You can stick your forecast where the sun don't shine

The Met Office has been hit by a storm with Britain's coastal resorts accusing it of pessimistic predictions which keep punters off the beaches

A A A

Weather forecasts rarely put David Cam in a sunny disposition. As a director of Blackpool Pleasure beach for the past 25 years he has, listened to countless forecasters try to predict when the heavens will open.

He knows that even the mere suggestion of a light squall is enough to persuade day-trippers to cancel any thought of heading to the seaside that day.

The problem, Mr Cam believes, is that the weather in coastal climates like Blackpool is often much brighter than a few miles inland but few broadcasters or meteorological websites bother to point out the difference.

"Inaccurate weather forecasts are an issue for us every day throughout our operating season," he says. "The British people often say they don't believe in weather forecasts but they trust them enough to rely on them as they plan their days out. If the forecast is wrong it can have an enormously detrimental knock-on effect on beach resorts like us."

Which is why Mr Cam was not in the least bit surprised when tourism chiefs in Bournemouth snapped at the Met Office earlier this week, calling their bank holiday forecasts "inaccurate... cautious and negative". Although the Met Office correctly predicted that last Saturday and Sunday would be perfect beach weather for the South Coast, they wrongly envisaged thundery showers for the bank holiday Monday.

Instead, Bournemouth's long sandy beach was bathed in sunshine and the mercury hit 2C, making it the hottest day of the year so far. Tourism chiefs believe Bournemouth missed out on 25,000 extra visitors who would have all spent an average of £41 for the day.

With a wealth of super-computers, satellite imagery and radar technology at the Met Office's disposal, predicting the weather is a more precise science than it once was.

But even the experts admit they occasionally get it wrong, particularly when it comes to sudden downpours and thunderstorms.

Byron Chalcraft began working as a forecaster at the Met Office in 1982: "When I joined it was the early days of super-computers but the information we get now is so much better. It's now very rare for the overall scenario to be anything other than what we predicted. But thundery showers and storms are so localised that it's often very difficult to tell exactly where they will break."

Residents of the Scottish Highland village of Carrbridge have become so incensed by inaccurate weather reports from the BBC that they have threatened to sue them. The tiny village of 700 relies heavily on the day-tripping tourist trade and is often sheltered from rain by the Cairngorm Mountains. Yet locals believe the forecasters all too often wrongly predict rain for the area.

Danny Fullerton runs the Landmark adventure park on the outskirts of the village. He believes the problems that operators have in the town are twofold: "Firstly the language that broadcasters use is overly negative. If a bit of rain is forecast they'll use 'light showers' rather than 'mainly dry' which is still accurate but is much more likely to encourage people to take a trip somewhere." Mr Fullerton, 50, also believes that the BBC's weather website – where you can enter a postcode to see what the weather will be like somewhere – makes the forecast look more accurate than it is.

"People never expected to get postcode accurate weather forecasts until providers like the BBC started offering it. But they are essentially promising information that isn't as accurate as it pretends to be."

Colin Dawson, the chief executive of the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, believes broadcasters need to stop "talking down" the weather: "I appreciate the difficulties of truly accurate regional forecasts, particularly when we have so many little micro-climates, but among broadcasters there is a tendency to lean towards pessimism about the weather rather than optimism," he says.

"Broadcasters can't help themselves, they always seem to say things like 'Not a good day to head to the beach' or 'Where's it raining at the moment then'. It does huge damage to the tourist industry. Inform people where it's raining, but please don't forget to tell people where and when it's sunny."

A lot of hot air? How forecasts are made

* Weather forecasts are notoriously difficult in Britain because of its maritime position on a latitude that experiences wide fluctuations in wind speed and barometric pressure.

* Meteorologists make forecasts based on data on wind speed, barometric pressure, rainfall, temperature and cloud cover. They use super-computers to calculate how these changes are likely to affect future weather patterns.

* In the past, meteorologists made forecasts by collating data from instruments on ships and weather stations on land. Satellites have played an increasingly important role.

* Satellites can measure over a wider area of land and sea by monitoring clouds and weather fronts. They have proved invaluable in providing real-time weather snapshots. The improved power and speed of computers has really advanced forecasting. The latest super-computers the Met Office uses can make millions of calculations per second.

* As a result of better computers, the Met Office can model the weather at higher resolutions, down to an area of 1.5sqkm. This means it can make accurate predictions covering areas the size of a small town rather than the larger slices of the country commonly covered 20 or 30 years ago.

* Weather forecasts are reasonably accurate over a three- to five-day period but longer range forecasts covering several months are only educated guesses based on longer range phenomenon such as oscillations in ocean currents. Such forecasts are never very detailed and can only give a broad outline of what to expect.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?