How's the weather in Chipping Sodbury?

Head of BBC Weather, Liz Howell Head of BBC Weather, Liz Howell aims to bring the UK's weather watchers together on one platform

A few years ago, Liz Howell had an epiphany moment. Having worked in news in the regions for many years she realised that one subject above all others aroused everyone's interest - the weather.

"I saw that many radio and television stations all over the UK had their own local weather watchers, groups of amateur enthusiasts who were very active in monitoring the weather," she says.

"After moving from news into weather, I got an even greater sense of how important weather is both to the UK public and to the BBC's output."

The logical solution was to tap into this and directly involve the great British public in weather reporting in a coherent way.

"We had these groups dotted around the UK," says Liz, "but there was nothing cohesive that brought the whole thing together."

A simple way to build skills

After talking to colleagues in the Make it Digital project, Liz realised that, with the vast majority of people now owning smartphones, it made sense for people to take photographs in their area and upload them to a central site.

For those of our audience lacking the digital know-how to do this, it would be a simple way to help them build those skills.

"The aspect of the weather 'story' that we have always found hard to tell is the 'now,' says Liz. "We specialise in the 'what's going to happen' but the 'now' is really important to people. We started talking to partners like the Royal Meteorological Society and the whole thing started gathering momentum.

"We started talking about providing a platform where our audience across the UK could start to have real input as a group of weather enthusiasts and influence our output in a way that we hadn't been able to achieve on a mass scale before.

Weather Watchers site on laptop, tablet and mobile Weather Watchers invites you to join the nation's favourite conversation, where ever you are

"Everything started to come together and the Digital Team worked so hard under Digital Lead for Weather, Mike Burnett, and launch editor Rebecca Skippage to make the project happen.

"What makes this different is that it is a conversation between the BBC and our audience. It allows us to reach areas of the UK where we can't get reporters to very easily, like the Orkneys or the Isle of Man.

"So, by using our Weather Watchers, we can access what's going on in areas that we haven't been able to get specific reports from before."

'Weather engages people'

When the project was launched on the One Show recently, 26,000 people responded and more than 30,000 pictures were uploaded within 36 hours, providing evidence - if ever it were needed - that the weather engages people like few other subjects.

"We have not set ourselves a target for how many watchers we want in total but we do want extensive coverage. A year from now, I would hope that when a major storm is moving across the UK, we can track it visually through our watchers and plot the track of the storm as it moved forward.

"The difference between certain types of weather such as where rain turns to sleet and then snow can be minimal but this will enable us to pinpoint it. The interest we have had in the early stages shows both the power of the BBC and the enthusiasm for the subject.

"We hope to build even closer links with our Weather Watchers over time. It will be fascinating to see the impact on our output and the development of a closer relationship and conversation with our audience."

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