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WHAT A SHOWER

27-05-2008

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Stay at home on Bank Holiday Monday because the Met Office predicted dangerous weather? Lynn Hawthorne did and - not for the first time - feels cheated by the forecast.   

I want to put to you a conspiracy theory: that the Government unduly influences the Met. Office to produce ghastly weather forecasts to keep us all off the roads on Bank Holidays, thus cutting down on our collective carbon footprint and the emergency services required on time-and-a-half.

Take the forecast for the Midlands this Spring Bank Holiday. It was along the lines of ‘it will be so wet that it’s hardly worth getting out of bed’ and promised us that the roads would be so spray-inducing by tea-time that they would be dangerous.

Based on that information, plus the fact that on the previous day it rained torrentially virtually non-stop, I didn’t bother getting out of bed very early. I cancelled my plan to wander around the huge outdoor fleamarket at the Malvern Three Counties Showground buying things I could neither afford nor actually had room for and stayed at home. Probably along with rather a lot of other people.

What weather did we get instead? Gale force winds, which were never mentioned on forecasts, and a mere spottle of rain only by 2.45pm.

One of the other reasons I didn’t bother driving 40 miles to Worcestershire (incidentally, do tell me if it rained there) was that I thought that stallholders would be put off by the weather forecasts and not bother turning up, so it wouldn’t be worth my petrol and £2.50 entrance fee.

Now if I thought that, so would other people, and traders and organisers would find their takings drastically reduced. If I had to make my living out of antiques markets or car boot sales, I’d be pretty cheesed off by inaccurate and what can only be described as scaremongering broadcasts by the Met. Office via the BBC.

This was picked up by Jeremy Vine on Points of View (BBC 1, 25th May) when, in response to viewer complaints, the accuracy of weather forecasts was investigated.

His researchers monitored forecasts for a town in each country of the British Isles for three weeks, checking five different versions of the forecast: local radio and TV, national radio and TV and the BBC Internet site. They found variations in temperature, in types of weather and even a discrepancy within the same forecast!

Some Met. Office suit came out with a nonsensical ‘explanation’ about it all being a ‘matter of focus’, but, with millions of our hard-earned pounds invested in the latest satellite technology, why can’t the weather boffins get even remotely close to an accurate forecast? Why can’t they even tell us what weather we’re having at the moment? Is looking out of the studio window so difficult?

On this Bank Holiday Monday, both the national and the Midlands forecasts agreed (unusual in itself) that it was raining at 1 o’ clock. This was being broadcast at 1.15 when, as I said earlier, it didn’t actually rain, here in Wednesbury at least, until 2.45 and in nowhere near the quantity predicted.

One viewer, an hotelier in Scotland, complained to Points of View that the exaggeration of weather into ‘severe weather warnings’ was damaging the tourist industry and it must be. How many people like me didn’t bother going anywhere this weekend? The lack of spending, while helpful to our own pockets, has got to be detrimental to business.

I know we never will let Michael Fish forget his dire mis-reading of the gales of the 1980s, but over-caution is taking the situation much too far. Instead of gabbling at length and telling us all about the weather we’ve had today, how about a simplification of the weather bulletin? Just tell us – in symbols if they want to - whether we will need a brolly or a coat or suncream or a sunhat and have done with it?

Give us useful information in short chunks and let’s get it accurate!

If the rest of us have to put up with targets and performance-related pay, how about threatening the Met. Office staff with it and see if that makes any difference!

Anyway, my prediction for the weather the day everyone goes back to work? Scorchio!!!

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