Tonight the Met Office is to receive a Golden Bull award for using the phrase ‘probability of precipitation’ in forecasts on our new website. The Plain English Campaign, who judge the awards, say it’s poor communication and have questioned why we don’t just say a ‘chance of rain’ instead. It’s a fair point to raise as we’re always looking at the best way of communicating our forecasts, but the answer is straightforward – weather isn’t as simple as we’d like it to be and precipitation is a prime example.
Precipitation is a word used for any water that comes out of the sky – it includes rain, drizzle, hail, sleet, snow and even a few other less common weather features like diamond-dust, snow grains and graupel. It’s a catch-all term that’s really useful for meteorologists and it’s used by other forecasters around the world, such as in the USA and Canada – but apparently it’s a word that’s not very appealing to some others.
The difficulty is that when water does come out of the sky, it can fall in different forms from one place to another. The same weather system could produce snow, sleet and rain across even quite a relatively small area. For that reason, we can’t just say what the ‘chance of rain’ is because it could be misleading. So we need to find a way of getting that complexity across in a simple way. We could put ‘chance of rain, hail, sleet and snow’, but it’s a bit of a mouthful, or maybe ‘chance of water coming out of the sky’?
- Met Office ‘gobbledygook’ awarded (bbc.co.uk)