What has happened to our weather? It’s not the first time someone has asked me – but this query was more pressing because the weather in question was the weather on the television.
Specifically, the BBC’s new weather forecasts, which I have to say, are as disappointing as a downpour in high summer. If a weather forecast is supposed to give you a clear idea of what might be in store tomorrow, then the new weather maps, with their state-of-the-art graphics, are a severe disappointment.
For a start the UK map appears a lot smaller on screen now. You may be able to see much further east into Europe (almost to Stockholm, in fact), but if you want to know what is going on in, say, Southampton, near where I live, then you have your work cut out.
Some people like the background colour but I find the distinction between cloud and sunshine almost impossible to detect – although I must say the contrast stands out much better on the regional maps.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why they have to show the lights on during the night time. This is supposed to be a weather map not an aerial photograph.
Then we come to the all-important temperatures. Last month the Beast from the East brought a blast of Siberian air, but if you had wanted to get a clue of how cold it would be, you had to stare very hard at the screen. Why highlight below-freezing temperatures with a thin blue line beneath the number? Surely it would be better to flag it up like we used to with negative temperatures in blue?
What will happen when we get into summer – is it too much to hope that high temperatures will simply be shown in red? I won’t be holding my breath.
And what about the graphics? On some national broadcasts we see just a list of the four capital cities with a symbol and temperature – fine for the residents of London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. But what if you live elsewhere?
Down here on the south coast are we supposed to make a wild guess? Sadly the answer isn’t to watch the regional broadcasts – they can be even worse, with graphics that merely show a weather symbol per day with a pop up and down temperature. If they have the time to put these graphics up, they can show us the maps instead!
The truth is, the old weather maps were better, more fit for purpose. But they were a feature of the forecast when the Met Office provided the BBC with its weather forecasts. That contract came to an end at the beginning of this year. Much of the forecast still comes from the Met Office so the accuracy is not in question. But the clarity is.
If you wish to see clean clear graphics, tune in to Channel 5 just before 7pm. The only problem is that the forecast is too short. They need to lengthen it to three minutes.
Has the BBC’s move away from the Met Office to an independent company “to secure the best value for money for the licence payers” been a success? I think not. However, the long-range outlook for BBC viewers need not be gloomy. If you want to see what the weather has in store, try watching the other side instead.
Bill Giles led the BBC weather team from 1983 to 2000
A BBC spokesperson told Radio Times in response to this article: “BBC Weather has a more realistic map which presenters can customise by adding different layers of data to tell the most relevant weather story, as well as zooming in to areas of interest to give a more detailed forecast. Towns and city names on the maps are a reference point for audiences and we will aim to ensure that most locations are represented over a period of time.
“In addition, the temperature colours are now accessible for colour blindness, unlike the suggested blocks of colour by Mr Giles. Before the launch of the new services we talked to audiences at length to pinpoint the best possible improvements and we are confident that overall people will appreciate the new features.”