Storm Troupers courtesy of BBC iplayer
Call me a bit picky but this latest documentary from the BBC to simplify the science of Meteorology did shoot itself in the foot when the presenter Alok Jha attempted to make a weather observation 1849’s style which would have James Glaisher spinning in his grave. Before I start I’m not going to criticise him for making the time of his observation 12 PM midday, personally I always think that 12 AM is midday, and that 12 PM is midnight, and yes I do know it’s never been officially defined, at least according to the National Physical Laboratory [NPL], safer to use 1200 instead!
Wind Vane (courtesy of the BBC)
Anyway let’s have a look at the wind and the camera pans up to one of the wind vanes of Greenwich Observatory. Yes it’s flitting around from somewhere between south and west – no it’s not, it’s an easterly according to the weather expert Peter Moore. Perhaps they forgot the concept that the wind vane always points into the direction from which the wind is blowing?
Next estimating the wind speed, but surprisingly not using the Beaufort scale that was devised in 1805, obviously Glaisher thought it was much too complicated, perhaps he didn’t like FitzRoy, it’s funny that the Glaisher screen he came up with never really caught on either, damn those Stevenson boys. Anyway I digress, what did Alok come up with after spending all that time in the wind tunnel assessing the Beaufort scale – calm. Yes, even though it looked a good force 1 or 2 and was moving the vane it was calm, perhaps the wind tunnel had permanently affected him in someway. Now to give them the benefit of the doubt, it maybe that they inserted the footage of the wind vane from a shot taken earlier or later in the day, but come on haven’t they heard of the butterfly effect? I’ll wager that chaos thing comes up in the final episode though.
Red sky at night Shepherds delight
As for the opening ‘red sky at night’ explanation I always thought the old weather saying had something to do with dust particles in the higher atmosphere being associated with anticyclones? I’m sure Alok said ‘red sky at night’ meant that the sky was clear in the west and therefore good weather was on the way – which is completely contrary to what I thought was the real explanation. Never mind I’m sure that no one ever noticed.
The reanalysis of the Royal Charter storm was interesting though, but I just wonder where all the detailed stream lines (especially over the open oceans) came from, when the pressure field looks quite crude. The stream lines also don’t really align with the isobaric flow even allowing for geostrophic curvature. I suppose HH Lamb managed to extend his weather types back to 1861 so the pressure observations must have been there for him to do that. The evolution of the Royal Charter storm certainly looks rather unusual if the animation shown in the program is anything to go by.
Royal Charter Storm (courtesy of the BBC & Met Office)
One final thing is the title of the documentary – “Storm Troupers” – surely it should be “trooper” rather than “trouper”? As far as I can see a trouper is a member of an acting group called a troupe, but the title surely alludes to the Stormtroopers of the Star Wars films. Perhaps they erred on the phrase that wouldn’t lead to any copyright issues – who knows.
I thought this program was going to be just plain boring but I’ve learnt a bit, not so much about the weather, but more about how science documentaries are put together.