Philip Eden

Weather memories

25 October 2012

Philip Eden, Independent Weather Journalist, describes what the weather means to him.

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of my first written weather observations, taken just before my tenth birthday - I still have the exercise book I wrote them in - but I have scattered weather memories all the way back to age 3½.

That very first memory must have been in January or February 1955 because we had just moved house, and the winter of 1956, although cold, did not produce much snow in south Bedfordshire where we lived. The snow on that occasion came up to my chest - hardly difficult at 3½ - and this event may have triggered a 50-year interest in wintry weather, shared, whether they care to admit it or not, by many meteorologists. As I grow older, that interest has waned and it finally died in December 2010 when I had a burst pipe and major flood at home.

Also from the 1950s I recall vividly a violent thunderstorm on the 5th September 1958. I remember standing on the window-sill to watch the lightning, and being admonished by my parents for grabbing hold of a metal window catch. Bedfordshire suffered less than areas south of the Thames where giant hailstones fell. The date stuck in my mind, and I was delighted when I went up to university to discover that David Pedgley had written a monograph of the event.

My other childhood memory is, naturally, of the winter of 1962-63. It was my first year at grammar school, and I must have carried a smug grin on my face throughout the ten weeks when there was snow on the ground because it meant that, for nearly an entire term, we were not allowed to play football or rugby - I was never keen on either sport.

I missed the summer of 1976, having been posted to Aberdeen on 22nd June, the first day of the prolonged heat-wave. There were tours of duty offshore as well during August and September, so my well-known aversion to high temperatures made me a particularly happy bunny that year. Not so in 2003, when a twelve-day holiday in France coincided with the extreme heat-wave which affected the entire country between 1st and 12th August. It was simply impossible to sleep at night as temperatures routinely hit 40 °C during the afternoons, declined to 30 °C by midnight, and reached minima of 24-26 °C each night.

My career on the radio lasted from January 1983 till March 2006, when a progressive hearing loss made it difficult to carry on. I still pop up occasionally, usually pre-recorded so that my growing deafness does not intervene on live programmes.

An early highlight was my first morning as a radio presenter on LBC. For readers who know me primarily as a broadcaster this may be rather difficult to understand, but as a painfully shy youngster with modest self-esteem the very idea of being on radio or television filled me with terror. By the time the LBC opportunity came along I was 31, still scared rigid, but I used the experience to exorcise those particular early demons.

At that time my employer was Noble Denton and Associates who had offices some ten minutes' walk from LBC's studios. My routine should have been to call in at the office at 5am, pick up reams of fax charts, and collect the Volmet radio which would enable me to keep up-to-date with observations from around London during my four hours in the LBC newsroom. Unfortunately, Noble Denton's forecast office did not then operate on a 24/7 basis, and the company's house manager had chosen that weekend to change the combination lock on the outside door without telling me. So I had to present my first forecasts based on nothing more recent than a memory of the previous evening's TV forecast. Needless to say, it went badly wrong, and I had to own up - on the hour, every hour - the next day. That, together with a listener writing in to say "your new weatherman sounds just like Norman Tebbit" almost killed off my radio career at birth.

Since those early days, weather broadcasters now have the very latest weather information at their fingertips in their studio. That's helping with the communication of weather forecasts in the same way that other technology is helping advance the science behind them. Enhanced communication and science means that all weather forecasters, whether Met Office or independent, can work together to a common goal - a greater understanding of the weather, weather forecasts and their impact on daily life.

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