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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