Here in the UK we’re famous for being obsessed with the weather, and I’m no exception to that. My fascination with the weather started from a young age because my father had a passion for the outdoors, so we were always out in all weathers.
Coming from Wales, where we get continually walloped by fronts spinning off the Atlantic, you certainly see a great variety of weather and you soon get used to coping with whatever gets thrown at you. I remember eating egg and marmite sandwiches on Gower beaches, sat in a kagool with my father saying the rain would clear soon – he was always an optimist.
It’s not just my own experiences that captured my fascination, but also the myths and legends of the Celtic landscape I grew up in. Virtually every story has weather in it – from violent storms, to great floods, or the tranquil calm of a summer’s day. So for me, weather represents the drama of life and is the very stuff of our literature.
So it doesn’t surprise me that, wherever I go, people are always keen to talk about the weather and what’s in the forecast. I know I may be biased, but I really do believe that forecasting is hugely important. From protecting people from the harshest conditions our climate has to offer, to helping fashion conscious ladies like myself decide what to wear, forecasts help us in so many aspects of our day to day lives.
In many ways we take forecasting for granted, but to me the ability to predict the weather days ahead is a true feat of human ingenuity and one of the great triumphs of science. In 1922, mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson estimated you’d need 64,000 people doing endless calculations to get a forecast in time to make it useful – looking just a few hours ahead. Today we take observations from all over the world, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans, put them in a supercomputer that does trillions of calculations a second to make forecasts, then people like me interpret that output to put together tailored forecasts which can be transmitted around the world in seconds. Truly amazing stuff.
I’ve been in weather forecasting for 20 years and things have changed a lot. One of the biggest changes is the huge strides in accuracy that have been made. Even from my personal experience I can tell how much better forecasts are and the statistics bear that out. The Met Office’s four-day forecasts are as accurate as its one day forecasts were 30 years ago, and things are still improving all the time as we understand more about the way the atmosphere works and technology improves.
The other big thing that I’ve noticed is that the weather used to follow the news, but now it very often is the news. So often these days I get asked to speak on air during bulletins about floods or droughts and why we’re seeing them. So, from my personal experience, it seems like the weather is changing and that our warming climate is playing a part. As we go forward then, science once again will have an important role to play in helping us understand how and why things are changing, and ever more accurate forecasting will help keep everyone prepared for whatever the weather has in store.
If you want to learn more about our weather and climate, as well as how it all works, you can read about it in ‘An Essential Guide to the Weather’ – a two part guide which will be free in The Telegraph this weekend on the 9th and 10th of March. Part 1, in Saturday’s paper, explains the causes of our weather and provides a comprehensive guide to clouds and other types of weather. Part 2 looks at how weather forecasting is done, extreme weather, and climate zones around the world.