Weather forecasting in the news media
The media plays a crucial role in keeping everyone informed about the latest weather forecasts and the potential for any severe weather, helping people to make better decisions and to stay safe.
We work closely with journalists every day, keeping them up to date so they can inform their readers, viewers and followers about what the Met Office forecast is saying.
Talking about the weather is a national obsession in the UK, making it a popular subject for the media. However, our weather is not always exciting or extreme, meaning misleading or exaggerated headlines can appear at times. Indeed, even when the weather is dramatic, we sometimes still see skewed or misleading headlines.
How can you tell if what you’re seeing is a genuine representation of the weather forecast?
Check the source
Everyone likes to read stories about heatwaves or snowstorms, but some are more willing than others to talk up the chances of this happening or place greater emphasis on one possible outcome of many. When reading weather stories, always remember to check the source within the article, who is talking about the weather? Is it a trained weather forecaster or meteorological organisation that is being quoted or is it, for example, a bookmaker? You can potentially trust the former but should perhaps take what the latter has said with a pinch of salt.
Rather than read just the headline, check the full quote in the article. Words taken out of context in a headline may mean something different within the full quote. For example, a headline may mention snow with a picture of a snowy city, but in reality the forecast could be for snow over the tops of mountains.
Check the charts
Some media organisations use one-off, individual model runs, or simulations, to suggest extreme weather might be on the way for the UK. However, the truth is that single model runs are just one part of the wide range of information used to provide a full forecast picture. Different simulations produce different pictures of the weather forecast and one-off, single charts, do not provide the broader forecasting picture.
The actual forecast is developed using a mix of hundreds of computer model simulations. Our expert forecasters are aware of the intricacies of different weather simulations and, crucially, know which ones to refer to and when.
Check for uncertainties
Weather forecasts at a long range often express uncertainties about the weather trends expected over a given period. The timescale of a forecast greatly determines the level of detail that can be given. Forecasting of this nature rarely makes a good headline, and the uncertainty rarely comes across in short, succinct weather articles.
The further ahead the forecast, the less specific and less certain it can be. Although our 30-day outlook suggests broad weather trends for periods of time, it doesn’t go as far as selecting individual dates for specific weather types, there’s simply too much uncertainty around timings and the forecast that far ahead.
When looking at forecasts beyond seven days, the chaotic nature of the atmosphere begins to play a larger part. Small weather events over the Atlantic can have potentially significant impacts on our weather in the UK several days later. Therefore while we can still forecast the general feel of the weather to a relatively high level of accuracy using our Ensemble Forecasting, it becomes more challenging to offer local detail to as high a level of accuracy as we do in our short-range forecasts.
At a long forecast length, we have to acknowledge that many outcomes remain possible, even though only one can eventually happen. As a result, the forecast assesses likelihood and risk, but does not warn of definite events. This is why expert meteorologists have such an important role to play in interpreting and advising like they do in the Met Office 10 Day Trend.
Weather stories suggesting the ‘exact date’ a snowstorm or heatwave will hit, in the months ahead, should be treated with extreme caution and these stories risk undermining the credibility of meteorology. Inevitably, these stories can sometimes prove to be true, but it doesn’t mean they can be counted on in any real sense. The only way to be sure is to trust the experts and follow their advice when the weather is uncertain.
Where to go for an accurate forecast
Remember, if in doubt, seek out the Met Office forecast online, on the app or on social media. We’re passionate about all kinds of weather and work 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to put out forecasts all day every day across our channels. By accessing Met Office forecasts, you’re accessing information from the source and can stay up to date with a nuanced forecasting picture, no matter what the outlook is.