Nothing, but nothing, comes between a weather observer and their Stevenson Screen

The view from Fran Lockyer's lighthouse is spectacular. A great sweep of ocean and sky greets her as she climbs the steep spiral staircase to the viewing deck each morning.

A bulky telescopic gunsight, originally from an aircraft carrier, is mounted in the middle of the circular floor and trained on a patch of sunlight touching the waves. From her cliff-top eyrie among the gulls at Portland Bill in Dorset, she watches the weather. Every hour of sunshine, every drop of rain - even the height, type and amount of cloud is fastidiously recorded.

Ms Lockyer, 59, is an amateur weather observer - one of an eager band providing crucial information to the Meteorological Office to back up readings from automatic stations and satellites.

Details recorded with pencil and paper in their back gardens and potting sheds end up as hi-tech graphic images on weather charts for airline pilots, ships' captains and television and radio weather forecasters. Indeed, without regular reports from these stations, the weather map for the British Isles would lack important detail.

Ms Lockyer has been studying the skies over her corner of Dorset for more than 20 years, 14 of which have been spent running the Portland station from her B&B at the disused Old Higher Lighthouse.

It is a year since the station went partly automatic and readings for temperatures, wind speed and direction, and barometric pressure began to be taken by computer.

But she still records manually the visibility, cloud conditions, sunshine and rainfall every three hours from 8.45am to 8.45pm, in between seeing to her guests and tending the salt-resistant plants in her garden. Squinting up into the sky, she can identify cloud formations with ease - the result of years of practice.

"The lowest we've got here now is some cumulus over there at round about 3,000ft," she says, pointing north towards Weymouth, "some strato cumulus at about 4,000ft to 5,000ft," - her arm swings round and out towards the Channel - "and all that other white stuff up there is all cirrus between 20,000ft and 30,000ft. Visibility's about 25 miles plus, which is excellent. You picked a nice day."

Nice days here, however, can be rare, and over the years Ms Lockyer and her lighthouse have braved some awesome storms to send back information for the nation's benefit.

"You know about the waterspout?" she asks. "Came in from out in the Channel on the 12th of September 1993 and came straight towards us. If it had come ashore here, this place would have been a mess."

As her photographs prove, the waterspout was a real twister, a bruised grey spiral hundreds of feet high with a fury of spray at its base. "Enough to lift a small fishing boat clean out of the water." As it skirted the Isle of Portland, about 300 yards off shore, she alerted the Dorset coastguard, but shortly afterwards it lost its power and died, minutes before touching land.

Although waterspouts are infrequent, winds of 100mph are quite common at the lighthouse. "You can't stand up in that," she says. "Which makes doing your readings rather difficult.

"When you've got a gale blowing you get a lot of noise, but just before you get one of those 100mph gusts you hear a high-pitched whistle and you know it's coming."

Risk of injury from the elements is a potential hazard of weather watching. Carl Matthews, a 41-year-old observer from north Cumbria found himself dodging thunderbolts to get his readings.

"A storm had passed over and it had just stopped raining when I thought I'd better go out," he recalls. "I remember looking into the Stevenson Screen at the bottom of the field and then there was this flash right behind my back. I thought: that's it, and I ran back inside. I got my readings done, though."

But rather than putting people off, such danger seems to be attracting them to this pursuit of the elements. Earlier this year the Met Office calculated that the number of amateur weather observing stations had dropped by about a third since September 1990, from 122 to 88. Concerned at the number of weather blind spots this was causing around the country, they advertised for more sky watchers.

They expected mild interest - say 50 or so weather buffs with some time on their hands - but were deluged with almost 700 letters.

The success of respondents will depend largely on where they live and how many other stations are in their area. Those selected will be trained by the Met Office, given the latest computerised monitoring equipment and paid a nominal rate (pence rather than pounds) for their trouble.

But what makes these people want to spend up to 14 hours a day measuring the elements to feed the country's addiction to forecasts? "You've got to love your weather," says Peter Loweth, who runs Brede 881, a station near Hastings on the Sussex coast. "I'm very interested in the seasons. I'm basically a countryman at heart. I love a good wind, it's very exhilarating, especially if you are on the cliffs."

To him the British obsession with the weather is perfectly understandable: "It's because we are an island and so much of our trade used to be dependent on the sea. Weather was very important to us."

It still is. To mariners bobbing about in the romantically named sectors of sea around Britain and Ireland, Radio 4's shipping forecast crackling over the airwaves is a lifeline.

Warnings of gales in Fair Isle, low visibility in Malin or a deep depression approaching Stornoway are likely to have been composed from information supplied by observers monitoring instruments outside their kitchen windows.

The BBC's weatherman Ian McCaskill has always relied on these observations coming in from the more remote parts of the country. "I have to confess they have been a blinding revelation," he says.

"There we are in the morning at five to seven, not really knowing what's going on with the weather in certain parts of the country, and then we get a report from an observer. Oh my God, you mean there's snow up there?"

The recent lack of observers has caused him and his colleagues problems with forecasting. "There are now whole counties of the British Isles without observers' weather reports, which is dreadful," he says. "On many occasions the only indication we get of a patch of weather is from these observers. Most of them have been doing this for 30 years, so there's nothing amateur about them."

Although age and experience are not prerequisites for becoming an observer, the Met Office admits most tend to be middle-aged or older and one couple is in their 80s.

But its successful recent recruitment drive will boost their ranks considerably, ensuring that younger observers are on hand to sustain the UK's weather habit for several years to come.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam