How are BBC weather forecasts made?

The BBC no longer goes to the Met Office for its weather updates, instead relying on a company called MeteoGroup – find out more about how the process works here

(BBC, JG)

There’s been a change in the weather… Until March this year the BBC’s forecasts came from the Met Office, but are now supplied by a global company, MeteoGroup, from a small office in central London. 

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Here’s how the weather forecasts are made and supplied to the BBC’s presenters.

Small office? 

Yes, just a handful of desks with multiple screens and a total of 17 meteorologists, some of whom are based at the BBC and provide the daily briefings for the on-screen presenters, as well as video conferencing with broadcasters outside London and script-writing for local and national radio.

Only 17? Do they ever sleep?

They’re not actually doing all the climate crunching. The company buys in data from other groups of forecasting experts, and refines it for the BBC’s national and regional weather bulletins.

What sort of groups?

Well, they still include the Met Office, along with their equivalents in the Netherlands and Germany, but their key provider is the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, based in Reading, Berkshire. “Their weather model is consistently the best,” says MeteoGroup forecasting manager Paul Knightley, “but we pick a model that looks the best on the day and try to improve on it.”

“Looks the best”? 

It’s a question of assessing the predictions against current conditions. Says fellow meteorologist Nikki Berry: “If the model doesn’t match what the satellite picture tells us is actually happening, then it’s already wrong. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.”

So, there’s still an element of guesswork?

Yes and no, in Knightley’s view. “Forecasting wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for computer models. That’s why forecasting has got so good. But it’s just a tool. It’s a prediction, not a promise.”

What’s the hardest weather to predict?

“The classic sunshine and showers day is the most difficult to get right,” says Knightley. “But weather is an incredibly complex thing. Sometimes there can be a much lower confidence in tomorrow’s weather than in three days’ time.”

Will forecasting accuracy be improved by the new weather satellite Aeolus?

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Not immediately, it seems — but its tracking of wind patterns in the high atmosphere will eventually make a big difference. “The improvements will be mostly for three to seven days ahead,” says Berry, “and the largest expected benefits should be in the tropics. [This] can also result in improved forecasting of some of the weather systems we experience in UK and Europe.”