Gusts belie the truth about Friederike

The worst is just about past now from low Friederike as she shoots off towards Germany to wreak more havoc no doubt. Yesterday mornings yellow warning of strong winds for gusts of 50-60 and a “small chance” of 70 mph issued by the Met Office didn’t last too long, because it was updated at around 03 UTC with a more cautiously worded one that upped the maximum gusts to 75 mph* (fig 1).

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office*

I don’t know what prompted the update at 03 UTC, but I don’t think it was the gust of 93 mph at Capel Curig, which happened at 2350 UTC and even before the warning had come into force (I did question why the start time had been 0005 UTC and not much earlier at 21 UTC). I think it was more likely that the Chief had just seen the T+3 forecast wind for eastern England from the 00 UTC mesoscale model, because let’s face it these days, and for many years past if truth be told, computers do all of the forecasting.

As always the media, and the Met Office to a large extent, seem to be completely fixated with gusts, and totally forget that storm force 10 – the basic definition of what constitutes a storm – is defined in the Beaufort scale as a 10 minute mean wind speed of 48 knots or higher. At Wittering this morning a true storm did occur, not many people noticed it, but I did, as did a lot of people in that part of Cambridgeshire as it rattled their windows. The winds were meaning at gale force 8 for around three hours between 03-06 UTC, with a maximum gust of 64 knots (~74 mph) at 05 UTC. The Met Office never mention the highest mean wind speed in any of their warnings, either for coasts, hills or inland, it would be just another thing that would require verification, and more often or not they would get it wrong anyway. Here’s a plotted grid of the last 24 hours observations from Wittering (fig 2).

Figure 2

Overall the updated warning just about covered it as far as maximum gusts were concerned (fig 3), that’s if you ignore the gusts at Capel Curig (93 mph), Aberdaron (78 mph) and Lake Vyrnwy (76 mph).

The last couple of days have been totally confusing since Met Éireann decided to call a tightening of the W’NW flow storm Fionn on Wednesday, especially when a potential and much better candidate for being named a storm arrived the very next day. I know that storm force winds can and do occur when the centre of the low is more than 800 miles away as it was on Wednesday on the west coast of Ireland. My idea for what it’s worth is that a truly memorable storm, and one that should be named, is a storm that’s associated with an intense vortex like the Braer Storm of January 1993 or the Burns’ day storm of 1990 were.

Figure 3

The final chart is the number of hourly observations when the mean speed was 34 knots or more – a gale to you and me (fig 4).

Figure 4

*I know I’m being even more picky than usual but if we have a ‘widely 50-60′ and a ’65-75 in some places’ what about gusts of 61-64?

It’s art Jim, but not as we know it

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the Met Office

The Met Office have just added another layer to their smorgasbord of warnings by issuing an amber alert for heavy snow from low Friederike for southern Scotland the northeast of England (fig 1). I wonder if Eskdalemuir will end up with two feet of snow before the nights out?

I think I can now count five separate warning layers in place for tomorrow. on the Met Office warnings board. This must either confuse or amuse the general public in equal measure – there’s just got to be a better way of doing this – answers on a postcard please.

Interesting night ahead as low Friederike scoots eastward

Figure 1 – Courtesy of www.wxcharts.eu

The Met Office have a veritable smorgasbord of warnings in place at the moment that should just about cover any meteorological eventuality, as the deepening low Friederike tracks across Ireland and northern England on latitude 54° north later tonight. Friederike may not be as intense a feature as it was at T+66 (when I said it was a sure-fired be to get named Fionn oops!) but it still exceeds the criteria for explosive cyclogenesis, because at midnight it was 1010 hPa west of Nova Scotia and just 24 hours later according to the latest GFS run it should be 983 hPa and still deepening (fig 1).

The Met Office are still playing it cool and have issued a yellow warning for strong winds, choosing to the old 50-60 mph gust ploy with a small chance of gusts to 70 mph (fig 2). Those winds combined with snow on higher ground might make the cross Pennine routes a little bit tricky overnight! They don’t start the warning till after midnight 0005 UTC (why don’t they ever use 0000 UTC?) which seems a little bit late to me. The W’SW gradient is already cranking up across west Wales and the southwest by 21 UTC. All I can think is that the UKMO model might be slower than the GFS is with Friederike. It looks like the strongest gusts may well come as the winds veer northwesterly as the low transits east.

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Met Office

Met Office leave it to Met Éireann again…

I didn’t notice but it looks like Met Eireann have named storm Fionn because of the current west northwesterly winds that are affecting the country today (161500 UTC to 170300 UTC), that low is currently lying northeast of Iceland. There have been gusts to 74, 72 and 67 mph respectively at Mace Head, Sherkin Island and Valentia already this afternoon.

The “separate weather system” mentioned in the tweet by the Met Office (above) is the developing low that’s set to run across the country overnight Wednesday into Thursday. This could of course trigger the naming of that system “Georgina” which could confuse people even more. I don’t see that much difference in the wind speeds across the Irish Sea, all this does is highlight the differences in approach of the two weather services.

Figure 2

Rather surprisingly the Met Office have chosen not to issue even a yellow strong wind warning for the UK today, even though there have been gusts to 62 mph at Culdrose, 66 mph at St Mary’s and 83 mph from the Seven Stones lightship. They certainly seem to be flying by the seats of their pants at the moment, I wonder just what the latest gusts are from the likes of Berry Head or the Needles Battery or High Bradfield?

Storm Fionn

Image 1 – Courtesy of www.wxcharts.eu

The GFS (fig 1) and the UKMO models (fig 2) are in broad agreement about the position and intensity of storm Fionn at 00 UTC on Thursday. I say storm Fionn because this must be a sure-fire bet now, and probably the weather community’s worst kept secret. I wonder if Met Éireann will nip it and name it before the UKMO does because it looks like so far this season they seem to be taking it in turns.

Figure 2 – Courtesy of UKMO

From the limited NWP data that I can access from the Met Office it seems the track in this T+72 is much further north than in the earlier run. They’ve also shortened the 1000 km bent back occlusion they had in that run, and it with this feature that the strongest gusts occur in storm Fionn. If the GFS is to believed, the strongest winds will be in a swathe across Northern Ireland and northern England. A rough calculation makes the speed the lows moving eastward at around 50 knots, so it’ll be all over by dawn on Thursday. I see the Met Office have an early warning of strong winds in place for Thursday for the whole country south of 56° north, but no word yet about whether it will be named Fionn. Isn’t NWP just wonderful and a marvel of science, allowing us to speculate about severe gales from a low that doesn’t even exist yet.

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!