Why do BBC weather presenters always stand on the left?

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC
Why do BBC weather presenters always stand on the left*?

I suppose the simple answer to that is because it’s were they have been told to stand by the producer. In recent years the BBC presenters have definitely become more animated with their arms and hands gesticulating in an attempt to show the inner workings of any intense storm that comes along, but they always have remained on the left. There’s no comparison these days between the almost static approach of Michael Fish and Tomasz Schafernaker for instance, but I’m sure if he were allowed to move – instead of being almost nailed to the spot – then he would.

* It’s obvious that I’ve never been a presenter, because after writing this I realised that BBC presenters do in fact stand on the right – so I should clarify that I mean on the ‘left’ of the viewers screen!

Why the left’s not good for the UK

Our weather in the UK is predominantly driven by the Atlantic Ocean and comes in from the west or southwest – so where do we position the presenter? Yes, precisely in the wrong place – where any low pressure or frontal system first shows its hand. I’m not suggesting they should all now stand on the right, or that they should be continually moving around, what I’m suggesting is to let them decide where to stand depending on the weather situation. For instance if the flow was westerly the right hand side of the screen would be surely the best place. (I’m not suggesting for one moment that in a southerly situation that we should suspend them by sky hooks and drop them down from the ceiling of the studio on a pulley hoist, it’s a great idea, but I’m sure health and safety wouldn’t be keen).

What do they do elsewhere?

I thought that I’d take a quick look round the world and see which side  of the screen other weather presenters stood. It looks like in Western Australia they stand on the right, it might be that the left might be better here though (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology

In New Zealand they also seem to stand on the right, but standing on the right looks far better than standing on the right because of the geography of New Zealand (fig 3).

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the New Zealand Met Service

In America covering the entire country from west to east means that nailing the presenters shoes down on the left will definitely not work. The presenter can freely move around to point out weather on the east coast just as Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day (fig 4).

Figure 4 – Courtesy of Weather Channel

At least the BBC presenters can rotate a little on the spot, but the forecasters of Meteo France seem to have both feet firmly rooted to the studio floor with their upper body hardly swivelling at all (fig 5).

Figure 5 – Courtesy of Meteo France

The Germans are pretty mobile, but again they favour the right rather than the left, perhaps it’s because most people are right-handed and that suits them better (fig 6).

Figure 6 – Courtesy of ARD

The Irish seem to have gone along with the BBC and stand on the left (fig 7), but again why not be daring and stand on the right!

Figure 7 – Courtesy of RTE

Not surprisingly there’s been little thought given down at the Met Office to doing any differently from how its been done for the last 63 years at the BBC, with Alex Deakin again stood on the left, completely blocking any potential developments at 50N and 50W in the NWP forecast animation (fig 8). It’s such a pity, because the graphic are great, and it looks like they’ve still not managed to figure out how to change the spacing for those ridiculously closely packed barbs on all the cold/warm/occluded fronts produced by their new graphics engine, compare it to how it should look in the German and New Zealand graphics.

Figure 7 – Courtesy of the Met Office

In my quick tour of the world of weather forecasts, courtesy of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, I would say the majority of presenters still stand on the left rather than the right for some unknown reason, but I think things maybe be slowly changing as the weather presenter is “unchained” and becomes more mobile.

It maybe that weather presenters stand on the left around the world because on the 11th of January 1954 – George Cowling (fig 8) presented the world’s first live broadcast weather forecast on BBC TV – probably stood on the left (I can’t be certain because I don’t think there’s a video of that forecast), or then again maybe not.

Figure 8 – Courtesy of the BBC

There’s change coming to the BBC weather this spring though, because Meteogroup are taking over. I’m not sure if they are going to use weather graphics supplied by Metraweather, but if they do they may well swap from the left to the right, or maybe even allow them to be as mobile as the presenters are on Channel TG4 in Ireland are who do use Metraweather (fig 9). This is how a weather forecast should be presented, with the presenter unfettered to move about wherever he or she wants depending on the situation – very impressive.

Figure 9 – Courtesy of Metraweather and TG4

BBC Spotlight Weather Maps

Figure 1 – Courtesy of BBC Southwest

I’ve been in Devon for 15 years this year and have always paid close attention to the local weather forecast on BBC Spotlight Southwest news bulletins. What’s always been a frustration to me is the rather larger than required maps that they choose to use (fig 1).  I don’t see any reason why for example that the map should extend as far as 52° north to display the bottom third of Wales and the coast of southern Ireland for instance. This is a local forecast for local people in Cornwall, Devon, and the west of Somerset and Dorset, the national forecast provides information if you’re planning to travel out with the southwest.

Here’s what I think would make a much better scale map of the region that the forecast is specifically for. Apologies to David Braine for cutting him out and superimposing on this OpenStreetMap (fig 2)!

Figure 2 – Courtesy of BBC Southwest (last nights 18-06 minimum temperatures)

Before you write in and complain and say that I’ve forgotten about the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands, there is no reason why this map shouldn’t pan west east, and north south to reveal these areas, but this would be the default scale of the map. With this kind of detail high-resolution model data could colour contour extreme temperatures much more effectively than with the crude model they overlay now, and we might then be able to capture frost hollows such the one at Exeter Airport, which the Met Office model seems to have missed once again last night.

Television and the many ways we can view weather forecasts has come along way since the introduction of the current graphics system at the BBC in 2005. We now have high-definition and 4k television, cathode ray tubes are a thing of the past and 50″+ flat screen televisions are common place. The introduction of a new weather graphics system is long overdue, and hopefully MeteoGroup will seize this opportunity to improve the mapping they use, at the same time making use of higher resolution NWP data to overlay on it. My guess is that when the new service starts this spring it will only replicate the current graphics, hopefully I am proved totally wrong!

BBC news hysteria regarding the severe weather that’s gripping the country

All I can imagine is that it’s a very quiet news day across the UK and the world, because the number one news story all day on the BBC news has been a ridiculously hyped-up story regarding the ‘severe weather’ that’s apparently gripping the country at the present time. According to Rita Chakrabarti tonight is forecast to be the coldest of the year, and yellow ice warnings from the Met Office are in force across the entire country, lets hope whoever forecast that will be more accurate than the Met Office were with last night’s forecast!

If you look at today’s satellite image (fig 1) you can see clearly where the snow of yesterday fell in a band from Bristol northeast across the Cotswolds and into the Midlands, with a dusting left on Exmoor and the Chilterns, at a guess it’s covering less than 10% of England. Admittedly there’s a little more over the high ground of Wales and Scotland from previous days, but there’s no way that this can be regarded as widely affecting the whole country.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of EOSDIS Worldview

Here are today’s maximum temperatures to underline the point that today’s weather has been far from severe (fig 2), in fact for many parts of the country it was a cold but a sunny day as the Worldview satellite image reveals.

Figure 2

All that I can say is that if, and when, we do get a severe snowy spell then God help us!

BBC News: It’s official, this morning’s blood-red sun was caused by Saharan dust

Figure 1 – Courtesy of BBC News

It’s official! This morning’s blood-red sun was caused by Saharan dust, so says Simon King the BBC weather presenter.

BBC: It might be just a little more complicated that that…

Matt McGrath, an environment correspondent at the BBC, has written an article that clarifies that any increase in frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones, is not directly linked to increases in the sea temperature in the oceans in which they form. This corrects the misleading, and rather strange 30 second news video that David Shukman made on the 19th of September who said that higher sea temperatures meant more tropical cyclones. Although SST is  a key ingredient, there are a lot more factors that have to be just so before a tropical cyclone is formed.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

Here’s a chart of the number of hurricanes each year since 1851.

Figure 2

And here’s a chart of the combined ACE score for each year since 1851.

Figure 3

You may wonder why the linear trend is upward in both charts, that’s because of the increased scrutiny that each tropical cyclone has been under since the start of the satellite era (~1960), has meant that we are now in a position to watch each subtle move and deviation that a tropical cyclone now makes which was never possible before. There must have been many lesser tropical cyclones, especially in the 19th century that escaped detection and don’t even appear in the HURDAT2 dataset, which must skew the trend down to the left.

At least this article is more balanced in what is a says about what we do know about tropical cyclone formation, and not just using adding it to the list of what increased CO2 is doing to the planet, as David Shukman seems to think.

  • Increased global temperature ✔
  • Reduction in sea ice ✔
  • Shrinking of glaciers ✔
  • Increase in intensity of heavy rainfall events ✔
  • Increase in the number and severity of tropical cyclones 🗙

Apologies for the scribblings on the news item like I have, I was just interested in the number of clichés Matt McGrath had used in his article – and why is it that tropical cyclones always seem to ‘barrel’ across the ocean?

Here’s one for David Shukman

I was listening to a 30 second science-bite about hurricanes from David Shukman on the BBC News website yesterday. David was presenting a ‘idiots guide’ to just how hurricanes are formed, and for once the explanation didn’t involve that ‘fast moving ribbon of air high in the atmosphere that the experts call the jet stream’. The basic premise of his explanation was that when a thunderstorm forms over the ocean in the tropics, if derives its energy from the warm seas, and if the temperature of that sea was 26°C or higher, and you added a little bit of rotation, then before you know it you would have yourself a tropical cyclone. Of course this was a thinly disguised bit of propaganda to implant in the viewer’s mind the undisputed fact that: higher sea surface temperatures mean more hurricanes, and of course it must logically follow that’s why they’ve been so many this year. 

Figure 1 – Why are they so many hurricanes? – Courtesy of the BBC

That got me to thinking about El Niño and La Niña events and how they might influence tropical cyclone development in the eastern Pacific. If you apply the same ‘Shukman’ type logic, the extra warmth of the Pacific during El Niño years, should be apparent in the accumulated cyclone energy. So I have produced a couple of graphs that plot ACE for the eastern Pacific from 1950 for both total ACE and ACE anomalies (fig 2). The pale pink and blue stripes in the lower graph are the ENSO events during that time.

Figure 2 – HURDAT2 data from the NHC

I could do further statistical analysis on the results, but I think I wouldn’t find a strong correlation between SST and the ACE index. Active years do occur in El Niño years that’s true, but they also seem to occur just in La Niña or neutral years. I personally think that the BBC should be explaining that although the warmth of the oceans is a key part in tropical cyclone development, any perceived increase in their number and ferocity is a little more complicated, rather than this glib thirty-second news item with its fancy graphics implies.


I did find an analysis concerning El Niño and intense tropical cyclones in the Journal Nature but was unable to download it without getting a second mortgage on the house. I did find this online debate about the conclusion that the report came up with which might be of interest.

What exactly is going on with the BBC’s weather service?

Its been over a year now since MeteoGroup won the bidding process to take over the running of the Weather forecast on BBC radio and television. In August 2016, Nigel Charters, a project director at the BBC promised that these services would ‘hit your screens, from mobile to television, in Spring next year’ (fig 1). Well, Spring has gone, and so has summer, and now we’re in ‘meteorological’ Autumn, but we are still stuck with the same old BBC graphics, and not the state-of-the-art graphics system as promised by MeteoGroup, and as far as I can see we are still using forecast model data supplied by the Met Office.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

So what’s gone wrong?

It’s impossible to say with any certainty, because the BBC and MeteoGroup are both keeping schtum about:-

  • What the new graphics will look like.
  • When the new graphics will start.
  • Who exactly will provide the ‘multiple sources of meteorological data’ (see (2) in fig 1).

If you take a look at the MeteoGroup website they have remained tight-lipped about the whole subject since the news that they had been awarded the contract (fig 2).

Figure 2 – Courtesy of MeteoGroup

Graphics System

MeteoGroup seem keen to get started with their own graphics system, which I understand is not an in-house solution, but one that they buy in from WeatherscapeXT from MetraWeather in New Zealand, although I am not even 100% certain about that. As far as I know MetraWeather provides the current graphics system that the BBC have been using for the past 10 years or more. If that’s so, I can’t see that the slowness in switching is down to the new graphics system itself, but more likely to do with the sourcing of the model data that it uses, and what exactly the visualisation of that data will look like, in particularly the mapping. I hope that we have seen the end of 3D fly throughs, which pardon the pun, never really took off in my opinion.

Forecast model Data

MeteoGroup promise ‘better weather forecasts and solutions’, which to me is the most interesting feature of this whole debacle. If they are not going to use UKMO data, and as far as I know can’t use the ECMWF model commercially, that would just leave the ubiquitous American GFS model. I suppose it’s not outside the realm of possibility that MeteoGroup could decide to buy in some cut-price model data in a deal with the French or Germans. The strengths of the various models was recently put to the test in the Caribbean, forecasting the tracks of hurricane Harvey and Irma, some models perform much better than others. The GFS is primarily built to serve North America, and unlike the UKMO model is not tweaked for an island in the eastern Atlantic. So what happens in the future if the GFS model fails to deepen a low as markedly as the UKMO model does, and on the strength of which, the Met Office issue Amber alerts for storm force winds?

So has anything actually happened?

Well, I suppose that all the weather presenters are now no longer working for the Met Office but the BBC, and some of the old lags have been replaced by women presenters to balance the male-female ratio. I did write back in April that the takeover was imminent, and I suppose that it has happened. But rather awkwardly both for the BBC and MeteoGroup nothing visually has changed, if anything the Met Office have come out of this rather well even if they did lose the contract, their recent national weather video service that’s produced using their new VisualEyes graphics system, which they push out on their website and over social media is rather good.