Hold up the weather


Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online
by Dick Hobbs
Issue 105 - September 2015

Its no go my honey love, its no go my poppet.
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall for ever,
But if you break the bloody glass, you wont hold up the weather.

It is not often I inflict poetry upon you, so why have I turned to Louis MacNeice? Because I am writing this piece on 26 August, and the view from my office window is of unrelenting, torrential rain.

In the last few days, the BBC has announced it is to sever its relationship with the Meteorological Office after 93 years and find another supplier for its forecasts. So I thought I would cheer myself with a quick look at the history of the weather forecast on television.

The first forecast I can find seems to have been on WNBT, the forerunner of WNBC in New York. On 14 October 1941 it offered a weather forecast presented by the cartoon character Woolly Lamb.

The idea that the weather was not a serious part of the news in America remained for many years, with the slot including cartoon characters, animals, stunts and crazy costumes. Indeed, that idea remains to this day, with the legendary Willard Scott of the Today programme saying a trained gorilla could do this job. Mr Scotts training for weather forecasting included a stint as Bozo the Clown and the origination of the character Ronald McDonald.

The other trend in America, of course, was the bimbo to distract you from the news at the end of the day. This remarkable sustaining of sexism over decades of demeaning females led the redoubtable Izora Armstead and Martha Wash to call themselves The Weather Girls and offer the unlikely forecast that it would shortly be raining men.

On the BBC things were, inevitably, rather more serious. The UKs first experience of weather predictions on television was at 19.55 on 11 January, 1954. Apparently, tomorrow is going to be a good day to hang out the washing.

That start time was significant. A full five minutes, up to the hour, was allowed for the weather forecast. Can you imagine that happening on a mainstream channel today? It would feel like an eternity.

The pioneering on-screen forecaster was George Cowling, who was not a professional presenter but a weather scientist, employed by the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, one of his recollections was that forecasters were drawn from a specific pay grade in the Civil Service. One day he was told he was getting a promotion to the next grade, and he never appeared on air again.

Because the forecasters were not BBC employees, they had their office at what was then the London Weather Centre in Kingsway in central London. They would prepare the forecasts, and create their visual aids which were maps of the United Kingdom with felt-tip pen lines drawn on them. These were rolled into a document tube, and the forecaster would get on the Underground to Lime Grove to deliver the evening bulletin.

This was eventually replaced by everyones favourite technology, the map on the wall with magnetic stickers for the weather symbols. They were everyones favourite because there was barely a 50% chance that they would stick where the forecaster wanted them, and audiences in the 1970s were routinely in gales of laughter as the likes of Barbara Edwards and Michael Fish watched their carefully placed rain clouds slide gracefully from Glasgow to Goole.

By the mid 1980s, computer graphics power was advancing, and I nearly became an authority on weather forecasting. The Met Office went out to tender to a number of companies to develop a customised weather graphics system, capable of being operated by meteorologists rather than graphics designers.

At the time I was working for a large computer software company, and I thought this would be a good contract to win. Sadly, the internal politics of the company felt that, as the customer was (at the time) a part of the Ministry of Defence, the project should be handled by the defence group not the broadcast group. I went to one meeting and it vanished without trace.

Today of course we expect vast resources of technical wizardry in the presentation of weather. Indeed, The Weather Channel in the States has just launched a regular slot in which meteorologists explain how weather happens, using walk-around augmented reality in the studio to see a tornado being created. It is very impressive.

But whether our forecasters are conjuring up virtual storms or drawing on maps with a marker pen, what we really care about is the accuracy. The Met Office has a mathematical model underpinning its forecasting which uses non-hydrostatic dynamics with semi-lagrangian advection and semi-implicit time stepping. So that must be good.
But when is it going to stop raining? As Louis MacNeice might have said, if only he could have solved the scansion challenges, if you break the bloody semi-lagrangian advection, you wont hold up the weather.

Tags: iss105 | weather forecast | met office | bbc | television | Dick Hobbs.
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Related Interviews
  • EBS at IBC 2015

    EBS at IBC 2015

  • Bluebell at NAB 2012

    Bluebell at NAB 2012

  • Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K at NAB 2018

    Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K at NAB 2018

  • Air Alloy Tripod System from Miller Fluid Heads at IBC 2014

    Air Alloy Tripod System from Miller Fluid Heads at IBC 2014

  • Viaccess-Orca at IBC 2014

    Viaccess-Orca at IBC 2014

  • Cineline Fluid Head from Miller Camera Support at NAB 2014

    Cineline Fluid Head from Miller Camera Support at NAB 2014

  • SMPTE on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

    SMPTE on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013


Related Shows
  • The future of audio with BBC R&D at BVE

    The future of audio with BBC R&D at BVE


Articles
An Epiphany Moment
Peter Savage 2 I had been negotiating the sale of my company and had reached the really hard end of the bargain. We were close to agreeing the final sum after a lot of too-much-give-and-not-enough-take negotiation. The solicitors were calling me, keen for a deal. It had come down to one sticking point and, in my hard ball “I am the Wolf of Wall Street” guise, I wasn’t going to let it go. It would make a value difference of 1.5% on the total outcome. Not much, you might think, but I had already nearly fallen out with the solicitors over their fees and I was giving my advisors an extremely hard time because the corporate adviser couldn’t see how I had already given more than an inch and the buyers were taking more than a mile. I was not going to let them win.
Tags: iss134 | azule | finance | Peter Savage 2
Contributing Author Peter Savage 2 Click to read or download PDF
Using Wireless Transmission
Jeremy Benning Wireless acquisition is a staple of live sports, entertainment and reality shows where cable free capture permits shots not previously possible, for health and safety reasons, and gives the camera-operator greater artistic licence to roam. The same is increasingly true of narrative drama where cinematographers are keen to work handheld or Steadicam where that helps tell the story. Any equipment which frees their movement and time by being lighter, easier to use and reliable in performance is going to tick a lot of boxes.
Tags: iss134 | wireless | 4k | transmission | Jeremy Benning
Contributing Author Jeremy Benning Click to read or download PDF
Shedding Light on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4k BMCPP4K
Garth de Bruno Austin “What is it about light that has us craving it?” Is the question asked in the opening seconds of Garth de Bruno Austin’s latest short, The Colour of Light. Exploring this natural, human need as well as our innate desire to control it, Garth’s film showcases everyday people going about their lives in differing degrees of luminance, whether that be an artificial streetlight or a natural morning sunrise.
Tags: iss134 | blackmagic | cinema camera | 4k | cpp4k | Garth de Bruno Austin
Contributing Author Garth de Bruno Austin Click to read or download PDF
The brave new world of software based production
Boromy Ung In today’s rapidly evolving broadcast industry, the only constant media organizations can truly count on is change — and the need to adapt as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible. One of the biggest agents of change is the IP revolution, driving broadcasters to migrate their operations to all-software solutions running on commodity, IT-based technologies.
Tags: iss134 | chyronhego | graphics | sports | ott | Boromy Ung
Contributing Author Boromy Ung Click to read or download PDF
Sony HDC-4800 Review
Andy McKenzie First announced at NAB 2016, the Sony HDC-4800 is a studio camera system capable of shooting 4K/UHD at up to 8x or full HD at up to 16x. With a price point upwards of £250,000 it is a very high-end product with a wide feature set. In Sony's own words, "This is the future of live production, designed to satisfy the storytelling aspect of modern sports production.” Deliveries began in mid 2017 and, after careful preliminary evaluation, we invested in several systems for our hire fleet ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Tags: iss134 | review | hdc-4800 | sony | finepoint | Andy McKenzie
Contributing Author Andy McKenzie Click to read or download PDF