BBC Weather: Getting More Granular

Wednesday 13 June 2012, 17:23

Jo Wickremasinghe Jo Wickremasinghe Head of Product

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Since my last blog post 3 months ago the BBC Weather team have been quietly busy. We have been working closely with our colleagues in the BBC Weather Centre to move to a new, more complex forecast data model from the Met Office.

This new data set gives us more granular data, both in terms of the number of forecast points across the UK (a tenfold increase), and in terms of granularity and frequency of the forecasts themselves.

The new data was rolled out in time for the start of the Torch Relay, which enabled the BBC Weather Centre to give more detailed forecasts along the Torch Relay route. Today we rolled out a change to the BBC Weather website to make the most of this rich new data set.

A Tight Squeeze

The most dramatic improvement we have implemented today is hourly forecasts for UK locations.

You can see in the image below that 24 hours' worth of data is a lot of information to squeeze onto the page and still make it readable and user friendly.

Exeter weather for Tuesday, with the weather symbol rising and falling with the temperature

A 24 hour forecast for Exter Devon, with a graphical layout

We developed and audience tested various layouts, and finally came up with two options.

The first view is a 'graphical' layout which shows the forecast data divided by time on the horizontal axis and the range of temperatures on the vertical axis. The scale of the vertical axis automatically adjusts depending on the maximum and minimum temperatures, maintaining a fixed space on the page.

The first day shown is a moving window, showing the remaining weather for the current day, whereas the following days' forecast shows a full 24 hours of weather.

As you might expect the granularity of the weather data reduces the further ahead in time you go. So as you move from two to three days ahead, the forecasts go from hourly to three-hourly. In the near future we will also be introducing 'Further Ahead' extending us out to nine days of weather forecasts.

Back to the challenge of space… in addition to the most common forecast data that users want (temperatures, weather icon/type and wind speed) we had the challenge of also displaying additional information like humidity and wind direction.

To keep things nice and compact we've introduced a hover-over state, which shows all the additional forecast data:

The hover box, for 1600hrs, shows humidity, visibility, pressure, wind speed, and wind direction

Additional weather forecast data which comes up when you hover the mouse over a weather icon.

However we also recognised that many users prefer an expanded tabular view of weather forecast information, which does not rely on the hover-over box, and is therefore more accessible.

This second, 'table', layout (the button to switch between the views is below the "Find a Forecast" box) takes up more page real estate but gives the full detailed forecast at one glance, which may be preferable to some users.

If you're using cookies, the browser should remember your preference the next time you come back to visit the BBC Weather website.

The same detailed information as in the boxes in number 3, but set out in a table.

The detailed table view of the 24 hour weather forecasts

To accommodate the new page design we moved around other elements on the page.

You will now find the regional forecast text summary under the forecast data, in line with the environmental summary data (UV, Pollen and Pollution) and the regional forecast video.

In the near future we'll be further improving this section by adding colour scales to highlight the severity of the environment summary data, much like we use colour for the temperature scales.

Better World Weather

In addition to delivering hourly forecasts for UK locations, we now also have three hourly forecasts for international locations - a vast improvement from our previous day/night only forecasts.

You can see in the example below that we have adapted the same layout of graph and table views to work for both UK and international forecast data.

Clouds over Addis Ababa

An example of an international weather forecast using the Graph view

Other Improvements

In my last post I mentioned we had implemented RSS feeds on our forecast pages, but one reader keynet pointed out that we had in fact only implemented the three day forecast RSS feed:

The "Observations" RSS feed appears to be broken since Monday this week, the example given on your RSS page for Manchester (http://newsrss.bbc.co.uk/weather/forecast/9/ObservationsRSS.xml) for example gives "Temperature: N/A (N/A), Wind Direction: N/A, Wind Speed: N/A, Relative Humidity: N/A, Pressure: N/A, N/A, Visibility: N/A" London is same. Forecasts are still working though.

In today's release we have also added in the Observation RSS feed to our forecast pages, which is available from the same RSS icon (the unblurred box below).


The rest of the page blurred to draw attention to a box that includes RSS links

The observations RSS feed is now available alongside the 3 day forecast RSS feed

We've also added a link directly to the 'UK Monthly Outlook' from the weather homepage http://bbc.co.uk/weather as many users didn't know it was accessible from the 'More UK Weather' page.

As mentioned above we've got a few more improvements coming soon - nine day forecasts and improved designs for the environmental data. I'll come back with another blog update as soon as we release this next set of improvements, and in the meantime I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Jo Wickremasinghe is the Head of Product for BBC Weather in BBC Future Media

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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 21.

    New hourly format has added nothing of practical use for vast majority of users, and has made the screen far too 'busy' and harder to read.
    It has been designed by a weather technophile with no thought for the ultimate customer, and has ignored a first principle of webpage design which is simplicity - ie do not overcrowd with unecessary info.

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    Comment number 22.

    The new look is great, if a bit busy but I am sure that time will solve that problem.

    On another note entirely when will the other pages of the BBC Weather website be integrated into the new format - I am referring to the Country guides, Coast and Sea, Winter Sports and the Weather Presenters pages which still use the old layout and which now have links that lead nowhere or in the case of the latter are out of date.

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    Comment number 23.

    There may be some who do not like the new format ... however, I think it's great! I regularly go for long walks across country and the quick glance hourly forecast display is just what I need. Thanks BBC

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    Comment number 24.

    The Biggest issue with the new web page is the colour of the symbols.
    They are very difficult to see . For example , the background is white so WHITE CLOUDS on a white background just disappear, so does the pale yellow sun and the light grey used for the night hours. The only symbols that show up clearly are those for BAD weather , i.e Dark clouds and Rain.

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    Comment number 25.

    Regarding my previous post ( No 24 ). Why don't you change the background to Pale ( Sky ) Blue for the daylight hours and Dark Blue for the night hours.
    This would make the symbols stand out very clearly and improve the look of the page .
    You can already see how it would work, look how clear the information in the " Day Panels " at the top of the page shows up.

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    Comment number 26.

    Thank you all for your feedback. There is a mixture of positive and negative reactions to the hourly forecasts here, but overall the reaction from users mailing us and during audience testing has been positive. For those of you who find the extra information overwhelming, we hope that over time you will come to find the hourly breakdown valuable and useful, giving you a more detailed view of how the weather is changing throughout the day.

    Josh and a few others raised the question of the white space on the first day’s moving window. As we move into the afternoon the amount of white space increases as they day gets ‘eaten up’. We did debate about how many hours of the next day we should show on the current day (because you get this same information by clicking on the tab for the next day’s forecast). Our goal was to keep each day consistent, so that you see a 24 hour window every day. That said we will take a look at the white space and see whether there is a less jarring way to use that space.

    A couple of people raised issues with printing the forecast pages. There is a print icon underneath the 24 hour forecast which provides a printer optimised 5 day forecast page. We had not previously provided a printer optimised view of the 24 hour forecast but we agree that the previous 3 hourly breakdown did print better with the standard browser printing. We’ll look to implement a printer optimised view of the 24 hour forecast, alongside the existing 5 day forecast print option.

    One reader pointed out that some of the BBC Weather website pages are still in the old (pre Nov 2011) format. We are in the process of moving Coast and Seas, Country Guides etc. over to the current BBC Weather website look and feel and hope to have this work complete in the coming months.

    And finally a few people asked about our plans for mobile and smartphone apps. We definitely have plans to improve our BBC Weather experience on mobile and tablets. I can’t share exact details at this time but rest assured we are keen to provide our audience with the best of BBC Weather across four screens, in line with BBC Online’s strategy outlined by Ralph Riviera last year.

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    Comment number 27.

    If you think the new presentation is an improvement you are living in cloud cuckoo land. By all means leave the table view for those who are fascinated by hourly changes in relative humidity. For the rest of us please revert to a default 3-hour view with an option in the settings menu to show hourly data. What are you going to do next year when you can show data for every 30mins or every 10mins?

    This site is supposed to be aimed at the general population not amateur meteorologists.

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    Comment number 28.

    The new weather site is a definite improvement - the hourly forecast slots make it a lot easier to see what the weather is likely to be. I don't think MrT_123 that you need to be an amateur meteorologist to be interested in which hour the weather is likely to change!

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    Comment number 29.

    It is about time that the weather forecast included The Republic of Ireland it is an integral part of the weather across the Western parts of our country.
    It now seems rather childish to just wave your hands past a p;lace that has such an influence on our weather.
    Now the Queen has gone there and broken this stupid ignoring the Republic it is about time you did also, Yours Yenti

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    Comment number 30.

    Remembering the weather, well stories of the weather in the English Channel on 6-6-1944 did the weather of this June resemble those few days, as they were talking about three depressions arriving one after another on the day before "D" Day and the days following ????Yours Yenti

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    Comment number 31.

    Any joy on my request at 18 Above? Ceefax page 400 would then have all the page numbers still available for the viewers in the North East of England and Northern Irelans for them to use for navigating the steampunk version of BBC Weather.

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    Comment number 32.

    Your "weather conditions" feed for London appears to have been frozen since 13:00 yesterday! The website info is similarly frozen.

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    Comment number 33.

    Firstly any chance of getting this comment box moved to the top of the blog or the sign in box moved to the bottom!!. Having to scroll all the way down to see if there is anything you want to comment on and then scroll up to the top to sign in then scroll down to bottom to add a comment seems daft!!.
    Secondly any chance of a response on my two earlier comments numbers 24 and 25.
    I find the fact that the symbols are virtually unreadable makes discussing the amount of data and the layout of the page rather pointless!!

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    Comment number 34.

    Keynet - can you specify the URL for the feed which seems frozen? We'll look into it.

    Sue_Aitch we won't be able to make any more changes to Ceefax service before it ends with the digital switch over in October.

    Clemenad - we know that some of the icons ('white cloud' and 'partly cloudy' icons in particular) have lower contrast than the rain shower and other icons, but it is a challenge to get all the different icons to work with both the light and dark backgrounds used on the website. However if you hover over any icon you will get the text explanation for the icon, which details the weather type the icon represents.

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    Comment number 35.

    That's alright, Jo: a kind person has updated Ceefax page 400 in the meantime and Pollen Index 426 is there on Weather Page 400 now.

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    Comment number 36.

    Jo,

    The feed came back to life 24hrs later, but it's gone wonky again today -

    http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/weather/feeds/en/2643743/observations.rss is:
    Temperature: null°C (null°F), Wind Direction: East South Easterly, Wind Speed: 3mph, Humidity: null%, Pressure: nullmb, Rising, Visibility: N/A

    It does seem a bit hit-and-miss since the recent changes...
    Could you look at putting a bit more error checking in there?
    Thx

  • rate this
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    Comment number 37.

    Checking the local forecast today I noticed there was no consistency between the day summary and the 3 hourly breakdown.

    In the day summary the day was showing light cloud (white) but when looking at the detail it was made up of three, three hour blocks, of light rain (black), three blocks of heavy cloud (black) and one instance of light cloud. (white)

    How is the day summary decided upon for days where there is variable weather?

    The summary temperature also didn't seem to make sense with a min/max for the day of 13/17 the three hour blocks maxed at 14 degrees (at 7pm in the evening) and 3 blocks with 12 degrees as a minimum

  • rate this
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    Comment number 38.

    I can't find a key to symbols. What is the difference between a black or a white wind strength symbol please? I would like to know if the wind is gusting.

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    Comment number 39.

    I'm unable to play the weather videos on my Samsung S3 even though I uninstalled and reinstalled flash player using the link from your website.

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    Comment number 40.

    Hi Gus - in response to your two questions (38 & 39).

    There is no difference between the black or white wind symbol. The wind symbols change between black or white as you move between the forecast tabs. The active forecast tab background is white so we change the wind symbol to black so it is visible. When you change to a different forecast tab, the wind symbol on the inactive tabs are white against the dark blue background. We don't have any indicator for wind gusts, other than the information provided in the forecast summary text.

    Regarding video playback - we're not currently running a version of our media player for the Weather videos that will work across mobile devices. We are working on an improved mobile experience for Weather, so please bear with us!

 

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