David Randall: No business like this snow business

Here is the newspaper weather forecast...
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The Independent Online

Suddenly, there's a lot of weather about. Winter has arrived, and, with it, those confusing months when it's hard to tell what the climate is up to from day to day. Some rely on the Met Office; others swear by seaweed, and many of us more experienced hands have discovered you can tell quite a bit by peeling back the curtains and looking through a window.

But that tells you only what the weather is doing in your own back yard. Obtaining a comprehensive national picture is more difficult. You can always phone friends, or, if you don't have any, scan webcams in far-flung parts. But, for a really reliable indicator of the national weather picture, you need to turn to the press. Since most national papers are produced in London, by staff living within commuting distance of the capital, the way they calibrate their snow coverage is a far more accurate way of detecting the nation's weather.

For those new to this method, we present the IoS Winter Weather Ready Reckoner:

No story, not even a news in brief: South unaffected, Scotland swept by blizzards.

No story, but artistic photograph of snow-covered hills: South unaffected, but blizzards spread from Scotland to "the North", a term used to describe parts of the UK still relatively unexplored by employees of the national press. Snow therefore regarded as picturesque. Stephen Fry Tweets: "What are these silly people in Scotland moaning about?"

Double-page spread: Snow reaches Northants and threatens northern Home Counties. Newspaper editors ratchet up coverage to reflect their concern of the state of the pipes in their second homes. Features on "Will this affect the weekend getaway?" commissioned. Lengthy stories about south's stores of grit and salt, with school, road, and rail closures in Scotland and "the North" mentioned in final paragraph. Scottish woman Tweets that she begs to disagree with Stephen Fry. He Tweets back saying: "That's it! I've had enough of these online insults. It's too, too distressing."

Four pages, headlined "Arctic Britain!": Light dusting in London and the South-East, as rest of Britain enjoys temperatures in the 50s and rapid thaw. Daily Mail launches new promotion: "A free Sherpa Tensing Snow Shovel for every reader! (Token collect)". Stephen Fry's returns to Tweet that he is marooned in his London, appealing for the online community to understand his plight.

Six pages, headlined "Whiteout!": Inch of snow in London. Female columnist, writing beneath 10-year-old by-line picture, laments "softie Britain" after her children's prep school sends Jeremy and Jocasta home early. The following day, she writes: "When we had our first skiing holiday of the winter in St Moritz recently, there was a foot and a half of snow and the ski lifts worked perfectly! Why, oh why, can't Britain get its act together like the Swiss?"

Pages 1-13, headlined "UK paralysed!": Three inches in London, and the South-East. Rest of Britain snow-free. Wall-to-wall coverage includes: "Deadly shortage of salt in Surrey" (The Times); "Why global warming is to blame for big freeze" (The Guardian); "Is this the most evil man in Britain?" (Daily Mail report on hapless guy in charge of Crouch End's ill-fated gritting); "Siberian weather threatens royal wedding" (Daily Express interview with eccentric weather hobbyist who says: "It could last until April. Possibly. Is that what you wanted me to say?"); "50 Best Designer Sledges" (The Independent); "Social workers warn thousands could die as insulation grants are cut" (The Observer); and "Wayne Rooney: I never laid a hand-warmer on her" (News of the World).

No story, but artistic photograph of sheep up to its belly in snow: South back basking in mid-50s, rest of Britain shivers, Newcastle cut off.