Meteorologically Speaking

Whilst indolently watching Countryfile on Sunday and simultaneously reading my book (A Free Country, more about this later) my attention was grabbed by the weather forecast that is injected into the program where the weatherperson presenting seems to dress-down when compared with the usual standards of dress for the the BBC weather presenters. On this occasion the presenter was Alex Deakin and it was something he said that really got my attention as it’s long been a cause of confusion for me.

You see, when it comes to the seasons (I mean those of which there are four in a year and not Football) my understanding has always been that Spring starts on March 21st, Summer on June 21st, Autumn on September 21st and Winter on December 21st. My confusion comes from the fact that the weather forecasters seem to refer to the seasons start on the 1st of each of the months mentioned above, therefore in their terms Spring start on March 1st. My confusion, thus far in my life, has not led me to actually investigate this difference of fact. That is, until now. Of course with the power of Google (other search engine are available, but let’s face it who uses them?) my search for an answer did not take very long, in fact Google informs me that it returned about 203,000,000 answers to my question in 0.38 seconds. In fact the top result led me directly to none other than the Met Offices specific page dedicated to answering my long standing question. So the answer to my question is basically that meteorologists couldn’t get along with the fact that the astronomical calendar (i.e. the one that has Spring starting on 20th March this year – 2015) does’t provide equally sized period of time as in the world of astronomy things do tend to shift around a little bit don’t they. So, because they couldn’t fit the seasons nicely into the Gregorian calendar those cleaver folks decided that they would split the seasons into equal 3 calendar month sections.

It turns out that the UK Met Offices learning section on their website (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning) is a rich source of really great information. Their page on the seasons (here) has just explain things to me I never quite grasped at school, and to be honest it’s not really information that has held me back in my chosen vocation. But, it’s nonetheless and fantastic resource and one that I am sure to encourage my girls to utilise as they make their way through school and at some point they too will encounter geography lessons that confuse the daylights out of them just as they did me.

But weather forecasting is still a much maligned subject, and very often you’ll here people with no meteorological qualification whatsoever berating the weather forecasters for getting it wrong. I have to say I don’t agree as we now live in a world where you are able to keep up to date with the very latest forecast information via the internet, smartphone apps and 24 hours news channels. My app of choice is the BBC Weather app, simply because it gets my locality correct whereas the Met Office app insist I live about 3 miles away (not a great problem I admit but still an issue for me). What I do think is a leap forward for weather forecasting is the ability to provide reasonably accurate times of the day when the weather is going to change – my wife practically plans her laundry around this. Granted, we aren’t quite at the level of 2015 weather forecasting that was predicted in Back To The Future 2 but I often thick of the scene where Doc Brown literally counts down to the exact moment that the rain stop and bring sunshine take over.

We may not all be zooming around in flying cars but at least we can rely reasonably well on the weather forecast.

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