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

  • Software Defined Television from Cinegy at BVE 2019

    Software Defined Television from Cinegy at BVE 2019

  • 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
  • Dick Hobbs talks to Charlie Watts from Portsmouth University about courses, Covid-19 and more

    Dick Hobbs talks to Charlie Watts from Portsmouth University about courses, Covid-19 and more


Articles
Why Renting is the New Buying
Ed Tischler To rent or to buy? This has long been a topic of debate in the world of property, with people having to choose between spending virtually all of their money up front or giving their money away each month with little chance of seeing a return.
Tags: iss142 | gravity media | ott | renting | Ed Tischler
Contributing Author Ed Tischler Click to read or download PDF
Five Rules for Creating a YouTube Business
KitPlus Ever dream of creating entertaining, impactful videos for a living? YouTube sensation Cherry Wallis and her technical consultant Chris Pearless tell us what they’ve learned throughout her channel’s rise to fame.
Tags: iss142 | cherry wallis | youtube | channel | blackmagic | adsense | google revenue | KitPlus
Contributing Author KitPlus Click to read or download PDF
Virtualising your Playout
Alison Pavitt

The buzz around virtualised playout is exponentially growing with increased deployments. But questions remain about the economic, logistical and technical benefits to the end user.

Conversation has shifted and amplified, with the debate around the private/public cloud escalating and new cloud-native solutions entering the market. So, what do you need to consider today if you are thinking about virtualising?

Tags: iss142 | playout | pebble beach | cloud | Alison Pavitt
Contributing Author Alison Pavitt Click to read or download PDF
Synced Across Multiple Screens
Christof Haslauer Live TV viewing habits around the world are changing. This is especially true with audiences under 30 who prefer to consume Live TV on their mobile devices rather than on a large screen TV. One of the major reasons for this change is the lack of options for personalisation of content on Linear TV.
Tags: iss142 | ott streaming | rtmp | nativewave | native waves | Christof Haslauer
Contributing Author Christof Haslauer Click to read or download PDF
The Importance of Audio Production Systems
Tom Knowles Large-scale entertainment programming presents a unique set of challenges for broadcasters. Often extremely high-profile keystones of a broadcaster’s schedule and increasingly billed as live ‘event television’, as well as delivering the very best audio quality they demand a huge degree of flexibility and agility in terms of their production. With music being such a core component of their appeal to growing audiences, in both linear broadcast and online, nowhere is that more important than their audio production systems.
Tags: iss142 | ssl | solid state logic | system T | tempest engine | binaural encoder | Tom Knowles
Contributing Author Tom Knowles Click to read or download PDF