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13 November 2014
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Weather forecast

Fair weather? Forecasting is an art.

Weather forecasters

The British are famous for being obsessed with the weather. Traditionally most people have relied on the Met Office for their weather forecasts. Today this work is being supplemented by a growing network of amateur observers and forecasters.

BBC South West weather forecaster David Braine uses the Met Office to help give accurate forecasts.

Audrey Edwards

Amateur enthusiast Audrey Edwards.

But with the majority of our weather coming in off the Atlantic, the more observations he can gather the better.

So he has found a back-up system which many people do not know exists - a huge network of amateur weather observers and forecasters.

In these days of the internet and the accessibility of easy-to-use software and gadgetry, more and more people have taken up keeping track of the weather themselves.

They share the information online and even forecast what is to come.

Online observers

John Chappell, for instance, set up his weather centre at the National Coastwatch station at Gwennap Head in Cornwall back in 2000.

At that stage he used to be the only amateur online observer west of Bristol but now there are more than 40 he knows of in Devon alone.

John Chappell

Weather whizz - John Chappell.

His information is used a lot by fishermen, particularly those coming from Newlyn where they are sheltered from the weather, sailing around Land's End and needing to check conditions before setting out.

John's site gets around 1,500 hits a day as they and others check his latest information.

Information about the weather is of utmost importance to Royal Navy pilots at RNAS Culdrose too.

The performance of their rescue helicopter engines is very sensitive to atmospheric pressure and temperature.

An exact knowledge of conditions is therefore vital to the success of a mission.

There used to be hundreds of Meteorological Office Observation stations which they could consult but there are now large areas with no official coverage.

They have their own weather station though and take regular readings from their Stephenson's Screen to keep abreast of current conditions.

They then feed their information on to the Met Office.

Daily weather records

Audrey Edwards at Holsworthy Beacon in mid-Devon first started keeping a daily record of the weather when she was trapped in her home for a week in the blizzards of 1978.

Weather of that severity is rare these days but she has still recorded the weather faithfully every day.

It started as something which all the family could do and helped keep the children amused but as time went on Audrey became fascinated by the picture which developed.

Weather forecast online

Damian's weather forecast online.

For instance, she has noticed less and less frost in her garden over the years - perhaps another clue that the climate is changing and warming up?

Damian Coombes has only been forecasting online for about a year and he lives in a spot well known for bad weather - Ottery St. Mary.

He failed to predict the hailstorm which hit the town so badly in October 2008, resulting in severe damage and flooding.

Interestingly, the Met Office professionals also failed to forecast the severity of the storm.

Ewan McCallum of the Met Office explained that the October hailstorm was a one in 300 year event - the severity of which even the Met Office Super Computers of today couldn't have predicted.

These computers run virtual reality weather simulations to help forecast the weather accurately for the next five, six or even seven days ahead.

He reckons systems are becoming so advanced they are now adding another day to the length of forecasts roughly every 10 years.

The weather challenge

Damian's method is to download weather data and models from the internet.

Then he takes the information he has gathered locally and runs it through a software process which produces a forecast based on the models and information he has stored.

So time for a challenge...

Met Office Exeter

Weather challenge - the Met Office.

BBC weather forecaster David Braine decides to set a task for Damian and the Met Office to test their accuracy.

He asks both to forecast the weather for three days to see who comes out on top.

Damian reckons his forecast is at least 85 to 90% accurate - and it's free whereas the Met Office costs!

Although they are close, the Met Office and its super computers win the day!

They come in with a 100% accurate forecast - whereas Damien's, unfortunately, is slightly out on two of the three days.

Although the information provided by individual amateur weather observers and forecasters is invaluable in helping build an overall picture, David Braine suggests it's safer to leave forecasting our weather to the professionals.

last updated: 04/02/2009 at 15:14
created: 04/02/2009

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