always ask me. Without the Met Office my job would be much harder, and I like making my family smile...
When my son got married a couple of years ago I was attending the rehearsal on the Friday evening at our local church. At the end of the rehearsal the vicar announced that we needed to talk about wet weather arrangements. "No need," I said "its going to be dry". The vicar was undaunted. "I know that's what we'd like," she said "but...". "Really," I pressed, having checked with my colleagues at the Met Office "there is a 20% chance of rain before ten o'clock and then dry until after midnight." She fixed me with her gaze and spoke sternly, her patience limited. "I think we'll get what the good lord sends won't we!" Thinking that discretion might be appropriate at this point I backed off and we listened to the wet weather arrangements attentively. It was dry and we had a great day. Clearly the forces were aligned.
Last updated: 1 August 2011