First-Hand: How I knew all along it would be a warm November

Traditional weatherman Bill Foggitt shares the secrets of his pine cone s

I'M VERY fortunate to have weather records going back more than 150 years, when my great grandfather started them. Then my grandfather, my uncle and my father carried on, it's an unbroken series. I've been keeping them every day since I was 12 - I'm 81 now - ever since my father got me a schoolboy diary to fill in every day. He said there are never two days alike when it comes to weather - and he was right. I even did it in the Middle East during the war. Mind you, in Egypt there wasn't much to put in - just blazing hot, day after day.

I found out from the records that every 16 years we get a very warm November. The last one was in 1978, so I knew we were due for the one we've just had. I was watching out for it. Officially it isn't winter until December 21, but last year we had snow at this time.

I use pine cones for short-term forecasts. They are covered in scales and at the base of every scale is a seed. I have one hanging on the wall and when damp weather's coming or rain or wind, the scales close up. Any pine cone will do. People send them to me as Christmas presents. I've had some of them 30 or 40 years.

Seaweed works too. When air is getting damp that's a sign that rain is not far off. The damp atmosphere acts on salts inside it. If salt in the kitchen gets damp, it melts. Same with seaweed - damp and straggly. If the air is dry, it goes brittle and hard. Seaweed's probably the best way of forecasting. It reacts very quickly to changes. The only problem is that I'm too far from the coast here in Thirsk to get hold of much. Clover leaves aren't bad either. They react to strong winds by folding up to protect the pollen.

I also use a winter jasmine bush outside my front door. I remember in January 1985 everything was frozen up and people were calling me up asking me how long this severe weather would continue. All the jasmine flowers had been nipped off or frozen but one day one or two of them were opening. That meant a thaw. We had an official Met man from local television who came to interview me that day. He said: ``Don't take any bloody notice of what I say, because I'm obliged to say I don't agree with you even though I know you're probably right.''

During the hurricane in 1987, the papers called to ask if I had predicted it. I had certainly forecast strong winds, because just before it my neighbour's cat, Blackie, went crackers, jumping up poles and into trees. That was a sure sign. You can tell by what animals do. It disturbs their constitution. My dog Polly always barks and howls in a strong wind.

I'm going to stick my neck out now and say that I don't think it will be a white Christmas, but it will be cold. The winter jasmine is just beginning to close now which means it's about to get colder. I don't like it but if it brings my forecast right then I'll be pleased. The second week of December will be much colder with a good chance of snow. I'm not sure about the winds. Blackie's passed on now or I would have had a word.

The other day I got hit by a car - it knocked me for six. When the ambulance came the nurse said ``I know you, you're Bill Foggitt. Are we going to have a white Christmas?'' I said ``You'd better get me to hospital first, then I'll tell you.'' But I do get a bit tired when lots of people call me up - I dodge into the Three Tuns for a pint to escape.

Interview by Matthew Brace

(Photograph omitted)

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