Weather: The cloudy message from forecasters

Improvements in graphics have greatly enhanced the art of television weather forecasts. Increased slickness in delivery, however, obscures the information the forecasters are trying to impart.

Vicars drone, horse-race commentators accelerate, academics pontificate thoughtfully, and policemen adopt the stilted tones of authority. Every profession evolves its own distinctive mode of speech. Sometimes this enhances the message - as, for example, with the seductively convincing tones of barristers - at other times it interferes with good communication. Weather forecasters, I fear, come into the second category.

When the television news is over, I, like the majority of viewers, stay tuned for the weather. For five minutes I am held spellbound by the clouds, rain, sunshine, temperatures and isobars that sweep graphically across the screen, all held together by a lilting commentary delivered with a synchronised-swimmingly sincere smile.

Then suddenly it's over, and I ask myself: Will it rain tomorrow? Er ... I seem to have missed it again. I really must pay more attention next time.

For many years I thought it was just me. Then I discovered that everyone I spoke to had the same problem. And the more I analyse it, the more I think it's not our fault. Here's the end of a recent TV weather forecast - no names, it could have been any of them - (pauses are indicated by "..." ):

"Now for that other change in the weather because ... across these southern areas it's going to be markedly fresher ... than it was today, nowhere near as high those temperatures ... as already seen not as breezy ... in the north. The north bearing the brunt of most of the weather systems sweeping by ... throughout the next few days with mostly the southern areas of the country ... keeping the fine and sunny spells of weather ... away from west coasts which could be a bit drizzly ... perhaps the wettest weather in Scotland ... on Sunday. That's how it looks at the moment anyway. Bye-bye."

Southern, north, north, southern, west, Scotland, on Sunday. We are being bounced through time and place in a game of meteorological pinball. The fault lies in an attempt to impart more information than is possible in the time allowed. All we want to know is displayed on the graphics anyway; the commentary only confuses the issue.

Here's another short example:

"Tomorrow then for the Midlands and east of England starting off bright and indeed some hazy sunshine for much of the day. Elsewhere some brighter showery weather soon back into northern Ireland but elsewhere a sandwich of cloud and rain which will be heavy in places ..."

What does "bright and indeed hazy" mean? And is that second "elsewhere" the same as the first elsewhere, or is it somewhere else entirely - back in the Midlands and east, perhaps?

So many words, so much weather, so little time. Well, that's how it looks at the moment anyway. Bye-bye.

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