Why the weather fore­caster was right af­ter all

Focus-Science and Technology - - Weather -

For many, the defin­ing im­age of the Great Storm of 1987 was weather fore­caster Michael Fish stand­ing be­fore the na­tion, promis­ing there would be no hur­ri­cane. Some­one had phoned the BBC ear­lier, he told view­ers, with fears that one was on the way. “Well, if you’re watch­ing, don’t worry, there isn’t,” he cheer­fully said. A few hours later, the south-east of Eng­land was hit by the worst weather it had seen in al­most 300 years In sub­se­quent days, as the dam­age was as­sessed, news­pa­pers were filled with vit­riol for Fish and the Met Of­fice’s per­ceived fail­ure to get the forecast right. The Met Of­fice ad­mit­ted that its ra­dio and TV bul­letins had pre­dom­i­nantly warned of rain­fall rather than strong winds, and con­ducted an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion which re­sulted in im­proved weather data col­lec­tion in the north­ern At­lantic and a change in how se­vere weather warn­ings were is­sued.

Fish, how­ever, stuck to his guns, point­ing out that he’d fol­lowed up his re­as­sur­ance with warn­ings that the weather would be­come very windy, and claim­ing that his hur­ri­cane com­ments re­ferred to a storm that had re­cently hit Florida. It was a fair de­fence: the term ‘hur­ri­cane’ refers to

trop­i­cal cy­clones, not those that orig­i­nate out­side the trop­ics, as the Great Storm did. While wind speeds reached a level on the Beau­fort scale la­belled ‘hur­ri­cane force’, the Great Storm was never a hur­ri­cane. Fish was ef­fec­tively right, but it mat­tered lit­tle: his name was for­ever as­so­ci­ated with em­bar­rass­ingly in­cor­rect pre­dic­tions.

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